Squaw Peak Lookout (Southwest Oregon) 21-Nov-2020

A nice walk in perfect weather. To a cute, restored fire lookout (which you can rent). With wonderful views in all directions. On a peak with an unfortunate name. Efforts to change that have lurched along for several years now, with no end in sight. But the work continues.

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Hiking Southern Oregon: 25 Hikes (February 2020)

To celebrate our 600th post on WordPress, we’re highlighting a select few of the many hikes we’ve enjoyed here in Southwest Oregon.

As we’ve perused lists of Oregon’s greatest hikes, we’ve come to notice that these lists are heavily skewed, with a few exceptions, toward hikes near Portland.  The Portland metro area’s greater population helps if a list is based on some kind of vote.  And proximity to its major airport helps get votes from those who drop in for a brief Western adventure.  Even some of the classics, like the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon or the Three Sisters in Central Oregon, often don’t make these lists because they are too far away.  So a lot of “great” hikes get done near Portland – the state’s most populated town. And then the complaints roll in about how there’s no parking, the trails are too crowded, you need a permit or must pay a fee, it’s raining, etc.

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Squaw Peak (Southern Oregon) 16-Dec-2019

The Little Grayback Trail is one of the classic trails in Southern Oregon. The trail itself runs between French Gulch and Forest Road 2010-340 and offers some good views of the Red Buttes along the way. But for even bigger views, it’s only necessary to extend the hike (on forest roads) for three miles (round-trip) to the lookout (now available for rental) on the summit of Squaw Peak. This makes for an 11 mile round-trip, 1,800 feet of gain, hike, one that seemed perfect as another step up toward “normal” hiking.

The LovedOne, fearing a repeat of the snow slog we’d done to Squaw in December 2015, took a pass on this one. Which was too bad since this December the snow was never more than 4-6 inches deep and deepest only up by the lookout. 😦 An inversion fog was choking the Rogue Valley in gloominess but it was full (but cold) sunshine by the time I reached the lower trailhead on bumpy French Gulch Road.

It was cold at the trailhead

There are two nice things about this trail. The views start shortly after you leave the trailhead and continue from there.

The Red Buttes from the trail
The Squaw Peak Lookout (arrow) comes into view about two miles up the trail

And it’s on south facing slopes, where the sun’s warmth typically confines any snow to the depths of the side gullies.

Sunshine
A little snow on the trail in one of the gullies
Back in the gullies, there’s never enough sun at this time of year for any warmth
A touch more snow on the ridge near trail’s end

As noted, the trail ends at its upper trailhead on a forest road about a mile and a half from the lookout. A walk down these lightly snowed roads got me to the gated road to the lookout and the start of deeper snow cover. But not one deep enough to impede just walking. No matter that it’s only 0.8 miles, the walk up this road is a slog and the most challenging (mentally at least) part of this hike.

Ample snow along the road to the lookout

But the slog was forgotten as I got to the 360° views from the lookout – which were particularly good on this clear, full bluebird day. 🙂

After the slog, it’s always a relief to reach the lookout!
To the east: Wagner Butte (w.) and Dutchman Peak (d)
To the east: Mount McLoughlin (m) and Wagner Butte (w.)
To the west: Grayback Mountain (g), Big Sugarloaf Peak (b), and the new outhouse (arrow) for the renters
The view west from the porch, Grayback and Big Sugarloaf in center
Mount McLoughlin from the RAWS meteorological station next to the lookout

Thanks to the met station next to the lookout, I knew that it was 41°F, with a 14 mile per hour (mph) breeze, while I sat on the lookout’s steps munching a snack. Very nice. 😎 This station has recorded winds in excess of 100 mph – which might be something to experience, but not today. It was very pleasant lingering on the summit but, too soon, it was time to head back. There was no slogging going down but I wasn’t quick enough to reach French Gulch while the sun still reached it. So it was almost as cold in the gulch as when I’d left. Still, a solid hike on beautiful day in the sun, with views. 😀

An oak in winter
A young madrone
My track from French Gulch to the lookout and back
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Squaw Peak Lookout (Oregon) 21-Dec-2018

