South Gate Meadows (Mount Shasta Wilderness) 22-Jul-2020

We were originally alerted to South Gate Meadows by the Ashland Hiking Group and got the details from Hike Mt. Shasta. Older maps will show the springs in the meadow feeding Squaw Valley Creek, but that pejorative name has now been struck from Forest Service maps. We’d had a wonderful clear day on the east side of Shasta the day before and expected to have a similar one here on the west side today. We arose, however, from the embrace of Morpheus to find the sun an incandescent orange orb in a sky infused with orange-brown smoke from wildfires burning to the south and east. We drove up to the Panther Meadow Trailhead (at 7,400 feet / 2,255 m) hoping to get above the smoke. No luck. The whole place smelled like an old campfire. But there was a certain strange beauty in what the smoke was doing to the color of the light and to our views of the mountain, so we pressed on. I suppose that’s an upside to getting old – you just get on with it because you’re not quite sure you’ll get another chance. o_O

The parking lot at Panther Meadows was almost full when we arrived (it’s both a trailhead and a campground) but we were alone on the trails until shortly before we got back to the truck. From the trailhead we went east toward Gray Butte (any thought of climbing it was quashed by the smoke-induced poor visibility).

Into the smoke…with Gray Butte in the distance
Lower Panther Meadow with a smoke-shrouded Mount Shasta in the distance

Some older maps show this trail (past the turn-off to Gray Butte) as undeveloped but we found that to no longer be the case. It winds through forests and boulder fields and pumice deserts but is never hard to follow. It took us from Panther Meadow up to a junction with the South Gate Meadows trail just before The Gate, a squeeze point on the ridge northeast of Red Butte.

On the trail toward The Gate
Fractured
Looking at Sargents Ridge leading to Shasta’s smoky summit
Gray’s Catchfly
The Gap is the low point directly above The LovedOne

We passed through The Gap and made our way down and around to the spring-fed meadows at South Gate. Having to pass through expanses of pumice desert to reach here only made the lush greenery that much more attractive! 🙂

Arriving at South Gate Meadows
South Gate Meadows
South Gate Creek
South Gate Creek
The LovedOne in the meadow
Flowers with Shastarama Point in the distance
Back to The Gate

We didn’t spend too much time in the meadows but decided to head back and have a snack at The Gate. Its position on a ridge yielded a nice breeze that made the smoke a little more bearable. But as we were sitting there munching, we noticed that the smoke was becoming less and less noticeable. Clearing! 🙂 This made it much easier to continue on the South Gate Meadow Trail to the Ski Bowl Trailhead.

Climbing to the ridge overlooking the Ski Bowl
Smoke begins to be replaced by what would become a thunderstorm later in the day
Looking into the Ski Bowl, with Green Butte on the left
Descending in view of Green Butte
Red rocks and clouds over the summit
The clouds begin to build

We got down to the Ski Bowl Trailhead and then found a use trail that took us down to a formal trail. We’re guessing it was the #3W38. If so, it exists lower down than shown on the Forest Service map. After-hike research suggests we were supposed to walk down the road to the #3W38 and not use the use trail but there was no signage in the moment to suggest this. Having found the #3W38, we soon found the #3W37 which took us down to Upper Panther Meadow and then the trail to the parking lot.

Passing Upper Panther Meadow on the way back

This proved to be a short hike (5 miles total with 730 feet of gain) but one that packed in visits to a lot of varied habitats, all back-dropped by big views (smoke permitting) of Mount Shasta. We were luck that the incoming thunderstorms had begun to cleanse the air of smoke as we were making our way back from The Gate. The meadows are remarkable and even the pumice deserts must be something to see when all of the Pasque Flowers are in bloom! 🙂 We passed (or were passed by) less than 10 people until we started down toward the Ski Bowl – then more and more people appeared on the trail. But we were always able to keep our distance…

Our route to the meadows (M) and back

7 comments

  1. We have hiked that route a couple of times. Also to the top of grey butte during a thunder storm. Only spent a few minutes at the top. Great pictures.

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  2. Well, it was clear the day before we visited South Gate Meadows and the day after, so it was just our luck to be smoked on this day. We’re not fans of living or hiking in smoke either and during the previous super smokey summers were able to get away to clearer areas. Not sure what we’ll do this year if there are big wildfires in our area. So let’s all hope nothing ignites!

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  3. Tis’ the sad time of year, fire season. I’m super sensitive to smoke. I’ve been able to run from it for the last 6 years but since I’ve decided to stay local this summer I’ve been reminded of this reality. I watch several resources to decide where I can escape the smoke. Sometimes Shasta is a winner, other times not. BTW the web site you referenced for trail beta should be used with care. I’ve found lots of bogus info and no longer link on my site as a result. Glad you got to experience this wonderful trail. Is planned to make it this summer but couldn’t prioritize over longer backpacking trips.

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  4. That hike was one of our yearly traditions before we embarked on our full-time travels. I love the lush flower-filled meadows—such a contrast to the pumice desert! We’ve been there when that barren area comes to life with blooming pasque flowers. Your photos are lovely.

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