The winter of 2014-15 in Southern Oregon was one without meaningful snow, even at the highest elevations. The Mount Ashland Ski Area didn’t even open. We did more than a few hikes then that should have either been inaccessible until Spring or have required snowshoes. One of these was the Frog Pond/Cameron Meadows Trail #953 in the California portion of the Red Buttes Wilderness. By rights, we shouldn’t even have been able to drive to the trailhead, much less hike the whole loop in just boots. But we did, going counter-clockwise. Staying on the trail across Cameron Meadow was, despite the large rock cairns, tricky. And the portion of the trail down to the Cameron Meadows Trailhead was choked with brush.

Then, in 2016, the Forest Service worked on the trail, clearing some of the brush and correctly aligning the cairns. In 2019, the Siskiyou Mountain Club adopted it as one of their signature day hike trails and did some major work clearing large fallen trees. So now seemed as good a time as any to capitalize on all this much needed trail maintenance work. Plus, we’re going on a multi-day hike next week, so we could use the exercise. 🙄

The #953 has two trailheads, separated by two miles (3.2 km) of Forest Road 1040. We parked at the first of these, the Cameron Meadows Trailhead, and walked up the forest road to the Frog Pond Trailhead. The forecast was for 90°F (32°C) down in the valley and we could feel it was also going to be a bit of a warm day even up here. This seems fitting as NOAA has just defined a new hotter “normal” for the U.S.

Walking along Forest Road 1040
French Gulch Creek
Stream Violet
Crossing Frog Pond Gulch Creek (this can run high enough in a wet year to block the forest road)

From the Frog Pond Trailhead, the trail climbs a steady – steep in places – 1,200 feet (366 m) in just under two miles (3.2 km) to Frog Pond – which was loud with the croaks and choruses of many, many frogs. We stopped for a snack at the now decrepit cabin that John Knox McCloy built out of giant cedar planks in the 1920s. He lived up here alone for some 50 years.

On the trail to Frog Pond
Site of the long gone Mohawk Mine camp
Snow Plants
A smoke ring in the sky
Frog Pond with Mount Emily in the distance
The remains of McCloy’s cedar plank cabin
Columbia Windflower

The trail is evident and easy to follow from the trailhead to Frog Pond. It becomes a lot less evident as it swings around through the meadow at the south end of the pond and climbs to the top of the ridge between Frog Pond Gulch and French Gulch. Some route finding and a log crossing were required. This was also where we started encountering snow.

Around the south end of Frog Pond
Crossing Frog Pond Gulch Creek
We finally hit patches of snow
Arnold Mountain (formerly Lake Peak) from the top of the divide between the gulches

The divide marks the high point on this loop and, with the heat rising, we were looking forward to a downhill cruise across Cameron Meadows. Well, almost. There were just enough snow patches to obscure the trail in a few key places and most, but not all, of the rock cairns had emerged from the snow. Fortunately, we had the GPS track from our 2015 hike and that helped fill-in some of the missing pieces of trail. Still, more route finding was required. The most important thing is not to miss where the trail makes a sharp turn to the northeast and starts down French Gulch.

Starting down from the divide
The double peaks of the Red Buttes
A waterlogged Cameron Meadows with one of the cairns (arrow)
Following the cairns
The faint trail (arrow) passes oxbows in the runoff
Yellow Fawn Lily / Glacier Lily
A very wide, very old cedar
Just a few more snow patches
Descending the defile between French and Marble Gulches

We were extremely pleased to find that recent trail maintenance efforts had cleared the brush from the trail as it descends toward the Cameron Meadows Trailhead. What had been a struggle in 2015 was now just an easy – but steep in places – walk. The descent is all under a shady forest canopy, which was good given that the air had warmed considerably and we were starting to feel the heat.

Despite the recent maintenance and even sans snow patches, this trail does require you to pay attention in Cameron Meadows or you’ll find yourself wandering down into French Gulch. 😥 That said, this is a good, stiff hike (7.4 miles (11.8 km) with 1,870 feet (570 m) of elevation gain) and one that let’s you experience a pond, the remains of an historic old cabin, a few views, and some huge (6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 m) in diameter) old-growth specimens of cedars and firs. We were fortunate to also see a few wildflowers this time. 🙂

The Frog/Cameron Loop (“C” is where careful route finding is critical)