Squaw Peak (4,984 feet) lies about 18 miles southwest of Ashland, Oregon. It’s a prominent point on the ridge system that includes Little Grayback Mountain to the west and Squaw Mountain to the east. A (now classic) new model L-4 groundhouse, with catwalk , was built on its summit in 1943. This lookout was staffed regularly from 1943 until the mid-1960s. Unlike many other fire lookouts in the Pacific Northwest, it was not destroyed when the Forest Service decided that aircraft could replace them. It is still used for emergencies and in early season when access to the still-staffed lookout on Dutchman Peak to the east is blocked by snow. It has recently been refurbished and placed in the Forest Service’s lookout rental program. From its catwalk, you have (if the weather cooperates) expansive views of the upper Applegate Valley, the Rogue River Valley, the Cascade Range and the western Siskiyous.

On gravel Forest Road 2010, you can drive to the lookout (if you’ve rented it) or to within a mile of it. Or you can hike to it on the Little Grayback Trail plus some road-walking. A gap in the weather was predicted for the Solstice, making it the perfect opportunity to see what conditions were like at the lookout. The LovedOne demurred on this adventure, still wary of Squaw from when we postholed our way to it during the super snowy winter of ’15. On my way to the lookout, I experienced various combinations of fog, rain squalls, sunshine, and snow flurries. There were a few inches of snow and blue skies above at the lookout but the usual views were blocked by swirling clouds. There’s a weather station on the summit, which is how I know the air temperature was 33F (with a 6 mph wind) when I was there. No worries – it was still a good, solid hike (11 miles round-trip; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) to a favorite local destination! 🙂

Sunshine shortly after leaving the trailhead
The Siskiyou Crest peaks through the clouds
Sunshine ended and the clouds returned
Then it started snowing lightly
Producing only a light dusting
But by Forest Road 2010, it was snowing pretty hard
But a mile farther on, at the lookout, it was all blue skies above a sea of clouds
The lookout in 1943 (Dave Bula Collection)
The “view” to the west today
The westward view on a clear day: Grayback Mountain (G), Big Sugarloaf Peak (S), Baldy Peak (B), and the old outhouse (O)
The old outhouse (arrow) today
Looking east today
Looking east on a clear day: Mount McLoughlin (M) and Wagner Butte (W.)
Looking east toward Dutchman Peak today; RAWS weather station on the left
Heading back down the service road
Agitated clouds and a snow squall across the valley
Going down the Little Grayback Trail
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Hiking to Squaw Peak (Southern Oregon) 28-Apr-2017

Charlie Buck Trail Squaw Peak Oregon

The 11-mile Mule Mountain~Mule Creek loop hike in Southern Oregon’s Upper Applegate Valley (USFS #919) used to be a winter/spring favorite owing to its accessiblity in winter and wildflowers in spring.  Unfortunately, access to the bulk of the trail on federal land was across a 0.3 mile easement on private land.  In 2016, when that private land changed ownership, the easement was revoked.  While some people still seem to be using the trail, doing so technically constitutes trespassing – which may become more of an issue if the new owner takes up residence on the site.  The U.S. Forest Service is supposedly negotiating for a new easement but, in the meantime, they suggest accessing the loop from its top via the Charlie Buck/Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918). This approach does not have nearly the accessibility (it was closed by snow all winter) as did the old #919, but it’s what’s on offer at the moment.

