The Siskiyou Crest Trail – which circles the Red Buttes Wilderness to the south and west – is an amalgam of different trails, which we have been enjoyably cherry-picking for several months now. On most maps, and in the Forest Service literature, the northern terminus of the Crest Trail (where it is the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207)) is at Windy Gap just north of Grayback Mountain. It always seemed odd that the trail would just end at some saddle in the mountains. So I dug a little deeper and discovered that this abrupt end was true up until 2006, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and volunteers from Williams, Oregon finished the Grayback Mountain Trail from outside Williams up to Windy Gap – thus extending the Crest Trail to a length of almost 50 miles from Cook and Green Pass to Williams. None of the topo maps, and only one of the guidebooks, for this area seem to be aware of this trail. Thus we had to go explore it.
The trailhead is easy to drive to, but is a little confusing on arrival. There’s the actual trailhead marked with a kiosk,
which is 300 feet or so down the road from a yellow gate across the road. You can start from either location, as they end up coming together about a mile or so above. The difference is whether you want to follow a not particularly interesting trail from the kiosk through the forest or walk up a similarly uninteresting road from the yellow gate. We opted to walk up the road to where a trail sign marks where you leave the road,
and go 50 feet up to a junction, where the trail toward Windy Gap goes left (south) and the trail from the kiosk trailhead comes in from the right. This is a great trail but its signage leaves something to be desired. From this junction, the now single trail climbs steadily, but easily, up through stands of pine and fir,
Higher up the understory thins out,
and there are occasional views of the ridge you’re ascending and of the Williams Creek and Applegate Valleys below.
There had been a brief storm a couple of days before but we didn’t hit any appreciable snow until 6,000 feet,
which let us know that we weren’t alone in the woods and, once again, highlighted the possibly thin line between predator and prey.
The morning got off to a cold start, which may be why this little guy survived – but an hour or so later, as we passed it on the way out, it had fallen.
This trail climbs over the east shoulder of Big Sugarloaf Peak and ends at Windy Gap,
north of Grayback Mountain. We didn’t do it this time, but from here to the summit involves a short cross-country walk through the trees and then along Grayback’s rocky, exposed (big views!) north ridge.
This is a well-graded, easy to follow trail that is mostly in the woods until it reaches Big Sugarloaf Peak, at which point the views are astounding! We enjoyed these views as we had lunch on the flanks of Big Sugarloaf.
We made the short walk up and over the summit of Big Sugarloaf and from there we could see (barely through the haze) the outline of Preston Peak, the highest point in California’s Siskiyou Wilderness.
An then, with one last look at Mount McLoughlin,
we tore ourselves from the views and the warm sunshine, and headed back to the trailhead. This was a great hike (15 miles round-trip; 3,600 feet of elevation gain) to an amazing viewpoint! We wouldn’t recommend the trail from the kiosk trailhead to the junction unless you really don’t want to walk on a road. Also 2015 is a drought year, with unusually low amounts of snow. In a “normal” year, the upper parts of this trail are likely to be snow-covered until April or May.