The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is undoubtedly one of the best known trails in Southwestern Oregon. For some 21 miles, it follows the route of an old ditch dug (in the 1870s) to supply water from the Little Applegate River to a hydraulic mine in Sterling Gulch. Because of its linearity, doing a loop hike involving a long stretch of it requires some improvisation. So back in 2015, we figured how to do such a loop from the Deming Trailhead by combining a little road walking with the then newly opened connector trail from Wolf Gap. Although today was forecast as a hot one (some 20°F (12°C) above whatever passes for normal these days), the weather in the days ahead was forecast to involve exciting bursts of water and electricity, so we ventured forth today to repeat this loop.
We wanted to do a longer hike and this loop, at 11.4 mostly level miles, was just the thing. It starts with a 1.8 mile, 1,300-foot climb from the Deming Trailhead to Wolf Gap but, after that, it’s all downhill or level. It was a hot day (as expected) but also somewhat muggy due to moisture coming in ahead of the bigger weather. It reminded us of our attempts to hike in Tennessee in early summer (we did that just once 😥 ). An early start and the forested parts of the trail helped make the heat manageable. We had to dodge a lot of poison oak and flick a few ticks but no biting occurred. Given the drought we’re currently in, and the lateness of the flowering season, we were pleasantly surprised to see quite a few wildflowers still in bloom along the trail. Seeing these more than made up for the heat. 🙂
For about half its journey from Wolf Gap Junction to the Deming Trailhead, the ditch trail is mostly south-facing and open to the sun as it runs through oaks and madrones. There were welcome patches of shade when the trail dodged into a drainage or through a copse of madrones.
About 5.5 miles from Wolf Gap Junction, the trail turns into Sterling Gulch and becomes north-facing. From here to Armstrong Gulch and on to the Deming Trailhead, the terrain we traversed was lusher (there’s even a fern garden!) , cooler, and forested with Ponderosa pines.RETURN TO FRONT PAGE