Take the trails less traveled at Wagner Creek

Lately, before my rides, I've been running my head under cold water, soaking my shaggy hair before donning my black helmet, zipping up my black jersey and hopping on my black bike. Yes, I know; something's wrong with this picture. When I bought my cycling gear in the fall, I chose style over function.

After struggling up the sun-scorched route to Roxy Ann Peak from downtown Medford as the temperatures were in the high 90s last week, I decided I needed to find a trail with a bit more shade and elevation. So I went to check out the Wagner Creek trail system outside of Talent.

From Highway 99 in Talent, turn onto Rapp Road and follow it until it turns into Wagner Creek Road. After several miles, the road will turn to gravel. Keep climbing the road until you cross a cattle guard and reach Wagner Gap, where you will see a "T" intersection. To your right is road NF-2040; to the left is NF-22.

To reach the high point of the trail system, go left on NF-22 and proceed for two miles until you reach an unmarked parking area on the right. This makes a great staging area. Across the road is the popular Wagner Butte Trail hiking trail, which is closed to bicycles.

The first trail, known as PBR, starts at an elevation of 5,100 feet, just a half-mile up the road from the Wagner Butte parking area, on the downhill side. This trail is a fun and easy ride that winds along the hillside, eventually bringing you to a dirt road, which is actually NF-2040. From here, you can take a right on 2040, which will bring you back to the "T" intersection, where another downhill trail awaits.

Another option is to continue following singletrack in the area of NF-2040. This road twists and winds around the drainages southwest of Wagner Gap, and there are numerous trails connected to the road to explore.

Instead of an all-day adventure, though, I chose to hit the Chuck's Chips trail. This trail starts at Wagner Gap, near that "T" intersection; look for two yellow gates and follow the road behind them. The road soon narrows into a relatively level single-track trail along a northwest-facing hillside. Take your time and enjoy the views and greenery, because in about 1.5 miles the trail turns into a fast downhill. There are plenty of stunts for the expert rider to opt for — ladder bridges to drops, jumps and log rides — but they are all optional.

After about four miles, the trail will end on Wagner Creek Road near where the gravel meets pavement. If you're driving up the road, look for the exit on the left side of the road after the first concrete bridge (if you reach a second bridge, you've gone too far).

There's a big reason that I recommend shuttling these trails this time of year. As soon as the pavement ends on Wagner Creek Road, you'll see that every leaf and needle is covered in a thin layer of white dust. If you decide to climb the road, you may want to have a respirator handy for when the log trucks pass.

The Wagner Creek area trails are just as good as the trails in Ashland — PBR and Chuck's Chips boast 2,300 net vertical feet of downhill — but they probably see an order of magnitude less traffic.

When you're done, take some time to appreciate this lush area and dunk your head in the creek (it's too low right now to actually swim in). It will make the return to the hot valley much more pleasant.

Forrest Roth can be reached at froth@mailtribune.com.

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