Since we moved to Southern Oregon, we’ve done any number of hikes around and near Applegate Lake, a reservoir at the head of the Upper Applegate River Valley, owing to the accessiblity of its trails almost all year round. But for any number of reasons, we’ve never visited the lake when its near to full; that is, when it looks like a lake and not giant mud-rimmed bathtub. The desire to see it at least once as a lake was strong, so when its pool elevation reached 1983.17 feet, with 1987.00 feet being full pool (dam hydrograph), it was time for a visit to view the waters. The LovedOne’s library volunteer duties kept her off this hike, so we’ll be doing another one here soon so she too can see the waters.
To reach the French Gulch Trailhead, I had to cross the dam, and one look at the intake structure made it clear that the lake was almost full to overflowing.
From the trailhead, I headed east on the Payette Trail (USFS #970), around the now well-watered French Gulch Arm of the lake,
past an osprey squawking and wobbling on a limb near its nest,
to the Payette’s junction with the Calsh Trail (USFS #971), took that up to the Dagelma Trailhead,
and then descended the Osprey Trail (USFS #973), through pleasantly green meadows and forests (but with a lot of poison oak in evidence),
to the lake’s Salmon Arm and the Payette trailhead.
I continued on the Payette Trail across the head of the Arm over the Corps’ very robust bridge and just before the intermittent creek in Springer Gulch, turned south up what appears to be called the Witcome Stock Driveway. Near as I can figure, it was used in conjunction with a barbed wire fence to funnel errant cattle away from cavorting in the reservoir. It’s hard to tell if it still serves that purpose. 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). Still it’s pretty easy to follow on foot and provides a means of making a loop with the Payette Trail (post).
Views from the driveway are mostly blocked by trees but there is one place where you can see the lake and Little Grayback Mountain,
and another where you can make out a sliver of Collins Mountain and Point 4343.
About 2.6 miles along the driveway, I came to a ridge that runs west toward to a point on the lake where it’s possible to look south to the Red Buttes. Since today’s hike was all about a full lake, I left the driveway here and went cross-country down the relatively open top of the ridge – trying to avoid the poison oak as much as possible (in two days or so, I’ll know how that worked out).
I reconnected with the Payette Trail right at the spot where you can see the Red Buttes at the south end of the lake.
I then turned east on the Payette, stopping to enjoy the ring pattern in a huge, weathered, but intact, tree root that had washed ashore here.
As I followed the trail east back into Salmon Arm, clouds coming in ahead of Sunday morning’s weak storm worked to accentuate the blue, green, and turquoise colors in the water.
The Payette Trail gets a lot of use and is usually in good condition, but this year’s wet weather combined with some recent high winds collapsed the trail and blocked it with fallen trees about a mile or so west of Tipsu Tyee Camp.
I worked my way back around to the head of Salmon Arm, with a view toward snow covered Stricklin Butte,
then retraced by steps up the Osprey Trail and down the Calsh Trail, then back along the Payette Trail to the French Gulch trailhead. By the time I got back to my car, more clouds were appearing on the horizon,
and soon a milky – photograph numbing – overcast was in place, making it an excellent moment to call it a day. A moderate lollipop loop (12 miles roundtrip; 1,400 of elevation gain) on trail, use trail, and cross-country in perfect weather with excellent views of Applegate Lake as a lake.