Mule Mountain to Charlie Buck Loop (Southern Oregon) 29-Mar-2016

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley

As of January 2017, there is no longer access to this trail from the Upper Applegate Road.  The area previously used as its lower trailhead is now on private property for which the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest does not currently have an easement. Please respect the landowner’s wishes and access this trail from its upper reaches via the Charlie Buck / Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918).

The Upper Applegate Road begins in the small town of Ruch, Oregon on Highway 238.  Along this stretch of road are some of the best low-altitude, all-year hikes in Southern Oregon.  It is, however, hard to build loop hikes out of these trails without having to resort to friends and/or family car shuttles or extra long walks on roads.  This would consign the solo hiker to just out-and-backs if it were not for – wait for it – the mountain bike!  With a bike, it’s possible to make moderate loop hikes out of many otherwise loopless hikes – allowing you to mix the contemplative pace of a good hike with the soul-searing excitement of a downhill ride on gravel forest roads or on some actual mountain biking trails.  Hence the miracle of the hike and bike (H&B)!

I started the loop from Mule Mountain to Charlie Buck by dropping my bike off (which means chaining it to a tree and hiding it under camo netting) at the Charlie Buck / Baldy Peak trailhead (USFS #918).  To get there from Ruch, I went 9.2 miles south on Upper Applegate Road, turned left on paved Forest Road (FR) 20 (Beaver Creek Road) for approximately 1.5 miles, then turned right on to gravel FR 940 for approximately 3 miles to the trailhead.  FR 940 is a narrow, somewhat steep, gravel road passable to sedans if you’re careful.  I then drove back down to Upper Applegate Road and went further south on it to the (now-inaccessible) Mule Mountain trailhead (USFS #919) at mile point 12 on the Upper Applegate Road.  There’s a trail sign on the left side of the road (as you’re going south) but parking is about 150 yards further along on the right side of the road.  The trail starts by passing through the pastoral calmness of some private land,

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley
Open pasture at the start of the Mule Mountain Trail

before reaching national forest land and starting its climb toward the saddle below Baldy Peak. Expansive views of the Siskiyou Crest and the Red Buttes Wilderness start about halfway up to the saddle,

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley
Mule Mountain Trail (right foreground) just before reaching the saddle

which is marked by a single tree on the horizon.

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley
The lone tree on Baldy Peak Saddle

From the saddle, you can see the Mule Mountain Trail #920 (MM) climbing up to it and the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail #918 (CB) contouring in from the north. There’s no signage up here so it’s important to note which trail is which to avoid a mis-directed descent.

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley
Looking north from the Baldy Peak Saddle

After climbing the short distance up to the summit of Baldy Peak for the view and a snack, I dropped back down and went north on the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail #918.

Charlie Buck Trail Applegate Valley
Looking north on the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail

Just past this tree, the trail starts a pretty relentless descent toward the trailhead – a descent only occassionally relieved by flat spots and small groves of young Ponderosas.

Charlie Buck Trail Applegate Valley
Charlie Buck through the Ponderosas

Shortly, I came to the trailhead, which is not signed except for a small orange arrow on a tree. The very robust steel sign board speaks to the possibility of signage at some future time (and target practice at present).

Charlie Buck Trail Applegate Valley
Charlie Buck trailhead

After that, it was a quick run down FR 940 to FR 20 and then down to the Upper Applegate Road. This road can get quite busy on summer weekends and, as there is almost no shoulder here, you have to pay attention to traffic. The hike portion (red track) is 6 miles with 2,800 feet of elevation gain and the bike portion (black track) about 6.5 miles on gravel and pavement. This was my initial try at hiking & biking and I have to say it was well worth it. Being able to make loops here added a whole new dimension to hikes I’ve done many times before as out-and-backs. Once the snow clears, I have my eye on some hike & bike loops in the Siskiyous and Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness!

Charlie Buck Trail Applegate Valley
My track of the Mule Mountain – Charlie Buck loop

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