Searching for “Enchanted Forest” will almost invariably take you to the Enchanted Forest Storybook Theme Park near Portland, Oregon. As much fun for kids as that is, this Enchanted Forest is, on the other hand, a real hike on a real trail through a real forest in the Applegate River Valley near Williams, Oregon. This one is fun for kids too. We first learned of it from Evelyn Roether’s 2006 Williams Area Trail Guide and were then spurred on to investigate it by an oregonnater post. It’s maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is accessible year round, so it seemed like a good choice while we wait for the new snow in the high country to settle a bit. In the Spring, this trail system is an ideal place to enjoy some of the numerous species of wildflowers found in Southern Oregon. For additional adult entertainment, there’s the Enchanted Forest Wine Run in the Fall and nearby wineries all year-round!
To reach the trail, we headed west from Jacksonville, Oregon on Highway 238 for 15 miles (you can also come south from Grants Pass), then turned right on North Applegate Road just before reaching the little Applegate store. We followed North Applegate for 4.6 miles, then went straight on to Kubli Road, and then, after 200 yards, turned right on to Slagle Creek Road. After 1.5 miles we reached the green metal gate and BLM sign that marks the trailhead at the end of the pavement on Slagle Creek Road. There is limited parking and we had to be careful not to block either of the graveled private driveways nearby.
After a brief transit of some forest, we came to a meadow with a view of Old Blue Mountain, sporting a light mantle of snow from the storm that blew through over the Christmas weekend.
Beyond the meadow, the trail carved an easy way through the usually impenetrable buckbrush,
and from where we could look out west toward snowy Pennington Butte and Roundtop.
At 0.5 miles from the trailhead, we came to the remains of a Depression-era truck. This point is used as an aid station for the wine run, so this may be the most photographed old car wreck in the valley!
Right after passing the truck, the trail follows a seasonal stream through a forest corridor dominated by Douglas fir and Oregon oak with occasional Ponderosa pine giants, where thick clumps of big-leaf maple indicate marshier areas. These are some of the few remaining patches of low-elevation, old-growth forest in Southern Oregon. There is also supposed to be a geocache (GC5KMVE) along the trail about a mile from the trailhead, but we didn’t look for it.
At the 0.7 miles in, we passed a trail sign pointing right to the 1.5-mile long Felton Memorial Trail. This side trail follows a gently-sloping path through a younger forest and is considered a prime path for viewing wildlflowers in March and April. This side trail ends at a marble and metal plaque commemorating three men killed on March 16, 1993 in a helicopter crash during a timber operation. The men were BLM employee Jeffrey Felton, pilot Dale Siegel and logger Karl Hansen.
At mile 1.9 the Enchanted Forest trail turns sharply to the left and climbs steadily up the southeast face of the Old Blue Mountain ridge to a saddle at 2,800 feet.
Shortly before reaching the saddle, we came to a marker posting indicating the end of public lands. This point, we would later learn, is the official end of the Enchanted Forest trail. But Roether’s guidebook – which we were following – doesn’t mention this factoid, so we innocently continued on to the saddle.
At the saddle, we faced three choices. If we’d gone straight ahead, we would have descended an old road to private land in Wooldridge Gulch. If we’d gone left, we would have come to a knoll overlooking the Applegate River. But we turned right (northeast) to continue on – in innocence – up what we thought was still the Enchanted Forest trail.
This higher trail carves yet another path through the buckbrush and offers some limited views,
before ending abruptly at an old log deck area and a four-way road intersection built circa 2001 (none of these roads show on current maps). From here we could see (but not capture in a photo) what looked like Mount Thielsen far off on the eastern horizon in the notch between the trees.
By now, we were at 3,200 feet and within the zone that had felt the snowy effects of the last storm. All the trees were flocked with snow; snow that was busy raining down on us as it melted and loosened in the sunshine.
After consulting the guidebook, we decided to cross the road and follow a very sketchy old trail up to a promised view from the ridgeline above. On the way up this faint trail – made even more so by the layer of fresh snow – we had a panoramic view of the Applegate River Valley and the whole mountain ridge behind it including Grayback Mountain.
The view from the top of the ridge was mostly obscured by trees, but we could just make out the snow-covered rim of Crater Lake far on the horizon to the east.
After that, it was back the way we came, along an open, sunny section of the trail,
and then along down through the forest.
It wasn’t until we got back to the trailhead and finally read the sign posted there that it dawned on us that the “official” trail had ended at the saddle, and we were renegade hikers from that point on! So, despite what the guidebook says, you can’t officially go past that saddle. Be warned! Still, a nice, short, but steep at the end, hike (5.1 miles round-trip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain), through old growth forest. The Felton Memorial Trail is a particularly good choice for a trip in March and April to enjoy the wildflowers (which you can do so without going rogue off “official” trails).