The Parsnip Lakes, located within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, are a series of water bodies formed by natural springs and wetlands, and partially maintained by beavers. The Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa), a species in steep decline throughout its historic range, was seen here again in 2003, after having been unobserved for some 40 years. It was recently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. These lakes lie just to the east of Hobart Bluff, a popular local hiking destination along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I first saw them on the map when we were planning our March 2017 snowshoe hike along the PCT to the Bluff (post) and that got me to wondering if the lakes were hikeable. These musings lead me to a 2011 post of a hiking loop past the lakes and the Bluff, so I sketched out a similar route and waited for the snow to melt.
When other hikers on this section of the PCT reported that the snow was mostly gone below 5,000 feet, I (The LovedOne having elected to garden) drove up to the Hobart Bluff Trailhead on a near perfect bluebird day. Ah, the gentle caresses of warm (finally) weather. It was also a pleasant surprise to find that this popular trailhead now sported a gravel parking area (as opposed to the previous muddy lot) and an amenity (a pit toilet).
From the trailhead, I skirted the meadow (protected Mardon skipper [a butterfly] habitat) and started downhill through the forest aiming for what was reputed to be an old road along the South Fork of Keen Creek. Neither the USGS nor USFS maps show a road here, but MapBuilder does. Well, there is ( on the map below) but it appears – based on rusted pieces of wire rope stuck here and there – to be an old logging road.
These early logging roads were built for expediency, not longevity. So while the road prism is discernible in many places, it’s pretty much gone in others. Still, it can be followed and is largely free of brush, so the going was fairly easy. It crossed the creek at least once,
and became less and less discernible as it entered flatter ground near the lakes. At this point, I went a short ways west to intersect a current gravel road and followed that northeast to where the map ( on the map below) showed a road heading northwest along the west side of the lakes. Well, there was a road here back in the day but it’s since been decommissioned and is now sorely degraded, making it easy to lose. Still, the terrain under the canopy is pretty open and I was able to work my way, past a marsh area, to the first of the delightful Parsnip Lakes,
home to the Oregon Spotted Frog.
I didn’t actually see any of these frogs – they don’t do shows daily – but it was enough to know they were still out there somewhere (still, a little reassuring croak would have been nice). It was at this point that I reconnected with the now more visible old road and was able to follow it to the next Parsnip Lake, brimming with water from this year’s wet winter (with more coming!).
At this second lake, the old road suddenly got a lot better ( on the map below), wider and much less encumbered with brush and downed trees. This made it easy to progress on to the last of the Parsnips.
Having already had my monthly bath, I didn’t make contact with the water in any of the lakes. Those who are studying and monitoring the frogs and other amphibians that call these lakes home ask that, if you go in the water, you: Thoroughly clean and disinfect your gear first. Waders and rubber boots, along with anything else in direct contact with the water, should be clear of any stray plant matter, seeds, and mud from other locations in order to prevent the transmission of fungus, bacteria, invasive plant seeds, and the like from contaminating this important breeding area for the Oregon Spotted Frog. After carefully cleaning gear with soap and water to remove visible dirt, allow to dry completely, then use Lysol or a bleach solution to kill invisible pathogens.
I continued past the last of the Parsnips on the now smooth old road as it climbed gently up to a junction ( on the map below) with another old road heading uphill to the west. This road is shown as “4WD” on the USGS map but was pretty easy to follow up to 4,600 feet, where I struck off due west cross-country (XC) through nicely open forest for a meeting with the PCT at about 4,800 feet.
I zoomed down the PCT (the snow having now melted down to only 2-3 trivial patches) to its junction with the Hobart Bluff trail and took that up to the big views awaiting me atop the Bluff.
Such views, along with the warm sunshine, gentle breezes, and only a mile back to the trailhead, called for a snack and an extended sit on the summit. I could get used to this except for that fact that it’s supposed to turn stormy again – with snow down to 4,000 feet (!) – later this week. All the more reason to spend time in the sun building one’s Vitamin D reserves. Eventually, however, it was time to call it a day and I crawled off the summit and back to the car. Sigh.
A truly excellent loop hike (7.8 mile roundtrip; 1,400 feet of elevation gain) – with fun route-finding puzzles – past wonderful lakes and up to expansive views from a well-situated summit. And all on a bluebird perfect day! This will almost make the next round of storms bearable.