If you want to watch beavers going about their dam-building business you can ... well you’d probably do well to track down some wildlife documentaries.
Beavers are mainly nocturnal, is the thing.
So unless you spend a lot of nights hanging around on the banks of streams you probably won’t see a beaver.
Seeing their handiwork, however, is pretty easy.
Few animals leave such obvious signs of their presence as the beaver, the largest rodent in North America.
Beavers are best known for their dams and lodges, of course.
But to obtain the building materials for these structures — and to fill their stomachs — the animals do a great deal of gnawing on deciduous trees. These are telltale signs of beaver activity.
My favorite place to see what a colony of beavers has been up to is the U.S. Forest Service’s Powder River Recreation Area between Baker City and Sumpter.
The site, as its name implies, is along the Powder River about a mile below Mason Dam, which blocks the river and creates Phillips Reservoir.
From the parking lot just south of Highway 7, about 14 miles from Baker City (see “If You Go” below), you can hike a trail on either the north or south side of the river. A pair of bridges makes a loop trip possible. The total distance is a bit more than a mile.
The north trail is paved and is designed to be accessible to wheelchairs (snow is an issue right now). Both trails are nearly flat (the south trail has some very gradual grades) and are well-suited for snowshoeing.
You can find signs of beavers on both banks of the river. If you look closely in the thickets of brush along the trail you’ll likely see branches and trunks that have been chewed.
The partial dam in the photo above is about halfway between the bridges, and is more accessible from the south trail.
The best vantage point is also on the south bank trail, where the path climbs slightly to a point overlooking two sharp bends in the river.
Be careful at this point, as the slope to the river is steep, and because the trail is well-shaded there’s likely to be patches of ice.
From the bridge at the western end of the trail, you can walk a couple hundred feet west to a second parking area, reached by a paved road that branches off Highway 7 about a quarter mile beyond the other parking area.
This western trailhead has an outhouse.
IF YOU GO....
• From Baker City, drive south on Highway 7. The Powder River Recreation Area parking lot is on the south side of the highway between Mileposts 36 and 35 (the numbers go down the farther you get from Baker City). There’s no parking fee.
• There are trails on both sides of the river; the north trail is paved, the south is gravel