Written by | Derek Carlson

Hiking Coffin Mountain Trail – One of the Best Wildflower Hikes in Central Oregon

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Coffin Mountain trail is a steep and gorgeous trail in the Central Oregon Cascades that explodes with color when the wildflowers are in bloom. This short but steep trail will take you through pockets of wildflowers, across meadows that are filled with beargrass, offer up views of almost every major peak in Oregon, and finishes at a staffed fire lookout tower with one of the best views in the entire state.

Upper Coffin Mountain Trail Beargrass

About the Coffin Mountain Trail

  • Length: 2.5 miles officially (our GPS measured 3 miles round trip to the fire lookout)
  • Elevation Gain: 1,030 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate – the elevation gain over a short trail means some steep hiking in places. Our 4-year-old struggled a bit on the way up but she made it just fine.
  • Approach: The drive takes you along some gravel roads but they are well-graded and accessible with a low clearance car. Note that Google Maps will attempt to take you on some less than well-graded roads so check the directions before you go.
  • Parking Pass/Permit: None

How to Get to Coffin Mountain Trail

Coffin Mountain is located pretty far from nearly everywhere. From Bend, the trailhead is a 90-minute drive, and from Portland, the drive will take nearly 2 1/2 hours. The closest town with amenities is Detroit, 22 miles to the west.

To get to the trailhead you’ll turn north off of Highway 20 onto NF-11 just after the town of Marion Forks (a great spot to grab a burger after the hike BTW). Proceed on NF-11 for 4.5 miles then turn right onto FR-1168.

Note that Google Maps may try to have you turn on an earlier branch of FR-1168 after just 1.5 miles. Do not make this turn as this section of road is fairly rough and it tries to take you on a road that does not exist right before arriving at the trailhead. Ask me how I know this!

If you take the proper route described above the roads are all fairly smooth and should be accessible by most passenger cars.

The parking lot at the trailhead is small with room for only a half dozen cars or so. Luckily, as this trail is so out of the way, it doesn’t see a ton of traffic so parking usually won’t be an issue.

When to Visit Coffin Mountain

The views from the summit of Coffin Mountain make this hike a worthy one almost any time of year when the trail is snow-free. But we all know we’re here for the wildflowers so let’s take a look at those details.

Due to the higher elevation of this peak (5,700 ft), the wildflower blooms usually don’t occur until late June or early July. We hiked the trail in early July 2023 and the flowers were in full bloom on the lower portions of the trail but still probably had another week to go on the upper portions.

The real star of the show on this trail is the beargrass in the upper meadows. For those that don’t know, beargrass tends to bloom in what is known as a super bloom every few years.

This means that in one year you may only see a couple dozen blooms but the next the entire hillside will be covered in this marshmallow-fluff-looking flower. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t able to make it up during a super bloom year.

Beargrass on coffin mountain trail

There was still a good number of blooms along the final approach to the fire lookout that made the hike worthwhile. But staring at all the dried-up stalks covering the meadows from the prior year’s bloom made us really want to come back again to see the beargrass during a super bloom year.

I would recommend following the hike on Alltrails as it is popular enough that it gets pretty frequent updates on the status of the wildflower blooms.

What to Expect Along the Trail

Given that the trail is only just over a mile one-way and gains a bit over 1,000 feet of elevation you can expect a steady march up the mountain almost the entire way.

switchbacks on coffin mountain trail

The first section of the trail is along an old Jeep road that heads, more or less, straight up. Luckily, this section is only a quarter mile or so. The trail then turns off to the left, right in the middle of a burst of wildflowers.

From there you’ll wind your way through some light tree cover before breaking out into the meadows that dominate the upper slopes of Coffin Mountain.

Along this section, you’ll see tons of wildflowers including shooting stars, fireweed, lupin, sagebrush buttercup, trillium, paintbrush, lilies, and, of course, beargrass.

Wildflowers on Coffin Mountain

Once you make it to the top of the meadows, at about 1 1/4 miles, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. If you head left it will take you to the radio towers and lower summit. Turn right into the trees and you’ll head towards the fire lookout and, if your timing is right, another impressive display of beargrass.

Once you arrive at the lookout there are some great spots to rest and enjoy the view.

Note that the fire lookout is staffed during the summer so please be respectful of their space. When the fire lookout staff is on duty they are most often very welcoming and willing to show you around and share their outdoor space.

This lookout in particular has an amazing deck overlooking the cascade volcanoes to the east.

Coffin Mountain Fire Lookout

From here you can either venture over to the other summit or head back down to the car.

Things to Know About Coffin Mountain Trail and Lookout

Stay on the Trail

Please don’t trample the wildflowers just a sweet Instagram shot. This is an incredibly fragile ecosystem and use trails can quickly be worn into the sandy hillsides by venturing off-trail. There are plenty of opportunities to take photos of the beargrass from on the trail all along the way up.

Fire lookout at the top of coffin mountain

Respect the Fire Lookout Staff

Fire lookouts are super cool and I know we’re all very curious about what they look like inside. Remember though that this is a working lookout and the fire lookout staff lives here all summer so this is their home. Please be respectful of their space and don’t climb up and look into the windows or try to go inside unless they come out and invite you in.

The staff is usually super friendly and willing to show you around but sometimes they may still be sleeping or if there are active fires in the area they may be busy working.

If you want to stay in a fire lookout there are a bunch available to rent throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Bring Sunscreen

Most of this trail is exposed to the sun so come prepared with a hat and sunscreen if you’re hiking in peak wildflower season. Despite the short length of the trail we still spent almost 3 hours between hiking and lounging around the lookout taking in the views.

Watch for Wildlife

deer on coffin mountain trail

There is a lot of wildlife that call this area home including elk, deer, bear, and cougars. We saw a mom and two baby deer as we hiked back down.

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