Favorite area trails show off spectacular, world-class diversity of the Klamath-Siskiyou region
By Haleigh Martin
Many people travel to the western U.S. to lean into adventure and experience some of the most well-known trails in America. Here in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Southern Oregon and Northern California, we’re lucky enough to host a plethora of hidden gems that most people pass right by. Living in the Klamath-Siskiyou, you can find trails that will take you to sweeping mountain peaks, lush old-growth forests, and crystal-clear swimming pools right in your backyard.
Nicknamed the “Klamath knot,” the Klamath-Siskiyou region ties together many major and diverse ecosystems of the West: Cascadia to the north, deserts to the east, coastal redwoods to the west, and California’s Central Valley to the south. Because of the rugged terrain, the complex geology and soil composition, and the range of climate across the region, the Klamath-Siskiyou boasts numerous species of endemic (found only in this area) plants and wildlife, ranks as one of the four richest temperate coniferous forests in the world, and has the largest stretch of intact watersheds and roadless wildlands. Whether you were already aware of the special biodiversity of the Klamath-Siskiyou or you are feeling newly inspired to get out and explore, consider visiting a few of KS Wild’s favorite spots:
• If the warmth of the springtime sunshine has you itching to get outside and admire vibrant wildflowers, carve out some time to visit the Rogue River Trail. Starting at Graves Creek outside of Galice, the Rogue River Trail will take you on a gently graded hike through mixed forest and rocky outcroppings dotted with colorful springtime wildflowers. With a 40-mile stretch of trail along the river, make your hike as short or as long as you’d like. Maybe find a shaded riverside meadow to listen to the peaceful sounds of the river’s flow and admire the abundant wildlife sharing the space with you.
• Perhaps you’re looking for a sweeping, jaw-dropping view of the Klamath-Siskiyou’s tallest mountain. Travel just outside of Azalea, California, to Castle Lake to begin your short but steep hike to Heart Lake. In less than 2 miles, you can find a nice rock to perch on and enjoy the view of Castle Crags Wilderness to the south and the reflection of snow-capped Mount Shasta in the scenic Heart Lake. Maybe even take a dip in Castle Lake on your way back out!
• If you want to shift your perspective and get lost in a forest as old as time, take a trip to the Oregon Caves National Monument just outside of Cave Junction, Oregon to experience the aptly-named Big Tree Loop Trail. In just under 4 miles, you’ll be immersed in the beauty and wonder of old-growth forests. Wind through mountain meadows, lush understory, and visit the widest-in-girth Douglas fir tree known to exist in Oregon believed to be between 600 and 800 years old! If you’re feeling adventurous, extend your hike an extra 6 miles to summit Mount Elijah and peer down to Bigelow Lakes in the meadows below. Make it to this trail during the month of July for a spectacular wildflower show.
• For the recreationalist wanting to take it a step further, consider a backpacking trip into the Sky Lakes Wilderness that stretches along the crest of the volcanic Cascade Mountains just south of Crater Lake. As you may have guessed by the name, Sky Lakes Wilderness boasts three major lake basins dotted with crystal clear subalpine lakes within its 113,849-acre boundary. A study completed by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1990s found that a few of the Sky Lakes held some of the most chemically pure water in the world! With dozens of miles of trail, you can choose your own adventure and explore the sought-after Oregon wilderness. Just don’t forget your bug spray!
No matter your choice in adventure, we remind you to be safe and responsible, and acknowledge that these places are ancestral lands of the Native tribes that lived and still live in what we call the Klamath-Siskiyou region. We encourage you to respect yourself and these lands by following the Leave No Trace Principles and take the time to learn about the history behind whose land you decide to recreate on to honor present day tribes. You can learn more about the local indigenous communities in the Klamath-Siskiyou on our website.
KS Wild Side appears every month and features information on conservation issues and campaigns affecting our region written by a staff member from KS Wild, a regional conservation organization based in Ashland. Haleigh Martin is a KS Wild Communications Associate. For more information, go to kswild.org.