Looking for an early spring antidote to cabin fever? The Little Grayback Mountain trail may be just the ticket.
The low-elevation route offers snow-free hiking through forests, meadows and mountain peaks. Almost as soon as one starts up the trail, blooming pink and purple Henderson’s shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii) provide a joyful burst of color and a heartening promise that spring has arrived and winter is in the rearview mirror.
The trail steadily climbs up and around the south face of Little Grayback Mountain towards Hanley Gap, an extended forested saddle between Grayback Mountain and Squaw Mountain where pockets of old-growth forests provide both shade and beauty.
The name “Grayback” is thought to derive from a mining-era term for lice. While there aren’t lice on the trail, there are ticks and poison oak, so long pants are good idea. As the trail rises up the mountain, impressive landscape features become visible, including the Squaw Creek Watershed below, and snow-capped Elliot Ridge to the south. The trail skirts, but does not quite reach, Lyman Creek, a seldom-seen tributary to Squaw Creek.
Continuing uphill the trail meanders between native forests, brushlands and meadows. The more elevation one gains, the more impressive become the expansive views of the surrounding Siskiyou Mountains. These wide-ranging views led the Forest Service to construct a fire lookout on nearby Squaw Peak. While most of the fire lookouts in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest have been abandoned and are in disrepair, the Squaw Peak Lookout is still staffed and utilized during fire season.
Intrepid hikers can continue from the “end” of the Grayback trail up Forest Service roads 340 and 350 to reach the top of Squaw Peak and the fire lookout.
The Grayback trailhead is best reached by taking Forest Service road 1075 over the Applegate dam and then turning onto FS 490 after 1.5 miles. Two miles farther up the dirt road, the trailhead will be on your left. Do not continue downhill on 490 past the trailhead toward Squaw Creek, because the road has been significantly damaged by winter storms and is currently unsafe to drive.
No water is available on this dry mountain hike, so it is essential to bring plenty with you. Pick up a copy of the Applegate and West Half of Ashland Ranger Districts map at a Forest Service office prior to heading out.
— George Sexton serves as conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.