A hike to Grizzly Peak in the eastern Siskiyous is a welcome escape from the heat of summer. Along the way you will experience the wonder of old-growth conifers, a smorgasbord of wildflowers and spectacular views of the Rogue Valley, -Table Rocks, Mount Ashland, Pilot Rock, the Marble Mountains and Mount Shasta.
The 5.3-mile loop hike takes about three hours, but it is best to plan on more time so you can stop to admire the views, identify wildflowers and have a lunch or snack at the south overlook where the vista will take your breath away. I recommend bringing at least a liter of water, as there are no water sources along the trail.
The trailhead is at 5,322 feet, and hikers are greeted by a stunning view of the volcanic southwest face of Mount McLoughlin, which rises 9,495 feet to the east. The trail climbs through magnificent old-growth forest for the first 1.5 miles, mostly white firs and grand firs, but sprinkled with Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.
After about one and a half miles, the trail levels off, wildflowers dot the trail and explode in the meadows. Bring the foldout pamphlet "Wildflowers of Grizzly Peak," published by the Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society and available at local bookstores and outdoor stores. Identifying the dazzling array of colorful wildflowers will enhance your experience and make it like a treasure hunt as you try to identify the flowers. We scarlet and yellow western columbine, pink Oregon geraniums, purple meadow larkspur, green and white western trillium and many others.
The loop is best done counterclockwise, because you end up at the south overlook after wandering through a series of wildflower meadows and then traversing the burn area. Take the fork to the right at the trail sign (about 1.5 miles from the trailhead). The meadows vary from small enclaves to vast expanses, and here is where you will see the most wildflowers. Toward the west the trail opens up, and you can see Agate Lake, Roxy Ann, Table Rocks and Wagner Butte. Bring binoculars to glass mountain lakes, distant peaks and recognizable landmarks.
In mid-August 2002, a sagging power line ignited a forest fire that burned most of the west slope of Grizzly Peak, but after 14 years this area is recovering with young conifers, shrubs and wildflowers. However, the scars of the burn are still obvious, with hundreds of dead trees standing like silent ghosts. The views to the west open up here. You can see vast meadows below, and in the distance are Mount Ashland, Wagner Butte, Roxy Ann, Table Rocks and the Bear Creek Valley.
The trail circles around to the south and climbs up to a rocky plateau, a good place to eat lunch or take a well-deserved rest and admire the magnificent views. In the foreground, Emigrant Lake shimmers like a sapphire and the prominent silhouette of Pilot Rock at 5,909 feet rises on the Siskiyou crest. Dominating the southern horizon, the majestic north face of Mount Shasta sparkles like a diamond. The Marble Mountains are visible to the southwest.
The return trail traverses the ridge of the burn and then dives back into the conifer forest filled with shade and fragrant scents.
Close to home, yet almost a world apart, Grizzly Peak is one of the best local hikes in the State of Jefferson.
Carlyle Stout lives in Ashland.