Since we moved to Southern Oregon, our hiking card has been pretty much filled with hikes on established trails (with varying degrees of maintenance), all of which were essentially new to us. Hence there hasn’t been much motivation to search out lost trails and cross-country routes. For one thing, going cross-country down here isn’t easy given the steep slopes, thick brush (manzanita – ow!!), choked watercourses, and gobs of poison oak. I did manage to find one lost trail – the #908 to Steve Peak – and also follow a now well decommissioned road down the Scotch Creek drainage in the Soda Peak Wilderness to make a loop involving the Lone Pilot Trail.
Recently, however, The LovedOne and I did a shuttle-facilitated hike along the Payette Trail (USFS #970) on the shores of Applegate Lake (post). Despite the fact that Applegate Lake is actually a reservoir of varying depth, this is a pretty nice, low-altitude hike and one to keep in mind if you want something snow-free to do in mid-Winter. But, as I was tracing our track on the map, I noticed another “trail” paralleling the #970 a little upslope. I suspected that this “trail” was actually an old road connecting the Manzanita and Payette trailheads of the Payette Trail, since you start the Payette Trail from these points on short stretches of old road. What it turned-out to be was the Witcome Stock Driveway, which worked in conjunction with a barbed wire fence to keep errant cows away from the reservoir. Today’s cloud-shrouded and hence viewless weather was perfect for exploring the nature and extent of this old road.
This exploration started at the Payette Trailhead at the head of Squaw Arm , then went across the AMAZINGLY ROBUST bridge over Squaw Creek. There is no motorized use in this area, so it’s not clear why you need such a big, strong bridge – other than when you ask the Army (the lake is managed by the Corps of Engineers) for a bridge, you’re likely to get something stout enough for a mechanized battalion.
Just beyond the bridge, the I came to a junction where the Payette Trail goes off to the west, while the stock driveway heads uphill to the south. I went south.
Two things were quickly apparent: (1) the stock driveway was still intact, even if it had shrunk to a trail in some places and (2) it is paralleled its entire length by a barbed wire fence meant to keep cattle away from the reservoir. My guess is that the driveway was built along with the reservoir back in the late 1970s and is now little used, since parts are now only accessible by horse or foot and some large trees have fallen across it (destroying the fence in the process).
That said, it provided for easy travel on this misty day,
marred only by the very occasional fallen tree,
until it worked its way around toward the south end of the reservoir and descended,
to connect with the Payette Trail’s Manzanita Trailhead.
From there is was an easy walk back to Squaw Arm on the nearly level Payette Trail, with moody, cloudy views of the lake along the way.
What this old road provides is a way to hike the Payette Trail without the need for a car shuttle. The loop out and back to Squaw Arm is 8 miles with 400 feet of elevation but you could start at one of the other Payette trailheads to make longer or shorter loops. The driveway, like a lot of lower altitude trails in Southern Oregon, has more than its share of poison oak – so be careful which plants you hug!