Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail ~ Southwest Oregon (October 2020)

The Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (#1470) runs, as its name suggests, for some 30 miles between Huckleberry Gap and Three Lakes along the divide between the Umpqua and Rogue River watersheds.  The Forest Service describes it as the primary route through the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. We’ve spent the last five years hiking almost all of it in sections. By doing so, we got to experience the #1470 directly and also ponder the future of our trails that aren’t social media darlings. So here are some thoughts about the #1470 as a whole, with particular emphasis on where the Service’s sometimes overly hopeful descriptions of it depart from its reality. But let’s be clear here: this is a personal reminiscence, not a guidebook and should not be relied on as such. Just saying…

We’ve divided the trail into four sections from southwest to northeast, defined by where you can most easily access it by road. The quality of the trail can vary considerably in each section. In places its condition is good with big views. In others it has devolved into a viewless brush-choked slog. More than a few miles of it haven’t seen maintenance in years and years. And in others, wildfires have exacted a heavy, heavy toll. Reliable drinking water sources are few and far between – so, if you’re backpacking, be ready to filter and fill when you can. And there are places where the trail as mapped and the trail on the ground are wildly divergent. So, overall, just don’t be surprised if somehow your ramble becomes more of an adventure. 😳

Huckleberry Gap to Yellow Jacket Camp (6.8 miles; 1,200 feet of gain)

The #1470 begins on the southwestern end of the wilderness at Huckleberry Gap, an amenity-free wide spot on Forest Road (FR) 60. From here the trail parallels the old Civilian Conservation Corps road to Abbott Butte. It passes below Abbott Butte Lookout but a short trail will take you up there to see a still-standing all wood fire lookout. The section up to Abbott Butte is the #1470’s most popular and is in pretty good condition (it may have had some maintenance in 2018).

The Abbott Butte Lookout has been here since 1939. This view is from February 2015 (as of October 2020 the roof of the cab had collapsed on to the upper deck).

Past the turn-off to Abbott Butte, the trail becomes increasingly difficult to follow as it passes Saddle Camp, a few small campsites next to a small pond (a drinking water source) below a rock cliff called Elephants Head.

The pond at Saddle Camp below Elephant Head

Beyond the pond the trail is vague (and often buried in low-growing annual plants during the growing season) until it reaches the junction with the Golden Stairs Trail #1092 three miles beyond Abbott. In 2016 there was still a sign here marking the junction, but the #1092 has been abandoned (lower down it’s been converted into an off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail). One mile past this junction, the trail reaches Yellow Jacket Camp, which is not a camp, just a saddle on the ridge next to FR 700 (which is also an OHV trail).

Yellow Jacket Camp
Yellow Jacket Camp to Forest Road 6515 (7.0 miles; 900 feet of gain)

From Yellow Jacket Camp the trail deteriorates quickly as it follows an old skid road for a half mile before reverting to an overgrown and hard-to-follow wreck of a single-track. The Forest Service claims a live creek crosses the trail along here but it’s really just a boggy small spring or seep.

As of 2020, the trail northeast of Yellow Jacket Camp was a wreck

The wrecked single-track climbs the south slope of Anderson Mountain and opens to a gigantic sub-alpine meadow, which is full of wonderful wildflowers in early summer. Unfortunately, when this vegetation is up it completely obscures the trail as it doesn’t get enough use to keep the veg down. There’s a sign at the junction with the Sandstone Trail #1436, but the #1436 looks like it too has been abandoned.

Mount Thielsen from the meadows north of Anderson Mountain

Just past the big meadows you reach a big sign for the Anderson Camp Trail #1075. Although the #1075 is no longer maintained, is vague in spots, and not where it is shown on the map, it can be followed down to FR 6515. This is a pretty easy way to visit the huge wildflower infested meadows at Anderson Camp and in the meadows around Anderson Mountain.

This sign is a key milestone along the #1470

From Anderson Mountain, the #1470 is in good condition as it travels northerly on the crest of a rocky ridge, offering big views of the Crater Lake Rim and Mount McLoughlin to the east, Highrock Mountain to the west, and Abbott Butte to the southwest. The views from along the ridge to FR 6515 are some of the best on the #1470.

Along the ridge north of Anderson Mountain

The Pup Prairie Trail #1434 (which may have been impacted by the 2017 Pup Fire) intersects the #1470 just before it reaches FR 525, which you follow for a short way to where a road walk begins on FR 6515-530.

Forest Road 6515 to Happy Camp (7.0 miles; 1,200 feet of gain)

The #1470 starts this section as a walk up FR 6515-530, past its junction with FR 6515-535 (at a wide spot called Horse Camp – no sign or amenities), for one mile to a junction with the Acker Divide Trail #1437 (also impacted by the 2017 Pup Fire). At this bend in the road, FR 6515-530 continues steeply uphill for another half-mile to the historic Hershberger Lookout.

