Park Meadow is a beautiful meadow located near the base of Broken Top. Park Creek meanders through the grass in an area that manages to stay green through the majority of the year. There are numerous hidey-holes to camp in all along the meadow edges if you are wanting to make this into a back-packing trip and the views are out of this world. This hike can also be done as a leg of the Broken Top Loop Trail.
The hike begins from the Park Meadow Trailhead, right as the paved road turns to gravel on the way to Three Creek Lake. And lucky you gets to experience the effects of the devasting 2012 Pole Creek fire right off the bat. While the fire has eliminated virtually all the shade for the first 4 miles or so of the hike, the skeleton forest allows for many more views of the mountains that would normally have been hidden behind all those pesky branches and green needles and things. In addition, numerous flowers pop up all over the trail, especially near wet areas, making you appreciate these lush little islands all the more.
You will hike through the burn, heading slowly downhill for the first 3 miles until you reach Snow Creek. Snow Creek is the smallest and easiest of the three streams you most cross on your way to Park Meadow. Depending on the time of year, weather, and even time of day, some of the crossings can vary widely. There was a makeshift bridge of logs crossing Snow Creek, so we were able to make our way across it while keeping our feet dry. After Snow Creek, it is another 1.5 miles until you reach Whychus Creek. Whychus was running much higher and was full of milky glacial runoff, probably from the week of near 90 plus degree days we had had prior. Thus, there was no noticeable way to cross on logs or by rock hopping, so we donned our sandals and strolled across. It can be a little unnerving when you can’t see the bottom of the stream because the water is so turbid, but it was never over about mid-calf depth on us.
A half mile past Whychus, you finally reenter green forest and you are only another half mile from beautiful Park Meadow. Here you will find the third stream to ford, Park Creek. This one had much clearer water and not nearly the flow as Whychus, but still no easy way to rock hop across, so we just waded across again. Once you cross Park Creek, you will reach the intersection with the Green Lakes Trail. Head to the left and wander your way into Park Meadows. Here, the views really open up and the beautiful landscape reminds you of why you come to the mountains. If you still have some gas in your tank, and think you can handle another 3 miles, it is definitely worthwhile to continue on the Green Lakes trail and to check out Golden Lake.
From Highway 20 watch for signs directing you to Three Creek Lake right on the main drag. Head south on Elm Street and proceed for 16 miles until the road turns to gravel. Pretty quickly after turning to gravel, you will see a small parking area on the left with a kiosk and trail information on the right. This is the Park Meadow trailhead. So park already.
Passes: A free, self-issue wilderness permit is required upon entering the wilderness. Beginning in 2021, a Central Cascades Wilderness Overnight Permit will be required to camp in this area between the Friday before Memorial Day and the final Friday of September. The permits will be available from recreation.gov and will go on sale in early April. The day-use permit is not required from this trailhead.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Usage: Somewhere between moderate and heavy.
Open Season: Higher elevation trails usually melt off sometime in July and remain open until the first snow falls.
Bugs: Mosquitos can be bad during the melt season, usually July-August, then will mostly clear up later in August. The area around Park Meadow can be especially brutal.
Flowers: Different flowers will bloom depending on elevation, but July and early August are usually peak months.