A group of people hike along the Mount Ashland Meadows trail. - Photo by Lee Juillerat

Mount Ashland Meadows full of color

ASHLAND - There's more to do at Mount Ashland than dream about ski season.

These are the months the mountain and its surrounding lands are snow-free. So instead of downhill or cross-country skiing, this is the season to enjoy places like Mount Ashland Meadows, a mostly gentle section of the Pacific Crest Trail that travels through shady forests and a series of lush, subalpine meadows, each alive with an array of brightly colored wildflowers and openings that provide gee-whiz views of Mount Shasta.

Located below Mount Ashland's outer-space looking radar dome, the Meadows is accessible by road, but the best way to experience the area is a moderate, 7-mile out-and-back hike that begins from a trailhead-parking area 7.2 miles up Mount Ashland Road 20.

It's a busy place — expect to see PCT backpackers, day hikers escaping the Rogue Valley's fiery heat and trail runners training for ultra-marathons.

The Meadows trail goes 3.4 miles to a PCT trail junction at Grouse Gap, but it's worth adding some extra distance. Instead of immediately doubling back, our group took a quarter-mile detour to the Grouse Gap picnic shelter. The covered, two-sided rock pavilion, which serves as a snow shelter for cross-country skiers during the winter, offers a picnic table, shade, a restroom and views of Mount Ashland.

But getting to the shelter is what makes the hike worthwhile. It's a beautiful walk, often passing through a forest of grand fir and red fir that shade and cool the trail. That's especially tempting for Rogue Valley people seeking relief from frequent 100-degree summer temperatures. The shaded areas also provide pockets of red skyrockets, paintbrush and many, many other wildflowers.

But the truly remarkable flora displays are those coloring the trail's namesake meadows. Fed by creeklets, the open fields are scented with mint and as showy as peacocks with seasonally changing displays of cow parsnip, monkshood, columbine, yarrow, larkspur, corn lily, lupine, cornflowers and, by those watery spots, tiny monkeyflowers and evasive pussy ears.

The varieties, especially in the alpine bowl containing Grouse Gap's expansive meadow, are dazzling. And because the winter's snowpack persisted until late spring, the wildflower displays have been especially prolific of late.

Save the skis for winter. This is the season for retrieving the Roger Tory Peterson, Audubon Society or other wildflower guide books. Only a blooming idiot would pass up the chance for Mount Ashland Meadow's fields of beautifully blooming wildflowers.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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