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Hiking Squaw Peak in Winter 27-Jan-2017

Little Grayback Trail Squaw Peak Oregon

Now that low altitude (snow-free) access to the Mule Mountain Trail (USFS #919) has been lost to private development, only two publicly accessible trails remain to take you to the upper reaches of the forest east of Applegate Lake: the Stein Butte (USFS #929, post) and the Little Grayback (USFS #921) Trails.  The Forest Service has suggested a work-around for Mule Mountain involving the Charlie Buck Trail (USFS #918) but its trailhead is up a steep dirt road and is, at present, blocked by snow – not exactly a low-altitude, year-round accessible trail. The Little Grayback is not a trail that has (so far) made it into many guidebooks, but Ruediger (The Siskiyou Crest, page 110) considers it to be the most botanically interesting trail in this area.  That, combined with the loss of the Mule Mountain, may increase its popularity, despite the rough dirt road to its trailhead.  The Little Grayback can be hiked out-and-back in its own right (wildflowers in season, big views!) but you can also go from the end of it up forest roads to the lookout atop Squaw Peak [I realize some folks find this word offensive but the U.S. Board of Geographic Names has not yet seen fit to amend the maps in this area, so I’m stuck with it when describing this hike].  That lookout was today’s snowy destination.

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Payette Trail (Applegate Lake) 29-Nov-2016

Payette Trail Applegate Lake Southern Oregon

After several stormy days in otherwise bucolic Southern Oregon, today opened to near perfect bluebird conditions – sunny, crisp, and clear, with just a hint of clouds for contrast.  Rummaging through our list of low-altitude, snow-not-ready-yet-for-snowshoes, Winter hiking options, we came up with the Payette Trail (USFS #970).  This hiking and mountain biking trail runs for about nine nearly level miles along the eastern shore of Applegate Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers managed reservoir on the Upper Applegate River.  The reservoir’s pool elevation can change by 100 feet or more annually in response to seasonal rainfall.  So it looks like a real lake in mid-summer but a large mud bathtub in mid-winter.  Nonetheless the trails around it are good ones, and all offer some pretty vistas if you accept the “lake” for what it is.

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Mule Mountain to Little Grayback Loop (Southern Oregon) 31-Mar-2016

Mule Mountain Trail Applegate Valley

As of January 2017, there is no longer access to this trail from the Upper Applegate Road.  The area previously used as its lower trailhead is now on private property for which the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest does not currently have an easement. Please respect the landowner’s wishes and access this trail from its upper reaches via the Charlie Buck / Baldy Peak Trail (USFS #918).

The Upper Applegate Road begins in the small town of Ruch, Oregon on Highway 238.  Along this stretch of road are some of the best low-altitude, all-year hikes in Southern Oregon.  It is, however, hard to build loop hikes out of these trails without having to resort to friends and/or family car shuttles or extra long walks on roads.  This would consign the solo hiker to just out-and-backs if it were not for – wait for it – the mountain bike!  With a bike, it’s possible to make moderate loop hikes out of many otherwise loopless hikes – allowing you to mix the contemplative pace of a good hike with the soul-searing excitment of a downhill ride on gravel forest roads or on some actual mountain biking trails.  Hence the miracle of the hike and bike (H&B)!

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Squaw Peak in Snow (Oregon) 26-Dec-2015

Squaw Peak Applegate Valley Southern Oregon

We needed to get out and burn off a few of the excess calories we’d consumed on Christmas Day. And, for whatever reason, we thought (or didn’t) that a snow hike up to Squaw Peak would be just the thing to do the metabolizing. We knew there would be snow but (hopefully) not too much snow. Going with the hopefully theme, we didn’t take snowshoes. Figuring, I guess, we’d post-hole to glory if necessary (which we did). Continue reading “Squaw Peak in Snow (Oregon) 26-Dec-2015”

Squaw Peak (Applegate Lake, Oregon) 21-Feb-2015

Squaw Peak Littlegray Back Trail Applegate Lake Oregon

Last month, I’d hiked a part of the Little Grayback Trail for the first time but had gotten diverted from it by a climb of Little Grayback itself. This time around our goal was to hike the whole trail and continue on to the old lookout (Now restored and part of the Forest Service’s rental program.) on Squaw Peak. We realize some folks find this name offensive but the U.S. Geological Survey has not yet seen fit to amend the maps in this area, so we’re stuck with it when describing our hike. The LovedOne was along to provide the common sense needed to keep me from getting flayed by foolishly trying to go cross-country through manzanita and buckbrush thickets! 🙄  Continue reading “Squaw Peak (Applegate Lake, Oregon) 21-Feb-2015”