Sky Lakes-area canyon offers views, coolness

Southern Oregon has its own grand canyon in the northwest corner of the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

You'll never confuse it with that other grand canyon in Arizona, but you won't have to drive two days to see it, and you won't bake in the desert, either.

This canyon feels cool and green even on the summer's hottest days. You can stand at 6,000 feet near the edge of the half-mile-deep gorge and look south to Devil's Peak and the Seven Lakes Basin. The Middle Fork of the Rogue pours over Boston Bluff on the far side of the canyon, and Mount McLoughlin and Mount Shasta dominate the horizon farther south. To the north the peaks that define the Crater Lake rim mark the horizon.

All this can be yours for a few hours on the Tom and Jerry Trail (No. 1084). You'll have to work a bit, though — the trail to the viewpoint gains about 1,500 feet over the 3.5 miles to Kerby Hill, where the view will make you smile.

Geologists think glaciers most likely scoured the half-mile deep gorge where the Middle Fork of the Rogue River now flows. These days, you'll see green trees instead of ice and rocks.

The Tom and Jerry Trail wanders through a part of the Sky Lakes Wilderness that's less heavily used than the popular Seven Lakes and Sky Lakes basins.

On a midweek day, even in summer, you could have the whole trail to yourself.

The origin of this trail's name is uncertain. Forest Service historian Jeff LaLande notes that the name may have been bestowed by an early Forest Service packer in honor of two of his mules. It also could recall a popular rum-and-brandy drink of the same name.

After about 1.5 miles, the Tom and Jerry Trail meets the Mudjekeewis Trail (No. 1085), which climbs steadily to the summit of Kerby Hill, named for an early-day Forest Service ranger, according to LaLande.

Don't let the trail's Indian-sounding name fool you. LaLande says some early-day Forest Service employees apparently took the name from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha." Mudjekeewis was Longfellow's Indian god of the winds. There's no evidence the trail's name has any connection with the Indians who lived in the area prior to European settlement.

The route to Kerby Hill is part of a longer 11-mile loop out to McKie Meadows and back to the trailhead near Bessie Rock, a landmark in the country around Butte Falls and Prospect.

If you're not ready for that much walking, the trip out to Kerby Hill and back offers a shorter alternative of about seven miles.

These trails are popular with the horse packers, so don't be surprised if you encounter horses or evidence of their passing. The trails are closed to motorized vehicles and mechanized equipment, including mountain bikes.

To get there, take Highway 62 east from Medford to the Prospect turnoff past milepost 43. Turn right at the sign for Prospect's First Street, then right again onto Mill Creek Drive and continue to the historic Prospect Hotel.

Turn left onto the Prospect-Butte Falls Highway and continue for three miles to Forest Road 37. Turn left on Road 37, continue for three miles and then turn left again onto Forest Road 3795. Go six miles on 3795 and then take Road 600 to the trailhead.

For a trail description and directions, see Art Bernstein's "Hiking Oregon's Southern Cascades and Siskiyous."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or

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