Azalea Lake from Fir Glade (Red Buttes Wilderness) 29-May-2014

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California

There are a lot of trails and hiking opportunities in the mountains west of Medford, so we let the presence of a lake (which are not plentiful in the Siskiyous) guide our choice for our first hike in this area (#68 in Sullivan’s Southern Oregon hiking guide (Third Edition)). And, unlike Wednesday’s snow storms, this day was full bluebird – clear, sunny, about 70ºF, gentle breezes. The roads – both paved and gravel – to the Fir Glade Trailhead off Forest Road 1040-800 in Oregon were in great shape and we were soon on our way to wonderful little Azalea Lake. {UPDATE: The area around Azalea Lake was burned in 2017 by the Knox Fire.}

From the trailhead, we headed south on the Azalea Lake/Fir Glade Trail (USFS #955).

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Along the #955

After a little over a half-mile, and after passing a small pond, we crossed into California (no sign, no agricultural inspection station?), and then reached the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness at Fir Glade – a huge, moist meadow.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Fir Glade

About a mile or so further south, we left the forest and passed into open, brush covered ground, with big views to match.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Along the #955 above Phantom Meadow

It’s still flower season down here at this altitude (~5,000 feet) and, although not massively plentiful, there are a great many species represented, including this candy-stripe variety of Lewisia.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Siskiyou lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon)

After about four miles, we reached a pass at 5,300 feet. To the north, in the upper watershed of the Butte Fork of the Applegate River, is Phantom Meadow; the trail we came in on contours along below the ridge on the left.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Overlooking Phantom Meadow

Looking west, we could see Preston Peak (7,309 feet), high point in the Siskiyou Wilderness, still holding some snow.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Preston Peak

A mile further along the trail, we arrived at the pass (at 6,000 feet) which overlooks Azalea Lake and from which we could see snow-covered Mount McLoughlin to the east.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Mount McLoughlin on the horizon

It’s 600 feet down to the lake, but the trail is switch-backed so gently you hardly notice either going down or coming back up.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Azalea Lake from below the pass

The lake itself is a shallow gem nestled in the pines.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Azalea Lake
Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Azalea Lake

It’s drier down here, so the ground cover around the lake is less than what you see in the Gorge and southern Washington. There are some very nice hiker campsites on the west side of the lake – perfect for a lunch break.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Lunch at Azalea Lake

After that we reversed our steps back to the trailhead, working on our tans as we went.

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Back along the #955

All in all, a perfect day hiking new terrain in great weather and with huge views (13 miles round-trip; 2,000 feet of elevation gain – but hardly noticeable – there’s more contouring than big ups & downs).

Azalea Lake Fir Glade Red Buttes Wilderness California
Our track to and from Azalea Lake

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