PCT near Pilot Rock makes a good after-work hike

Long summer evenings make it possible to head out for some after-work hikes. One that's nearby is the section of the Pacific Crest Trail just to the west of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Despite easy access, this stretch of trail off the Old Siskiyou Highway doesn't get a lot of foot traffic.

At 4,400 feet, the trailhead is in a low spot between Mount Ashland and Pilot Rock. It climbs a modest 400 feet in the first 2.2 miles. Highway noise stays on this trek through private land.

From Exit 6 at Interstate 5, take Old Siskiyou Highway 99 south one mile to a trailhead on the west side of the road with parking on a wide shoulder. To bypass this section for higher trailheads, continue .8 miles to bumpy Pilot Rock Road, 40-2E-33, marked with a new Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument sign.

From Highway 99, the trail crosses a gully and climbs through woods and boggy meadows. Occasionally, you pass a giant old tree, but most of the big trees were logged out a few decades ago. Young cedars, pines, Grand fir and Douglas fir reclaim the ground. The property has benefited from sensitive landowners, who purchased the land in 1990 and undertook a massive reforestation project.

For a few short weeks meadows are spring green and wildflowers abound. The dappled light shelters Siskiyou iris, Henderson's Stars, twin flower, Solomon's seal and columbine. Cat's ear dots one meadow, and pastel polemonium sprawls across another. At one mile, yellow monkey flowers cluster around a spring. Boardwalks and bridges keep you above muck that turns bone dry in July.

Aspens are rare in these parts, but if you look west at 1.5 miles, you'll pass above a colony of particularly stately ones. The PCT eventually turns northeast, but for now the course is southeast toward Pilot Rock, an immense volcanic plug.

At two miles, the trail follows a private dirt road for 50 feet to the right (west), before angling downhill toward Pilot Rock Road (4,800 feet). Soda Mountain's communication towers appear through a green farm gate. You can start a 1.7-mile hike to the Pilot Rock trailhead (5,080 feet) from here by driving one mile up the Pilot Rock Road. The trail climbs briefly, then levels out for crest views and a short-lived carpet of phlox, paintbrush and penstemon. Wild honeysuckle and Washington lilies may scent the air.

If you are coaxing your children out on the PCT and need a short, level goal, start at the Pilot Rock trailhead and walk 1.1 miles northeast through old woods to a volcanic panorama with views of Pilot Rock and Mount Shasta (5,160 feet). Wildflowers experience an edgy existence between the rocks.

To reach the trailhead, drive 2.5 miles to the end of Pilot Rock Road. Make uphill choices along the way, and veer right at a gravel pit. Plans are underfoot to move the Pilot Rock trailhead near the gravel pit, but for now you can drive up to the crest on a poor road.

At .2 miles, a side trail ascends right to Pilot Rock. The informal Pilot Rock trail is so steep that hikers dislodge plants as they seek footholds on the talus slopes. The rock is a popular destination for people with the agility to mount an overhanging rock and scramble up a narrow notch.

Pick up a free map of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument at the BLM office, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford.

Mary Beth Lee is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail her at gentlejourneys@ashlandhome.net.

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