The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are arguably among the most popular hiking destinations in Southern Oregon. The current official trails to the plateaus atop both rocks are well marked and very well used. We have a weakness for Upper Table because longer hikes are possible there; for example, an out-and-back to the VORTAC station on old Pumice Road or a little cross-country (staying on game trails) across the valley between the two arms of its plateau. Lower Table always seemed a little less interesting, mainly because its main trail only goes to the old landing strip (built in 1948) and to a few use trails to views out over the Rogue and Bear Creek Valleys. But there’s a little more to Lower than just this strip and those views – as I first discovered on a hike there in 2017.

The county library is shutting down (again) for all of next week because the OMG variant has sickened too many of its staff. So The LovedOne was busy today mothballing the Friend’s bookstore at the main library and their book selling site on Amazon. This gave me the opportunity to address two pieces of business at Lower Table: (1) visit the tip of the western arm of the plateau and (2) see if the former trail to the plateau was still extant. As both of these endeavors were expected to exceed The LovedOne’s adventure (i.e., poison oak) tolerance, it was best I went out alone.

The Table Rocks are the ancestral lands of the Takelma Tribes and they were undoubtedly the first to establish trails to the tops of both rocks. A non-indigenous trail to the top of Lower Table was first mapped in 1938 and by 1948 a road had been built to the landing strip on its eastern plateau. By 1994, there were two trails to the eastern plateau – one that follows the alignment of today’s official trail and another just north of it. So, is this northern (former) trail still there?

From Reyes (1994): (1) Today’s trailhead, (2) today’s official trail, (3) part of the old road to the landing strip, and (4) the former trail to the plateau (which used part of the old road)

I got a cold – but sunny! – early start (which was good because the parking lot was overflowing when I got back) and followed the official trail to the top of Lower Table’s plateau. While doing so, I passed just five other hikers.

Up to the plateau
Mount McLoughlin, the Bear Creek Valley, and a thin layer of diminished air quality
On the plateau

Once on the plateau, I found the old road at the north end of the old landing strip. This old road is much faded but still pretty obvious once you find it. I followed it off the plateau and down into the valley between the plateau’s arms. The road can still be followed but the Buckbrush (Wedgeleaf Ceanothus) encroaching on it has become a much greater hindrance even in the short time since my first visit. Soon parts of the old road will be lost to an impenetrable wall of this plant.

The old gate is still here
Lower Table’s western arm is across the valley

The old road bottoms-out just short of the boundary of the no-go conservation easement. I turned east here, went uphill between two oak trees (sounds like a pirate treasure hunt), drifted south across a basalt boulder field (past a “vision quest” pit), and soon contacted the former trail leading to the notch in the ridge above. Coming in from the side is necessary because the lower part of this trail has been lost to slumping and a sprawl of Buckbrush.

Between the oak trees
The former trail

Once at the notch, I could see the former trail continuing down Lower Table’s east side. But first, I needed to navigate the narrow, rocky ridge between here and the open western arm of the plateau – passing the “Trail to Summit” sign enroute. This proved easier this time as someone has been up here clipping branches and hanging surveyor tape here and there.

Along the ridge
The sign
Mount McLoughlin and Upper Table Rock from the ridge

The western arm of the plateau is mostly flat but, since it is covered with innumerable small basalt rocks, the going is slower than one might expect.

The valley between the arms of the plateau
The separating columns at the end of the eastern arm
On the western arm with Mount McLoughlin in the distance
Mount McLoughlin

Looking across to the western arm, I thought I saw two people in yellow or orange jackets. Is someone else up here? Getting a little closer, I saw that they weren’t jackets but the light colored rear ends of a herd of elk grazing on the plateau! I imagine they find the valley between the arms a great place to hang-out plus the mountains to the west are an easy walk through open country. Still, to see such large animals so close to town was pretty amazing! 😊

An elk herd on the plateau

The western arm is bisected by the old landing strip road. I continued on past that to the high point on the arm, a point somewhat short of the actual end of the arm.

Crossing the old landing strip road
Along the western arm with the end of the eastern arm in view
A view of the end of the western arm and the valley from the high point on the arm
Mount McLoughlin, the eastern arm, and the Rogue River

From the high point on the western arm, I made my way back around to the notch. Other than hoof prints and droppings, I never saw the elk again. I was again amazed at how so many large animals can simply fade into the terrain.

Going back along an elk trail

I got back to the notch and headed east down the former trail, figuring it would fade away soon enough and I’d have to make my way cross-country down to the parking lot. Well, it didn’t fade (much) and I was able to easily follow it all the way to within sight of the lot. The tunnels hacked through encroaching Buckbrush indicate someone is doing a little maintenance on it from time to time. It passes three sturdy benches, which suggests it was a popular trail back in its day.

First bench
Upper Table and Mount McLoughlin from the old trail
Mount McLoughlin from the second bench
Third bench

Not far past the third bench, there’s an unsigned fork in the trail. I took the left (down) fork here and followed that trail down until it faded away not far from a more recent trail. I suspect that the right fork was the former trail (as shown in the 1994 book) and following it would have soon taken me to today’s trail somewhat above the parking lot.

Back to civilization?

This somewhat convoluted adventure came to 7.5 miles (12 km) with a cumulative 1,200 feet (366 m) of elevation gain. But, as I’ve said before, such adventuring on the Table Rocks is something best done in winter when the poison oak (of which there is a staggering amount), the ticks, and the rattlesnakes are quiet. Pushing through Buckbrush intertwined with poison oak and infested with ticks while stepping on a rattler is not even remotely close to being on my to do list. If this is on your to do list, you should seek professional help. That said, the elk were an astounding surprise! And it was good to see the former trail (or at least its eastern side) still getting some use and care. 😁

My track (red) around the less visited parts of Lower Table (the purple line is where I think the old trail went as shown in the 1994 book)