Applegate Lake is actually a reservoir, built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their design, way back in the 1970s, included fences to keep free-roaming cattle from reaching the lake and cavorting wantonly in the shallows. Since the lake isn’t much there most of the year, it was more likely to keep cattle from getting stuck in the mud. Anyway, the Corps built a road – a stock driveway – behind one of these fences so they could collect and remove errant cows. In the intervening years, the need to collect stray cows seems to have dissipated and today this driveway is more trail than road. It shows on today’s Forest Service maps as a trail paralleling the Payette Trail #970 between the Payette and Manzanita Trailheads. I first hiked a loop using the Witcome in 2016 and have done so a couple of times since. But the last time for me was in 2017 and The LovedOne had never hiked it, so today we went out to see how the driveway was holding-up.

The day started out cloudy and overcast but was heading rapidly toward a clear and sunny one by the time we parked at the Payette Trailhead. From there it was a short walk across the extremely stout bridge over Squaw Creek to the start of the Witcome. My only concern was that the Witcome had deteriorated a lot since my visit four years ago and had perhaps become choked with brush, fallen trees, and swaths of poison oak. Not to worry. There were a few more small trees draped across the now fading road but otherwise it was still an easy hike through mostly open terrain.

Starting out along the Witcome
Past a grove of madrones
The Witcome crosses an area of small seeps and springs
One of the small springs

It’s pretty easy to follow the Witcome all the way to its end at the Payette Trail just down from the Manzanita Trailhead. We chose, instead, to leave the old road and go cross-country down the ridge just north of Panther Gulch. This is not that difficult given that this ridge was largely cleared of extra brush during a fuels reduction project a few years ago. It was along the ridge that we saw the only wildflower on this hike.

Going down the ridge north of Panther Gulch
Grass Widow

The ridge culminates at a spit of land jutting into the lake. This is the only point on this side of the lake where you can get a clear view south to the Red Buttes. From here we followed the #970 back around, past Tipsu Tyee Camp (pit toilet, fire pits, picnic tables), to the trailhead.

The Red Buttes and Kangaroo Mountain (arrow) from where the ridge meets the Payette Trail
The same view in April 2017 – a very wet year here in Southern Oregon
Along Applegate Lake
Along Applegate Lake
Along the lake (note fishing boat on the water)
Clouds sit over Little Grayback Mountain
Mud and clouds
Looking across Squaw Creek Arm toward Point 3153 and the Grouse Loop
A seep near Tipsu Tyee Camp
Toward Harr Point Camp
String Gulch Creek
And over the bridge to the trailhead…

At present, Applegate Lake is 60 feet (18 m) below full pool but will likely get close to full by the time all the boat ramps and campgrounds open in mid-April. It will stay pretty close to full – and looking like a “real” lake – for the summer recreation season, then start to draw down again. People fish here all year-round but it’s immensely popular with the boating crowd during the hot months. Thanks to our continuing drought, Applegate and Lost Creek may be the only big reservoirs in our area that come close to full this summer.

Today’s loop came to 6.3 miles (10 km) with 700 feet (214 m) of gain on what became a stunningly beautiful day. You can stretch this to 8.4 miles (13.4 km) if you stay on the Wicome and don’t cut off as we did. Or you can stretch it out to 12 miles (19.2 km) by starting at the French Gulch Trailhead and going over or around the Latgawa Peninsula. 🙂

“P” is the Payette Trail #970, “W” is the Witcome Stock Driveway