Butte Fork Trail (Red Buttes Wilderness) 24-Jan-2015

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California

While we have an admitted preference for loops with a view (and maybe a summit), we were drawn to this out-and-back hike in deep forest on the Butte Fork Trail (USFS #957)¬†specifically because it is in a deep, old growth forest, one that Ruediger (in his¬†The Siskiyou Crest, page 130) calls “…the wildest and most pristine region of the eastern Siskiyou Mountains.” Being in the shady forest, and leading as it does to wonderful little Azalea Lake, this would be a great summer hike or backpack (Hike #155 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon, Third Edition (2014)).

To give ourselves extra time on this short winter day, we started this hike on the Shoofly Trail (USFS #954). This trail, which is maintained in part by local volunteers, leads easily,

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Descending the Shoofly Trail

down past some huge sugar pines,

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
This sugar pine is easily over 8-feet in diameter

to a junction with the #957 in bottomlands burned in the 2012 Hello Fire.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Arriving at the Butte Fork Trail

That fire did a number on the trail in this area and volunteers have helped realign it lower down and closer to the creek.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Along the Butte Fork Trail

But the Butte Fork Trail, even with this realignment, doesn’t get all that close to the creek (technically, the Butte Fork of the Applegate River) itself for most of its length but it does cross a number of side streams which may (or may not) provide water sources for a summer hike.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
The side creek in Avalanche Gulch

The amazing thing about this trail is that there aren’t just a few giant trees of one or a few species but many, many large trees of several species stretching for miles, including huge Douglas firs,

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
A truly gigantic Douglas fir

and towering Ponderosa pines.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
A huge Ponderosa pine

There are also big leaf maple, Pacific yew, and golden chinquapin trees.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Continuing on through the lush forest

About 2.6 miles from the trailhead, we passed a shed for trail maintenance tools that was first constructed in the 1920s and has been maintained ever since.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
The tool shed on the Butte Fork

About 5.6 miles from the trailhead, we passed the grave of three people (husband, wife, and the wife’s sister) from Portland who perished near this location as the result of a small plane crash in 1945 (story).

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Final resting place of the 1945 crash victims

Somewhat sobered, we continued on to a 3-way trail junction in Cedar Basin, our destination for this short winter day.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Butte Fork Trail from down-canyon (yellow arrow); Fort Goff Trail (green arrow); Butte Fork Trail to Azalea Lake (white arrow)

The Fort Goff and Butte Fork Trails are also part of the 35+ mile Siskiyou Crest Trail – which runs from Cook and Greek Pass to Windy Gap near Grayback Mountain. We had lunch at Cedar Basin which is exactly that, a relatively flat area full of all sizes of cedar trees.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Cedar Basin
Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
There are some very, very tall cedars in Cedar Basin
Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
And some very wide ones too

As the sun – it was a bluebird, but chilly, day – began sliding below the ridge, we started back down the trail,

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Crossing the head of Butte Creek

being careful not to trod on the little things in the forest.

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Mushrooms

A long, but really pleasant, hike (14 miles roundtrip; 2,600 feet of elevation gain) through a truly amazing old-growth forest in the Siskiyou Mountains.  This is a botanically stunning area Рa must see if you cherish old growth!

Butte Fork Trail Red Buttes Wilderness California
Our track to and from Cedar Basin

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