While looking for a low altitude hike to explore on one of those few sunny days squeezed in between bouts of rain & clouds, we stumbled on the Mule Mountain trail system – the Mule Mountain Trail (USFS #919), the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918), and the Mule Creek Trail (USFS #920). The wonderful description of these trails in Luke Ruediger’s The Siskiyou Crest is what sold it. Note that the Applegate Ranger Station is now the Star Ranger Station. Apparently this loop is the best example of intact low-elevation forest and wood land in this area and presents a wildflower extravaganza in the Spring. The trailhead is only a sign with limited roadside parking but all the trails, if poorly signed, were obvious, in good condition, and easy to follow. We ascended the #919, traversed south on the #918, and returned via the #920. (Update: Because of a change in ownership, the lower trailhead for the #919 is no longer accessible to the public from Upper Applegate Road.)
We started our hike in the Upper Applegate Valley,
climbed gently but steadily through a forest of mossy white oak and (eventually) pines,
before breaking out into open meadows on the south side of the Mule Mountain ridge. We left the trail here and headed straight up the open slope,
to the summit of Mule Mountain,
with its views of the Red Buttes to the south in California (they need more snow!),
and Mount McLoughlin to the east.
The #919 trail connects with the #918 trail at an unsigned junction on the south ridge of Baldy Peak. The views from Baldy are also supposed to be great and we’ll be back in the Spring for that summit (and the wildflowers 🙂 ). The #918 trail traverses south across open slopes dotted with Ponderosa pines,
and provides a good view to the west.
The #918 trail ends at Forest Road 300 and the unsigned (but obvious once you find it) Mule Creek Trail (#920) starts on the west side of the road about 50 yards to the south. Unlike the open ridges we traversed in the morning, our descent down the canyon in the afternoon was chilly and gloomy – but an ideal hike for a hot summer day. There are some amazingly ancient and large (+6 feet in diameter) firs in the upper reaches of this canyon that are worth a visit in their own right.
Mule Creek was actually flowing and the number of small pools and falls increased as we descended.
We followed the trail – which is an old road in places – as it descended along the creek to about 1,900 feet, then climbed a single-track back up to the Mule Mountain Trail to avoid private land at the mouth of the creek.
All in all, this was a really nice loop that accesses a number of different ecosystems, provides big views, and (in the Spring) wildflowers – definitely worth some return visits! It was also a pretty good workout – 11 miles round-trip, with 3,200 feet of elevation gain. 😀