Aspen trees with shimmering golden leaves. Views of Cascades peaks such as Mount McLoughlin and Pelican Butte. Deer tracks along dried-out sections of Upper Klamath Lake.
There’s much to see along two new trails that were completed earlier this year as part of the ever-expanding Spence Mountain trail system.
Completed earlier this year, the Shoalwater and Old Eagle trails combine to make the 4-1/2 mile loop from the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead especially tempting with the seasonal display of showy fall colors.
Unlike several of the Spence Mountain trails adjacent to Highway 140 that are designed for more experienced mountain bikers and hikers, the new trails are rated for beginners, with more gradual grades. Old Eagle, so named because it follows the old road to Eagle Ridge, is actually mostly flat as it follows the bay’s shoreline northeast for 1.3 miles from the Shoalwater trailhead.
Drew Honzel, one of the prime movers with the Klamath Trails Alliance, the group behind Spence Mountain’s trails network, says the two new trails are part of 11 miles of new trails opened this year, upping the trail system to 28 miles. He notes the Shoalwater and Old Eagle are family-friendly, part of an effort by the Trails Alliance to provide easier trails for young people and beginner bikers.
“I think that loop is really beautiful,” he says, an assessment a friend and I verified during a recent hike.
The Shoalwater Bay trailhead is located two miles off Highway 140 at the north side of Doak Mountain. A detailed map showing the Shoalwater Bay area and other trails are available on the Klamath Trails Alliance Facebook page.
Honzel recommends doing the loop in a counter-clockwise direction from the trailhead parking area because, “I think the views are better.” The signed Shoalwater trail leaves from above the parking area, weaving and sometimes switchbacking 1.6 miles to Junction 7, where trail choices include the Modoc and Captain Jack trails or continuing north along another 1.3-mile stretch of the Shoalwater trail. He said the existing trail signs are expected to be replaced with sturdier metal signs in coming months.
“The Shoalwater trail is a more gradual climb,” Honzel says of the counter-clockwise route. “And the views are really nice going down.”
Those better views include frequent sightings of the trail’s namesake Shoalwater Bay, which this time of year has receded and left mud flats, along with sightings of Upper Klamath Lake and the string of Cascades mountains stretching the length of the Sky Lakes Wilderness to Crater Lake National Park.
Bay and lake sightings are also frequent along Old Eagle, which passes through forests of cone-bearing pines and cedars, berry-bearing junipers and Oregon grape bushes turning red. Sometimes as it undulates and curls, the trail evokes a feeling of walking through an impressionist painting with its rich sense of color and light.
Honzel says more trail building is planned in 2019, including one from the main trailhead-parking area alongside Highway 140 to Howard Bay. It will be difficult to build because of its steep, rocky terrain, with much of the work needed by hand crews, not the mechanized equipment used on other sections of the 7,400 acres of Spence Mountain property. He says there are also developing plans for a major spring 2019 celebration and ongoing fundraising events to finance more trail construction. The expanding trail system has already attracted long-distance running events and, according to Honzel, seen users from the Rogue Valley and other areas of Oregon.
For riders and hikers from the Klamath Basin or Rogue Valley, now is the season to take advantage of cooler days, smoke-free skies and fall colors.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.