Did you know that the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness ranks in the top 10 most scenic places to hike, fish and trail-run in the nation?

Skirting around Strawberry Lake – half way through my regular out and back trail run – I noticed a few other runners coming from Strawberry Creek Falls, so I stopped to chat with them.

One couple from Vancouver, Wash., had read about the wilderness and lake in books and magazines. Some of the places the mentioned even had slightly altered names, like “Little Creek Falls”,instead of Strawberry Falls, and “High Mountain Stream”, instead of Slide Creek.

Nevertheless, the word seems to be out. The question is whether local residents are taking the time to enjoy this destination as much as people from out of the area?

The couple raved about the impeccable trail running, and marveled that they could see trout through the crystal-clear water of Little Strawberry Lake. They called the Strawberry Wilderness the ultimate escape.

“Heading out into this wilderness instead of pounding the pavement is appealing to us for so many reasons,” said Steve Salley. His wife Rebekah agreed, adding, “It gives your body a break, too – the benefits of trail running span the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual areas of our life.”

Whether you’re a trail-runner or a hiker, fisherman, or other outdoor enthusiast, this area should suit your interests. It outranks 90 percent of all other mountain trail destinations in the nation, according a comparison by U.S. News & World Report’s travel department in 2008. That’s a major accomplishment, considering that other top selections included destinations like Yellowstone National Park.

How to get there:

Leaving from the Strawberry Campground, just 11 miles southwest of Prairie City, travel a bumpy gravel road ending at the trailhead at Strawberry Creek.

The well-groomed trail to the lake is about 1.3 miles long.

The lake is nestled in colorful cliffs, surrounded by a mixed forest of Western larch, spruce, fir, aspen and lodgepole pine.

At the lake you have a choice of trails: a nice loop around the lake, or continue east for a mile to reach Strawberry Falls, a 40-foot cascade.

Continuing past the falls toward Little Strawberry Lake, the 3-mile trail winds across creeks and through meadows redolent with the aroma of wild onion.

Little Strawberry Lake sits between a wet meadow and the base of a massive cliff, a setting like a hidden garden of eden.

The hike to Little Strawberry is worth it. For a round trip of 6 miles, it can be a spectacular run, a nice hike, or a satisfying fishing trip that ends with a creel of fresh trout.

For a longer adventure, visitors can camp out at one of the lakes. One option is to skirt along the mountainside to Slide and Little Slide Lake – four more miles – or continue over the ridge to High Lake.

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