Update: This area was burned by the 2018 Taylor Creek Fire.
With the exception of the iconic Rogue River Trail, most guidebooks don’t list many hikes just west of Grants Pass, Oregon. But Sullivan (Hike #85, 3rd Edition) and Bernstein & Urness (Hike #68, 2014) both suggested the Briggs Creek Trail (USFS #1132) as an easy one with some interesting flora and history, so we decided to give it a try. The trailhead is at the Sam Brown Campground on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and is easily accessible via a one lane paved road (Forest Road 25) from outside Merlin, Oregon. Except for a few stream crossings, the trail is a pleasant ramble down Briggs Creek through stands of large, old trees,
with some rather unique shapes.
Given that this was the heart of hydraulic mining in Josephine County from the 1850s to the 1930s, it’s amazing that so many of these big trees survived. The trail soon drops to within sight of crystal clear Briggs Creek,
which cascades down through various rock outcrops.
The Oak Flat Fire burned through here in 2010 and the big trees seem to have survived that too.
About halfway into the hike, we reached the site of the Elkhorn Mine, which didn’t cease operation until 1933. The preferred form of gold mining in this area was hydraulic – some of the hand-dug flumes used to channel water to the workings and “giants” (the nozzles that directed the water) are still visible. We could imagine things started like this,
and ended like this. Some of the large washout scars are still clearly visible.
Shortly after the Elkhorn site, the trail actually crosses the creek. We were able to avoid having to wade – too cold now, but recommended in summer – because of a collection of old logs spanning the creek just below the trail crossing,
which allowed us to pick our way across and above the clear blue-green waters of the creek.
Who says miners don’t have a sense of humor (or irony)?
After crossing the creek, we ambled on, eventually reaching an extensive forest of oak and madrone,
punctuated by still more large, old-growth trees,
before dropping to the site of an old cabin along the creek.
Sullivan says the cabin is still here, while Bernstein & Urness say it’s not – it’s not. This being a leisurely exploration hike, we had lunch at the “cabin” and then retraced our steps. If we’d wanted to continue downstream from here, we would have had to actually waded the creek (i.e., gotten wet 😯 ). No. So this was a short (9 miles round-trip; 600 feet of elevation gain on the way back), but interesting, hike – and undoubtedly a great one on a hot summer’s day – but not among the classics. Still, it was interesting to see how big hydraulic mining had been in this area, given that it’s most often associated with gold mining in the California Sierra.