Every place we’ve lived has had a favorite local hike – one that is close-by, accessible, and short – so that you can get out into the woods for a leg stretch without committing to an epic journey. There are actually several such hikes here in the southern Bear Creek Valley but one that is mentioned in every local guidebook, in several newspaper and magazine articles, and on numerous websites, is Grizzly Peak, located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands just east of Ashland, Oregon. After a four-day siege of wind, rain, clouds, and gloom, the LovedOne needed to muck about in the garden finishing some Fall planting and winterizing, while I needed to do some hiking. Grizzly Peak seemed the obvious place to start, followed by the longer ascent of Wagner Butte, now wearing a good coating of snow from the recent storms.
The story goes that this peak was named for Southern Oregon’s last known grizzly bear, “Old Reelfoot”, who roamed the area for 50 years before it was shot by a 17-year-old hunter in 1890. When the trail (BLM trail guide) is open (snow-free), summiting Grizzly is an easy ~5 mile (~800 feet of elevation gain) lollipop loop hike (3 miles for the loop and 2 miles out-and-back on the connector trail), with most of the initial, gradual climb in a cool, shaded forest, followed by big views. Access is all on paved roads and there’s room for about 8-10 cars at the trailhead, along with a pit toilet. In winter, when snow (the summit plateau sits between 5,700 and 5,900 feet) can smother the trail and some portion of the access road, Grizzly becomes a moderate to difficult, but fun, snowshoe hike. Along the trail are several viewpoints, where you can see the Crater Lake Rim and Mount Thielsen to the north, catch a glimpse of Mount McLoughlin to the northeast, look right out at Mount Shasta, Pilot Rock, and Mount Ashland to the south, and west to Wagner Butte and Grayback Mountain. During the spring and early summer wildlflower season, this area hosts up to 300 different species of flowering plants, including Tall Bugbane (Cimicifuga elata), growing here at the southern-most limit of its geographic range. The downside of most local hikes is often their popularity and Grizzly is no exception. There can be a half dozen cars at this trailhead at any time and on hot summer weekends parked cars can stretch down the access road. The pit toilet’s extraordinarily robust supply of tissue is some kind of testament to this trail’s popularity!
On this weekday in Fall there were only four cars at the trailhead (mine included) and the trail, having seen a lot of maintenance over the summer, was in great shape. The recent storms had dropped a little snow on the peak – mostly as decoration rather than as any real impediment to travel. There are at least two geocaches on Grizzly and I easily found the one (GC307RD) closest to the trailhead but not the one (GC5FV01) up near the summit.
Mount McLoughlin can be seen (sorta) from the trailhead but the best – but not wideangle – view of it comes a short ways up the trail.
The trail makes one long switchback on the northeast side of the mountain – where snow stays the longest,
before somewhat leveling out at about 5,800 feet and moving to the mountain’s less snowy, southwest side, where today there was only a trace of snow left.
I took this picture of mushrooms growing on a dead tree without realizing they looked, collectively, like a little, lumpy person – or an advertising symbol for cookies or tires.
About a mile up from the trailhead, I came to the sign that indicates the start of the 3 mile loop. Going right would have taken me, in 0.3 miles, to the tree-shrouded and thus viewless summit of Grizzly, so, wanting to get an early morning view of the Valley, I went left for a bit to where a brown stake marks another, less formal, trail junction and went left there too. This took me off the main loop trail and out to a rocky, open viewpoint where I could look south and southwest toward Mount Shasta, Pilot Rock, and Mount Ashland. I’d left the house under a blanket of clouds and fog but had climbed out of that shortly after starting up the access road from Ashland. Now I could look down and see that the clouds, while thick, were not at all deep – go up 300 feet or so and you’re in full sun! It’s a Rogue Valley thing during the winter months.
The morning had started out on the cold side and, looking down, I could see that this year’s leaf drop was encrusted with an intricate lacery of tiny ice crystals.
From this viewpoint, a pretty clear use trail took me back to the main loop trail, and on to the larger viewpoint on the southwest edge of the summit plateau.
From here, I could look down in the fog filling the valley, and west toward Wagner Butte, tomorrow’s objective,
and north toward Medford, still deeply buried in clouds.
In 2002, the human-caused East Antelope fire burned 1,886 acres of forest through which the northern part of the hike passes for about a mile. The fire didn’t do the trees much good but it opened the view considerably and allows sunlight to reach the forest understory so that wildflowers can now flourish. Natural restoration is proceeding, albiet slowly. I contined clockwise on the loop to the north side of the summit plateau where it’s possible to look north and see the Crater Lake Rim, now clearly highlighted by the 2+ feet of snow it had received in the last storm.
From there, the loop trail continues east past some large meadows that fill with wildflowers in the Spring but are now fading gold under the first snow of the season. Last year we had a near “normal” snow year (unlike the previous two years of snow drought) and these meadows rested under 3 to 4 feet of snow and made for some excellent snowshoeing.
Just short of its rejoining with of the connector trail, the loop trail passes the less than remarkable actual summit of Grizzly, just a lumpy pile of rocks. One comes to Grizzly for the views, not the summit.
After a 5.4 mile lollipop loop with 800 feet of elevation gain, I headed home to see how well the LovedOne was composting in the garden…