Fun with Ticks on the Upper Rogue River 26-May-2017

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon

Hiking trails follow the Rogue River for approximately 100 miles.  One of these, the Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034), roughly parallels it for about 47 miles from near Boundary Springs to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area outside of Prospect, Oregon.  It can be hiked in sections.  We hiked our first section, the northern-most, in 2012 and completed the southern-most section in 2016.  Done and done, except for the possibility (per Sullivan) that there was a path from the North Fork Dam Recreation Area to the Peyton Bridge Trailhead at Lost Creek Lake.  This would allow one to link the true Upper Rogue River Trail (#1034) with the “Rogue River Trail” that goes around the north and south shores of Lost Creek Lake and ends at Casey State Park.  We conveniently ignored that “except” until the nagging malaise of incompleteness was too much to bear.  So we dragged ourselves off the sofa and went out yesterday to finish the hike…

In an addendum to the 3rd Edition of his 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon, Sullivan provides this description of how to get from Lost Lake to the North Fork Dam:

…the trail now continues [from Lost Creek Lake] up the embankment towards Mill Creek Drive and comes out first on a Pacific Power access road that then leads to Mill Creek Drive. From there you walk past the Pacific Power compound and the trail reappears on the right/river side of the road. The trail then parallels the road until it starts downhill through a rocky area and ties into the Mill Creek Falls trail right at the stunning Barr Creek falls. This trail is heavily used and can be followed to a large paved trailhead. From the trailhead the trail continues to parallel Mill Creek Dr about a half a mile until you reach a bridge over the river. At this point you must cross the road where the trail takes off again along the river through an area logged about 10 years ago. Follow the trail to Hwy 62 at another bridge, at this point you cross the road and find a small parking area on the north side of the river. The trail continues from there up towards the north fork dam…

In the 4th edition of this guidebook, these directions had been shortened considerably (and almost uselessly) to:

From Peyton Bridge on the upper arm of Lost Creek Lake, the path follows the river for 4.7 miles. Then follow Mill Creek Drive and a section of the Mill Creek Falls Trail (Hike #125) for 4 miles to Prospect.

So we tried to follow the directions in Sullivan’s 3rd Edition. It did help to know that the Ashland Hiking Group had followed this route from the lake to Mill Creek Road in 2014.  But we’ve had a couple of hard winters since then and trail conditions change…as we would soon discover.  But we left the Peyton Bridge Trailhead under the warm, sunny skies that we’d been dreaming about all winter,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The Peyton Bridge Trailhead at Lost Creek Lake

and proceeded up what was, for at least the first three miles, a delightfully easy trail,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Along what the Corps calls the “Rogue River Trail”

running along the shore of a full to overflowing Lost Creek Lake.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Peyton Bridge spanning a very full Lost Creek Lake

We soon came to the first of the large bridges (there are many smaller ones) that span the trail,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The stout bridge over Nye Ditch

here over Nye Ditch.  Little did we know that this would be the only bridge, large or small, that we’d cross that wasn’t impacted, to a greater or lesser extent, by fallen trees, cascading rocks, or intrusive brush.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The flow from Nye Ditch

But, comforted by blissful ignorance, we continued on the nice open trail,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Further along the “Rogue River Trail”

through fields of still blooming wildflowers,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Wildflowers along the “Rogue River Trail”

and across a short section that had collapsed in this winter’s rains but which had been somewhat rebuilt since then.  Chances are, however, that it will collapse further if we get another really wet winter.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
A repaired section of the “Rogue River Trail”

There were, however, the occasional fallen tree problems but these were few and far between for the first three miles.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Now what?

However, from three miles on, the trail got progressively less distinct,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Grass obscures the “Rogue River Trail”

and the fallen tree obstacles got more numerous, bigger, and more demanding.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Another demonstration of fallen tree gymnastics along the “Rogue River Trail”

By the time we reached the confluence of the north (main) and south forks of the Rogue River (about 4.3 miles from Peyton Bridge and where an old road comes down from the plateau above),

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
At the confluence

the trail tread had deteriorated to being barely discernible under the encroaching brush.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Through the jungle along the river

