A while back, I found a charming little hiking guide from 1969 that the Rogue National Forest had assembled for the area around Union Creek on the Upper Rogue River. Most, but not all, of the listed trails were short and went to a lake or creek or something scenic. Nothing epic that would dissuade people from getting out of their cars for a brief hike in the woods. Possibly this was an odder activity then than it is now? Anyway, I recognized some but not all of the listed trails. And of the ones I did recognize, the guide’s description sometimes didn’t tally with what we’ve found during hikes on or near them in recent years.

A good and useful trail, like a good friendship, requires a modicum of care and attention. Without putting some effort into it, such a trail will likely fade away before its allotted time. And, as we’ve come to realize from trying to hike (or even find) them, not all of the trails around here have gotten the attention they need (or any attention for that matter) in recent years. Resources that used to be available for trail maintenance (let alone trail building) have been increasingly diverted to fighting the wildfires that have become more frequent and intense. So, if we haven’t been paying attention, what happened to these trails on the Upper Rogue over the last 50 years? Are they still with us or have they moved on (so to speak)?

Alkali Meadows Area

(A) Alkali Creek Falls Trail #1055. Although much of this trail was replaced by Forest Road (FR) 950, a short piece still exists. You can follow it up to the 600-foot (182 m) falls. These are supposed to be spectacular during the brief time each year when water flows over them.

(B) Buck Canyon Trail #1042. This trail used to run from Muir Creek, through Hummingbird Meadow and Wiley Camp, and over to what is today FR 870. It’s still with us; just in pieces with different names and numbers. It’s now the Buck Canyon Trail #1046 from Watson Falls Road to Hole-in-the-Ground. Parts of it are in decent shape, while others are fading. The section along Muir Creek is now the Muir Creek Trail #1042 and the section between Wiley Camp and FR 870 is now the poorly maintained Wiley Camp Trail #1046B.

Hummingbird Meadow

(C) Buck Canyon Cutoff #I042A. This is now part of the Buck Canyon Trail #1046 but has been repurposed as an off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail, connecting Watson Falls Road with OHV West #2. This conversion of hiking trails to motorcycle and OHV trails is a popular Forest Service activity on the east side of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide.

(D) Hummingbird Meadow Trail #I042B. This trail still exists, but has been re-numbered as the #1046A. It provides a way to quickly access the wildflowers in Hummingbird Meadow without having to hike up along Muir Creek or through the OHV trails.

(E) Meadow Creek Trail #1044. Back in the day, this trail used to connect Muir Creek with what was then the Log Pile Trail #1046. By 1969, it had been shortened to run just between today’s Buck Canyon Trail #1046 and FR 6540-700. It remains thus shortened today. The other pieces of it have either been abandoned (FR 6540-900 to Muir Creek) or have become an OHV trail (FR 6540-700 to 6540-900).

Near the Rogue-Umpqua Divide

(F) Log Pile Trail #1046. In 1969, this trail ran between Wiley Camp and Hole-in-the-Ground. It still exists today as part of the Buck Canyon Trail #1046. As of 2018, it was in reasonable shape between Wiley Camp (which itself needs some work) and its junction with the Meadow Creek Trail #1044. From there to Hole-in-the-Ground it now passes through an area burned by the 2017 Pup Fire and is falling apart near its western end.

The Buck Canyon Trail near Hole-in-the-Ground

(G) Hole-In-The-Ground Trail #1047. This trail is still with us and still provides quick access from a forest road (FR 6540-500) to backcountry campsites and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail #1470 at the glacial meadow that is Hole-in-the-Ground.

(H) Fish Lake Trail #1570. This trail, which is also still with us, connects the Umpqua River drainage with the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail #1470 near the Hershberger Lookout. Much of it was burned over by the 2017 Pup Fire. It’s currently listed as a National Recreation Trail (NRT).

Highrock Mountain from Highrock Meadow on the Fish Lake Trail (before the fire)

Upper Rogue River

(I) Beaver Meadows Trail #1040. This trail was basically a loop off the Sherwood Creek Trail through a marsh. While still shown on topo maps, and mentioned on the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest’s website, it no longer appears on the Service’s online interactive hiking guide.

(J) Sherwood Creek Trail #1041. Another trail that still appears on topo maps and on the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest’s website. However, the interactive hiking guide shows only part of it – the part that’s now the Sherwood Motorcycle Trail #39, starting from FR 6560-390. An attempt to find it (and the Beaver Meadows Trail) on the ground was not completely successful, unless you count mosquito bites. 😦

(K) Minnehaha Trail #1039. Another trail that still appears on topo maps, has a fulsome hiking-oriented entry on the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest’s website, but appears on the Service’s interactive guide as the Minnehaha Motorcycle Trail #37. Putting hikers and motorcycles on the same trail just seems like a way to piss everyone off. 🙄

National Creek Area

(L) National Creek Trail #1048. By the mid-1950s, this trail still departed National Creek Falls, went east up to the head of Falls Creek and beyond to the head of Beatrice Creek, then followed that creek down to a crossing of National Creek and on to a dirt road at Hurryon Creek. By 1969, only the section along Beatrice Creek and over National Creek remained. It no longer appears on any current maps.

