Lost Creek Lake is a 3,340 acre (when full) reservoir situated on the main stem of the Rouge River in a scenic valley basin approximately half way between Crater Lake National Park and Medford, Oregon. It was created in 1977, mainly for flood control and power generation purposes, with the completion of the William L. Jess Dam. Since then it has become a major local recreation area, with boating, fishing, beaches, and miles of lakeshore trail (for hikers, runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers). Situated at about 2,500 feet elevation, the trails are open year-round, even when snow closes those further up in the Cascades. But, like most of the water management reservoirs in our area, the level of this lake rises and falls some 60 feet with the seasons – going from a mud-rimmed bathtub in winter to a “real” lake during the summer.
Confusingly, the Corps calls the trails that go around the north and south shores of the lake, as well as the trail that goes northeast up the Rogue River from Peyton Bridge, the “Rogue River Trail.” You can, if you’re up for a mild sufferfest, follow this Rogue River Trail up to the southern trailhead of the Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) near Prospect, Oregon. We first hiked along the lake last February, doing an out-and-back along the “North Shore Trail” from the Takelma Park Trailhead to the Blue Grotto. While our hike in February was a good one, it happened on a cloudy, moody day with the mud rim in full view.
It therefore seemed reasonable, now that summer is upon us, to go back and see what a hike along the reservoir felt like when it was more of a lake. This time, we set up a car shuttle so we could hike one-way from the Lewis Road Trailhead to the Takelma Park Trailhead (Hike #32 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition)).
The Lewis Road Trailhead is a mile off Highway 62, with a pit toilet and parking for about 6 cars. The trail starts from behind the toilet, next to a sign that says “Rogue River Trail.” While you can, with difficulty, reach the Upper Rogue River Trail from here, you certainly can’t hike from here to the better known Rogue River Trail over by Grants Pass – way too much private property in the way. So we’re thinking that the Corps of Engineers (the folks who actually operate the dam and its lake) are just taking some artistic license with these signs. Still, with engineers in charge, this is a well-built, well-maintained, and very easy trail to hike or bike – a real joy after our struggles on the Upper Rogue Trail last week. We started off through a young pine forest,
and soon had a view of what the lake was like at its maximum elevation. It’s so lake-like!
About 2.4 miles from the trailhead, there’s a sign pointing to the Blue Grotto, a place where ash and lava from Mt. Mazama – Crater Lake’s formative volcano – threw cliffs and walls around a small gully, where water (in wet years) creates a small pond along with a little (or quite big when it’s raining) 40-foot waterfall. In Spring, flowers cover the cliff faces and the rocks themselves offer shade during the summer months. When we visited the Grotto in February, the waterfall was actually running, thanks to the wet, El Niño winter we were then having. Now, paradoxically, while the lake is full, few of its tributary streams are still flowing – including the one through the Grotto. So these pictures of the waterfall are from last winter.
And then we pushed on, swinging around a point for a grand view toward the dam, with the lake now in full bloom (so to speak).
A little further along, we crossed through one of the flower-infested meadows strung out along this drier, west-facing side of the lake. There used to be a Sugar Pine Camp in this area but, while there are flat places you could camp, there’s no longer an “offical” campsite in evidence here.
Warning! Rant! After staring at wildlflower guides and websites, we’ve decided that a truly useful one of these would have a close-up of the flower (since this is what draws our attention in the first place) and a wider view of the leaves and stem to help differentiate closely related species. But photos of a pink flower dot on a green field are just frustrating. Sigh. Continuing on took us through a nice avenue of oak woodland,
up across another meadow,
and down past yet another meadow filled with Seep-Spring or Common Monkeyflowers.
Shortly after this, we reached the Lost Creek Trailhead (which has a pit toilet) on the northern arm of the lake. By now the air temperature had risen into the 80ºFs and it was becoming increasingly muggy – we could see thunderheads building to the east. So we took a break here to cool off, water-up, and have some snacks. From here, the trail swings around to the east-facing, more shaded side of the lake – which was a welcome relief given the rising heat.
About a mile from Lost Creek – just across from Fawn Butte – we could look across an arm of the lake to compare its height in February versus now.
Then back in to the cool shade, past more flowers – those favoring shadier, cooler locations.
Shortly before reaching the Takelma Park Trailhead, the trail comes out of the woods to give us one more look back across the now filled lake.
Then it was just one more small uptick in the trail and we were at the Takelma Park Trailhead – which has toilets and parking for lots of cars. Single cars are supposed to park in a small lot out of the way of the parking for those with boat trailers (so who knows where your car can park if it’s married?).
All in all, a great easy hike (9.6 miles, 200 feet elevation gain) and one that really worked well as a shuttle. There were a few mosquitos about but we were mostly plagued by small non-biting gnats and flies that just liked to stand-off from our ears and buzz a lot. Our biggest struggle (such as it was) was with the seemingly bottomless supply of spiderweb strands (not actual webs) which we’d plough through and then have them trail off our walking sticks, arms, packs, etc. – like tinsel off a Christmas tree!