Willow Prairie: North Loop (Southwest Oregon) 03-Nov-2021

Last year’s (and, sadly, part of this year’s) virus-driven theme was staying local. But as last year surged to a close, we became increasingly challenged to find local hikes that were new to us. Meeting this challenge was why I found myself (The LovedOne being busy with the library) late last year exploring some of the 19 miles (30 km) of equestrian trails emanating from the Willow Prairie Horse Campground located about 25 miles (40 km) east of Medford.

On that occasion, I followed a confusing ravel of trails and gravel roads wending their way east to Rye Flat and also found what was once the largest Western White Pine in the U.S. (it died of natural causes several years ago). What was supposed to be an easy hike on well-marked horse trails turned into a navigation and hill-climbing adventure. Fun, but I wasn’t hankering to do it again.

And now 2021 comes to a close and we’re still looking for new hikes. So why not give Willow Prairie another chance? But which trail this time? For a supposedly organized set of horse trails, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a map of them. They appear in their entirety only on the Forest Service’s interactive visitor map (and are replicated on the Hiking Project) and on maps handed-out at the campground (which aren’t available when the campground is closed). Only these maps have the numbers that match the numbers on the trail markers.

Numbers on this map posted at the trailhead match those on signs along the trail – the North Loop circles Point #7

So, facing possible navigational confusion, we headed out to explore the Willow Prairie North Loop #1091D, which starts from behind the rental cabin at the campground. The campground is now closed for the season, which substantially reduced our chances of meeting horses on the trail. Today was forecast to be a dry, but not necessarily sunny, one between the much welcome series of rain storms ๐Ÿ˜ that have been pushing through Southern Oregon for the past few weeks. So we did the whole hike in mild temperatures under overcast skies – with a burst of sunlight just as we got back to the trailhead. ๐Ÿ™„

The rental cabin at Willow Prairie
Through the gate behind the cabin
Much of the trail was single-track through the forest

What really made our day were the astounding number of mushrooms – of every size, color, and configuration – popping-up everywhere along the trail! Fungus doesn’t appeal to everyone but we find its manifestation as mushrooms fascinating and time (perhaps a bit too much) was spent crawling around looking at them. There was loose talk of identifying them (maybe one day) but today we were satisfied with just enjoying them as natural art objects. Their colors are a gift when the wildflowers are gone and the Fall colors are fading.

Mushroom I
Mushroom II
Mushroom III
Mushroom IV
On the trail past Point #2

For extra navigational confusion, the trail splits somewhere around Point #2, with the #1091D swinging out to the west and back, while the Willow Prairie Spur C #1091C continues straight north. There is no signage here indicating this, so (in retrospect based on the GPS) we went north on the #1091C to rejoin the #1091D at Point #4. ๐Ÿคช

Mushroom V
Mushroom VI
Mushroom VII
Leaf with age spots
Root
Mount McLoughlin is only (partially) visible from a few places along the trail
On the trail past Point #6
Forest floor with mushrooms
Going counter-clockwise on old double-track past Point #7
Mushroom VIII
A tiny bit of remaining Fall colors
On the trail near the top of the loop
Mushroom IX
Leaf
On the trail going back toward Point #7
More Fall colors
Climbing back to Point #7
Mushroom X
Mushroom XI
Mushroom XII
Toward Point #6
Mushroom XIII
Leaf
Entering the campground – note shaft of sunlight ๐Ÿ˜Ž
Willow Prairie

Unlike last year’s Rye Flat adventure, this lollipop loop was clear and simple. Its 8.3 miles (13.3 km) consisted of single- and double-track trails, with just enough signage to keep us from getting too confused where it crossed a number of old logging roads. There is little climbing (only 600 feet (183 m)) and almost no views, so we found ourselves simply enjoying a refreshing walk in the woods (and the mushrooms). Sometimes it’s good for you to drop your goal-oriented behaviors and just walk through a forest or a park or somewhere outside with trees. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

North Loop – with numbers that correspond with those on the map at the campground
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2 comments

  1. Thanks! It’s mushroom time here in Southern Oregon. But this hike had more mushrooms in one place than any other single hike we’ve been on lately.

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  2. I don’t know if I have seen that many different types of mushrooms in my whole life. I was similarly impressed by the mushroom photos in the previous hike. The “Starry Night” root was nice also.

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