(M) National Creek Falls Trail #1053. Still there and still a popular hike to a picturesque waterfall.

Spruce Lake Area

(N) Spruce Lake Trail #1037. At some point since 1969, the boundary of Crater Lake National Park pushed west past Spruce Lake and any trail to it fell out of the Forest Service’s jurisdiction. The Park Service doesn’t show any trail to the lake. It would probably be easy to reach the lake by going cross-country from the end of FR 6535-968 but we haven’t tried that (yet).

(O) Copeland Creek Trail #1036. This trail used to run north to south from north of Bybee Creek to just short of Crater Creek, where it junctioned with the Spruce Lake Trail. The need for it seems to have been undone by the building of more logging roads. It no longer appears on any current maps.

Huckleberry Mountain Area

(P) Frenchman Camp Trail #1031. In the 1950s, this trail ran between Huckleberry Guard Station to the north and near Alder Spring to the south. By 1969, only a section of it between two forest roads remained. Once other forest roads connected these points, there was no longer any need for the #1031 and it no longer appears on any current maps.

(Q) Lookout Tree Trail #1054. This trail used to go from the road (now Huckleberry Mountain OHV Trail #33) to the Huckleberry Mountain fire lookout (now long gone) to a 75-foot tree used as a fire lookout through the 1920s. We made an effort this year to find both this trail and the tree but had no luck finding either.

(R) Red Blanket Trail #1051. Prior to the 1950s, a trail by this name ran east up along Red Blanket Creek, then northeast up Varmint Creek, curved past Cold Spring, and then went on over Huckleberry Mountain to the fire lookout. By 1969, only the short section over Huckleberry Mountain remained. More recently, a trail by this name (but numbered #1090) ran along Red Blanket Creek between FR 6205 and Stuart Falls. The #1090 trail has since been badly damaged by both the 2008 Lonesome Complex and the 2017 Red Blanket Fires. It is now difficult to hike.

Union Creek Area

(S) Union Creek Trail #1035. This trail is still with us (barely) and would be a joy to hike if it ever received the maintenance that it’s been promised for years. The two miles downstream of its eastern trailhead off Highway 62 are fine – mainly because they go directly to the major waterfalls along Union Creek and are well-used. However, from there downstream to Union Creek, the #1035 is badly overgrown and the tread is faded in many places. If maintained, it would be a great hike to the falls from the resort at Union Creek.

Union Creek

(T) Rogue River Recreation Trail #1034. In 1969, a trail with this number ran just between Union Creek, past Natural Bridge, to Woodruff Bridge. Sometime after that, today’s Upper Rogue River Trail #1034 was built between Crater Rim (Mazama) Viewpoint to the north and the North Fork Dam Recreation Area to the south. Today, the best maintained (and used) sections of the #1034 are those that pass the popular Takelma Gorge between Union Creek and River Bridge. North of Union Creek, the trail is poorly maintained and its quality ranges from passable to terrible. You can make it through, but it’s an adventure! It’s also listed as a National Recreation Trail (NRT), which makes this lack of maintenance seem worse.

Takelma Gorge

(S) Upper River Trail #1048. In 1969, this was the section of today’s #1034 between Foster Creek and Big Bend at FR 6510. When we hiked this section of the #1034 in 2016, all its bridge were either gone or destroyed and its tread ranged from fair to awfully bad to none.

So, of the 21 trails listed in the 1969 guide, nine (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, M, T) are still with us, either as they were or part of a differently named or numbered trail. Which is not to say that these nine are all in great shape – many are suffering the ravages of wildfires and lack of maintenance. Nine (C, I, J, K, L, N, O, P, Q) are no longer with us, having been replaced by forest roads or allowed to wither away once their primary purpose (mainly connecting ranger stations, guard stations, and fire lookouts) ceased. Some were lost to hikers when they were converted to motorcycle or OHV trails. Three (R, S, U) are in very bad shape at present and could be leaving us soon if there isn’t some maintenance in their future.

For those trails that are going or gone because of loss of purpose, we’re not going to shed a tear. For those that are still viable but are fading away because of lack of attention, we’ll shed a bunch. Not just because a lost trail is one we’ll never tread or never tread again but because the pleasure and insight that comes with doing so will be denied to any who come after us. And because with each lost trail, with each excision from a local hiking guide, a hiker’s world shrinks toward those trails kept alive mainly by popularity and, likely, overuse. Not a happy thought.

Maybe the current virus-driven interest in hiking will pass away once staying home returns (hopefully) to being a comfort rather than a prison. Or maybe not. Maybe a few more people will realize that being on a trail in a {insert your favorite ecosystem here} is good for one’s body, mind, and soul. When that happens (Glass half-full here! 🙂 ) we’re going to need all the good and useful trails that are still out there. Let’s start thinking of such trails as good friendships we’d be real sorry 😥 to have just fade away…