Stein Butte Loop (Southern Oregon) 02-Apr-2016

Stein Butte Southern Oregon
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 excitment 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)!

To do a loop from Seattle Bar over Stein Butte and back via Summit Lake,  I dropped my bike at the Summit Lake trailhead (USFS #926).  To get there, I proceeded as though I was going to French Gulch but continued past it on Forest Road (FR) 1075 (Squaw Creek Road) for about 8 miles – paved for about 4 miles and gravel for the rest – to a junction with FR 1075-700.  The Summit Lake trailhead and parking lot is on the right, approximately 300 feet past this junction (there’s a small sign on the right indicating parking).  I then drove down and back across the dam to Upper Applegate Road, turned left, and drove to the T-junction of FR 1050 and Carberry Creek Road (FR 1040) near the southern end of the reservoir. I turned left here and continued approximately 0.9 mile to Manzanita Creek Road, where I turned left to the trailhead parking almost immediately on the left.  This turn is directly across from the entrance to the Seattle Bar Day Use Area.  I should note that this loop can be done entirely as a mountain bike trip.

The Stein Butte trail climbs for about two miles through the forest before emerging atop Elliott Ridge, with views of Baldy Peak (B) and Little Grayback Peak (LG) to the north – locations of the two previous hikes & bikes.

Stein Butte Trail Applegate Valley

Baldy Peak (B) and Little Greyback (LG) from atop Elliott Ridge

After a little over 4 miles, I reached the top of Stein Butte and encountered 3 of the 6 people I would see all day.

Stein Butte Trail Applegate Valley

The “crowd” on Stein Butte

I descended eastward from the butte to a junction with the New London (USFS #928) and Elliott Ridge (USFS #969) trails, with the latter just a renamed and renumbered continuation of the Stein Butte trail.

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

About 1.6 miles further east, after a roller coaster of ups and downs along the ridge through some pleasantly forested areas,

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

Elliott Ridge trail along the ridge

and with some great views of the Red Buttes,

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

Red Buttes from the Elliott Ridge Trail

the Elliott Ridge trail ended at FR 550,

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

FR 550

where there are some impressively large Ponderosa pines (this one is over 50 inches DBH).

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

The big Ponderosa at FR 550

About 0.5 miles further east, FR 550 reaches its end at a junction with FR 540 (now the Carlton Meadows (or Pasture) trail) and FR 500.

Carlton Meadows Trail Applegate Valley

Junction with the Carlton Pasture Trail

I continued east on FR 500,

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

Continuing along FR 550

climbing steadily (and seemingly endlessly) through forest and open areas,

Elliott Ridge Trail Applegate Valley

Part of the long climb on FR 550

before finally starting a descent to Summit Lake – which is more of a glorified pond than a lake.

Summit Lake Applegate Valley

Summit Lake

Summit Lake Applegate Valley

Summit Lake

Just past the lake, I came to a junction with FR 580 which I followed north for a short distance to a signed junction with the Summit Lake trail (USFS #926). After a quick 2 mile descent of this somewhat steep trail, I recovered my bike and started gliding down Squaw Creek Road – occassionally having to pull over to escape drivers seemingly confused by a gravel surface. After about 4 miles, I turned left on to FR 100 and some came to one of the trailheads of the Payette Trail (USFS #970), which parallels the eastern shoreline of Applegate Lake, contouring just above the reservoir’s high water level.

Payette Trail Applegate Valley

Trailhead off of FR 1570-100 near Stringtown Campground

The reservoir/lake is at its best at this time of the year, when the Corps has been filling it in anticipation of the summer dry season.

Payette Trail Applegate Lake

A not yet full Applegate Reservoir

After dodging cars on this and the previous hikes and bikes, I was looking forward to pursuing a “non-motorized recreation experience” – which I assume is bureaucratic speak for “fun” on an actual trail.

Payette Trail Applegate Valley

I’m not a “real” mountain biker so this trail, which is rated “easy” by true biker standards, was a plenty fun ride for me – even the parts where the narrow trail traversed some interesting drop-offs into the now almost full reservoir.  Gripping!

Payette Trail Applegate Valley

The trail (arrow) is about as narrow as it looks

The hike portion (red track) is 12.2 miles with 3,900 feet of elevation gain (lots of ups and downs) and the bike portion (black track) about 11.2 miles on gravel and actual trail.

Payette Trail Applegate Valley

Stein Butte – Summit Lake loop

This was one of three initial forays into 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!

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