Buck Rock Tunnel (Ashland, Oregon) 28-Feb-2022

The Buck Rock Tunnel is one of the most visible remnants of a rail line that was never built. It was to be part of the Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad Company’s planned route over the Siskiyou Pass and into California. Construction began in 1883, using Chinese labor, and ceased, with the tunnel only partially dug, in 1884. The O&C was acquired soon thereafter by the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad, who put tracks over the pass via a different route. The Buck Rock Tunnel then sat abandoned and nearly forgotten until a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employee rediscovered it in 1966. As an important piece of Southern Oregon history, it became part of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in 2014.

We first visited the West Portal of the tunnel in early 2021, but were unable then to locate the East Portal. I returned two weeks later and found the East Portal, but The LovedOne wasn’t with me for that. So today’s brief escape from the chaos of the world was a loop hike so that both of us could see both portals of this historic tunnel – and bag a geocache too.

Although a huge atmospheric river of magic skywater is flowing to the north of us, no moisture made it down here today. 😥 So it was dry and oddly warm (72℉ / 22℃) as we hiked along under a shifting, roiling ceiling of clouds and through the occasional sunbreak. The tunnels were, however, consistently cold and dark.

The trail (an old road at this point) starts from behind the yellow gate across from the small BLM parking lot. From there, we just kept going south in roughly a straight line and not turning on to any of the side roads we passed.

Up the road past the yellow gate
Clouds over the Bear Creek Valley
Going south on the old road
A sunbreak along the old road

After 1.6 miles (3.2 km) we came to the use trail (marked with an arrow of stones) that goes up to the West Portal.

Approaching the mouth of the West Portal
Inside the West Portal
The LovedOne declined to enter this dark realm

After locating the nearby geocache, we returned to the old road and followed it south and then northeast across the saddle directly south of Point 4087. Here we were standing directly over where the tunnel’s alignment would have been had it been completed.

On the saddle over the tunnel alignment

From the saddle, we continued on the old road as it descended the drainage to the east. This was the only place where we encountered any significant patches of snow.

Descending to the east
Across snow under clouds
Continuing on down

The old road goes down – crossing above the East Portal – and took us on an open, level field. Here we made a sharp right (south) turn across the field to a use trail in the trees. A short ways up that trail we came to the mouth of the East Portal. Here loose dirt from the slopes above has blocked much of the portal, making entering it a more difficult (and somewhat spookier) endeavor. The tunnel itself is still solid and intact – it’s only the loose dirt above it that isn’t.

The LovedOne at the partially blocked East Portal
Loose dirt across the East Portal
Inside the East Portal

We ate lunch at the East Portal, then continued north on the old road past the east side of Buck Rock and around to a junction – not far from the trailhead – with the road we’d come in on.

We start back to the trailhead
The old road is now pretty faded in spots
Across open ground with Grizzly Peak in the distance
There has been just enough moisture to get early season vegetation going
A slew of last season’s leaves
The sky blustered and threatened, but no rain drops fell 😥

This is the basic loop – no going to the summit of Buck Rock, no little cross-country explorations, etc. – for visiting both portals without back-tracking. It came to 5.7 miles (9.1 km) with about 850 feet (259 m) of elevation gain. It’s a good all-season hike to see a unique piece of Southern Oregon’s history. 😃 Today is was particularly helpful as a brief respite from the world’s troubles. 😪

Our loop around Buck Rock (W: West Portal, E: East Portal)

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