Hershberger Lookout

Back at the bend, the #1470 continues north around Jackass Mountain, past a junction with the Fish Lake Trail #1570 and then the Rocky Rim Trail #1572 (both impacted by the 2017 Pup Fire). This section used to be part of what was then (about 1969) the Log Pile Trail #1046, which has become today’s Buck Canyon Trail #1046 (which is sometimes,confusingly, called the Alkali Trail #1046).

Highrock Mountain from the #1470 (before the 2017 Pup Fire)

Past its junction with the #1572, the #1470 traverses the eastern face of Weaver Mountain, with views to the north and east. It then descends to the edge of an ancient shallow glacial lake – now a marshy meadow called Hole-in-the-Ground – that feeds Log Creek (both our doubtful drinking water sources). The #1470 passes along the southeast edge of the meadow to Hole-in-the-Ground Camp (just backcountry campsites with no amenities).

A sign at a somewhat confusing confluence of trails

Here the #1470, the Buck Canyon Trail #1046 (even though it goes past Alkali Meadows, the #1046 is usually called the Buck Canyon Trail), and the Hole-in-the-Ground Trail #1047 mingle. The 2017 Pup Fire damaged both the #1046 and its junction with the #1470 and sorting out which trail is which here can be a challenge. But, as of 2018, it looked like the #1470 had received some maintenance, making it easier to find as it makes a rather strenuous one-mile climb along the side of Fish Mountain to FR 870.

The #1470 makes a steep climb up the side of Fish Mountain

At FR 870 the single-track ends, you leave the wilderness, and then walk down the road for one mile to Happy Camp – an obvious camping area that is popular with hunters in season. FR 870 was “cherry stemmed” from inclusion in the wilderness area, as was Happy Camp.

The road to Happy Camp, with Rattlesnake Mountain on the horizon
Happy Camp to Three Lakes Camp (10.0 miles; 2,000 feet of gain)

Just past Happy Camp, there’s a trail going left (northwest) down toward the valley floor. This is the #1470 – but signage here is spotty. It’s path down the valley is faint and marked with large cairns. You pass the #1477, which climbs northwest out of the Fish Creek Valley along the slopes of Rattlesnake Mountain. Then you pass the #1042 which goes southeast back to FR 875, then over the ridge to now mostly abandoned Wiley Camp in Buck Canyon. Three miles north of Happy Camp, the #1470 returns to FR 870, crosses it, and starts up the side of Buckneck Mountain.

Following cairns making the #1470 as it goes down the Fish Creek Valley

The #1470 from FR 870 to the top of Buckneck Mountain’s north ridge is, as of 2020, in good condition. But past that the trail was heavily damaged by the 2011 Umpqua Complex Fire and has received no maintenance since. So, for about 1.5 miles, the #1470 is often impossible to find under a covering of fallen trees, ravel, and new growth – it can be followed but doing so is not easy. The last mile before FR 37 reminds you of how wonderful this forest was before the 2011 fire.

Fire damaged trail on the north side of Buckneck Mountain
The forest before the 2011 fire

The #1470 leaves the Rogue-Umpqua Wilderness on the slopes of Buckneck Mountain. This has allowed the Umpqua National Forest to open the #1470 from FR 37 to the Three Lakes Trailhead to motorcycles. While this keeps the trail open, motorcycles and hikers don’t always mix well. It may be best to end your hike or backpack at Happy Camp. But it’s worth hiking a mile or so north from FR 37 to see the huge meadows along Forked Horn Creek, particularly during wildflower season.

One of the big meadows north of FR 37

So there you have it, our take on the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (#1470). As we’ve said before, hiking this trail has been a love/sadness thing.

❤ Love because it’s most popular and easiest to follow section – from Huckleberry Gap to Abbott Butte – gets you to big views from near a rickety wooden lookout tower that’s been there since 1939. And, although Anderson Mountain is a little harder to reach, the wildflower displays in, and the views from, its meadows are spectacular. And it’s not hard to arrange a shuttle from Anderson Camp to FR 6515 so you can enjoy the views from the rocky ridge between those points.

😦 Sad because this seems like another trail that is being forgotten by the Forest Service and the hiking community. Not necessarily out of enmity but just because there are so many other things going on in the world these days that are taxing our attention spans, empathy, and budgets to the limit. Out west here, much of the Forest Service’s budget is now going to fight climate change-fueled wildfires, rather than for trail building or maintenance. Which means that, one day, this trail, like many others, might be but a memory (if that). 😥

The Big V seems to have galvanized people’s interest in hiking; this is a good thing. We hope this interest in hiking continues past whatever accommodation we eventually reach with this sneaky, deadly virus. If so, it would be good if we spread-out some (and maybe gave donations or volunteer time) to trails that, while perhaps a bit challenging and certainly unlikely to “go viral” (no pun intended 😉 ), are still worthy of our love and enjoyment. 😀

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