Poison oak is a fact of hiking life in Southern Oregon and there was an abundance of its bright, shiny three-leaf clusters all along (and in) the trail. There was also a super abundance of ticks – to the point where we had to stop frequently to get them off our clothes and skin. Still we pushed on, to the point where the “Rogue River Trail” is shown to end on the Forest Service map (about 5 miles from Peyton Bridge). Here we hoped we’d find a use trail contouring up toward Mill Creek Road. Instead we found a massive 100-foot wide mud slide that had obliterated the hillside and whatever trail there was with it.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The massive mud slide

But we were able to pick-up the trail again on the other side of the slide and follow it a short distance to yet another slide; this slide was narrower but deeper, heavy flows having scoured the slope right down to its bedrock boulders.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The narrower, but more intense, scouring of the hillside

We searched up and down the far side of this slide but were unable to reacquire the trail. Either we didn’t search low enough or the likely faint use trail beyond was obscured by this summer’s vegetation. It was at this point that we decided to just get on up to Mill Creek Road and away from the poison oak and ticks! So we went directly up 700 feet, through yet more poison oak, to Mill Creek Road and then followed it past part of PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric project,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Penstocks and surge tank

to where we were able to find the trail again just after we crossed the penstocks.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The trail picked-up up again just after the penstocks

We continued on this piece of trail past “Jeff’s Viewpoint” – a local institution – with its view toward Crater Lake and Mount McLoughlin,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The view from Jeff’s View (Mount McLoughlin on the right)

then back on the road for a bit until we found another piece of trail angling off toward Mill Creek Falls. This faint and seemingly little used trail crosses a well-scoured spill channel, which is a bit unnerving since it could spill quickly and with little warning – you’d be shot by a wall of water over the edge for a 700-foot fall into the river!

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The tops of basalt columns are exposed in the spill channel

The described route would have had us following this trail down to the Barr Creek Falls overlook and then back up to the Mill Creek Falls Trailhead. But, with the trail becoming fainter the further we went toward the overlook, we decided to go back to the road and go directly to the trailhead. After a break there, we picked-up another section of the trail on the north side of the parking lot.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The trail north of the Mill Creek Falls Trailhead parking lot

This trail is more obvious because it leads from the parking lot to an overlook of the Rogue River at the Avenue of Giant Boulders. With the Rogue in full Spring flow, this was an impressive sight with a loud roar.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The Rogue River as it enters the Avenue of Giant Boulders
Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The Rogue River storms through the Avenue of Giant Boulders

From here, we were supposed to cross Mill Creek Road and find a trail through a clearcut on the west side of the river. After some wandering, we found a faint, but followable, trail just above the river, in the trees on the edge of the clearcut. After a fairly pleasant stroll along the river,

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The Rogue River just south of Highway 62

we ran into a nasty barbed wire fence just before State Highway 62, managed to get over it without injury, and then crossed the Highway 62 bridge over the Rogue River to where we’d parked our shuttle car in a turnout on the north side.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
The last 100 feet across the bridge

At this point, if we were “real” hikers (or masochists of the first order), we would have crossed the road (avoiding any chickens also crossing) and continued the 1,600 feet or so up to the North Fork Dam Trailhead. But the poison oak, ticks, and sweat were just too much, so we jumped in the car and cranked-up the AC.  Ahhhh…

Can you go the nine miles or so from the North Fork Dam to Lost Creek Lake (or vice versa)?  Yes, but it’s not an easy, straightforward, or particularly aesthetic journey.  If we’d not lost the trail in the slides, we might have been able to contour up to PacifiCorp’s power plant access road and thus shorten our thrash through ticks and poison oak-laced brush.  But that road is technically private property, the crossing of which could raise – if PacifiCorp were so disposed – some unpleasant legal issues.  So, while it was rewarding to finally “finish” our Upper Rogue River Trail project, it’s unlikely we’ll be revisiting this connector section anytime soon.  However, the first three miles out from Payton Bridge Trailhead are delightful, particularly now that the lake is at full pool.

Upper Rogue River Trail Oregon
Our convoluted track from Lost Creek Lake to Highway 62

One thought on “Fun with Ticks on the Upper Rogue River 26-May-2017

  1. Know the feeling. We just hiked the Union Creek trail to try to get to the falls. That creek is more like a river! The first few miles were fine but we had to turn around at the 3.3 mile mark due to so many trees & bushes across the trails, flooded sections and washed away sections of trail, creek crossings and misquitoes. The weather has really changed some trails this year and we doubt they will get cleaned up any time soon…


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