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Wander down a trail

The Applegate Valley stands out for its hiking trails. In fact, several of the valley’s routes have been christened with Oregon Signature Trail status by the State. That means they are iconic and tourist-worthy!

Three mountain ranges–the Coast Range, Siskiyous and Cascades—contribute to the Applegate’s ever-changing landscape and botanical displays. In the course of a single hike, it’s possible to  traverse open savannahs and desert-sage landscapes, and then secret into shady dells of lush old-growth.

There are dozens of trails to explore in the Applegate. These six trails are well-mapped, well-maintained and easy-to-find.

Cathedral Hills

Even though it’s only 60 as-the-crow-flies miles from the coast, The Applegate Valley runs hot and dry. There are pockets, though, where a little coastal influence can be felt. If a little fog sounds like a welcome reprieve from a hot summer day, you might find it in the fern-friendly climes of Cathedral Hills, a well-groomed trail system near Grants Pass.

Something to note: The largest white leaf manzanita in Oregon lives here. In the springtime, it produces endearing, bell-shaped flower clusters.

This trail system is a little complex, but it’s well marked. Mix-and-match the segments to your time constraints and level of gusto. There are three trailheads, but the Espey trailhead has the most parking and room for horse trailers.

Pro-Tip: Pack an easy picnic for the hike by stopping by Pennington Farms for a sweet or savory turnover!

East Applegate Ridge Trail

The East Applegate Ridge Trail (called “East ART” by residents) was recently designated by the Oregon Trails Coalition as an Oregon Signature Trail for the way it showcases one of our state’s iconic landscapes. Applegate residents love it for its soaring views ‑not just of the Red Buttes and the Siskiyou Crest, but of paraglider pilots launching from Woodrat Mountain.

For a level hike, start at the eastern trailhead, accessed via gravel road near mile marker four of Sterling Creek Road. Hike just over 2 miles in from the parking lot and you’ll arrive at a bench with great views. This is a good turnaround point. With two cars, you can hike the entire 5.6-mile trail by leaving one at the western trailhead on Highway 238. Be aware that this adds a steep grade to your hike.

Pro-Tip: The trail runs across a mountain called “Burnt Ridge” and there is a reason for that: Sun exposure is intense on this trail.  Be sure to don a hat, carry water and slather sunscreen.

Sterling Mine Ditch Trail

The 26-mile-long ditch along the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail was hand-dug in 1877 to procure water for hydraulic gold mining in the area. Some relics of that era remain — a tunnel, flume, headgates — but these days the route provides access to a different kind of gold: a rich habitat of trees, plants, flowers and exceptional Applegate Valley views.

This well-maintained trail can be accessed from seven different trailheads. While the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail itself is level, the short access trails are moderately steep. A classic 4.7-mile loop starts at the Bear Gulch Trailhead off Little Applegate Road and emerges 4 miles later at the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead. Reunite with your car by strolling a quiet half-mile stretch of Little Applegate Road. This hike features a masterpiece of a madrone — you’ll know it when you see it.

Another stellar section starts at the Tunnel Ridge access point and ends 7 miles later at the Little Applegate Trailhead. The habitat variations on this stretch are stunning, with the trail meandering through thickets of chaparral, oak woodlands, open grasslands and small patches of mixed-conifer forest.

Pro-Tip: Continue your adventure at Wild Wines Tasting Room. This one-of-a-kind winery offers fruit and herb-based wines. Pair them with three different types of empanadas, gluten-free cupcakes made by local bakery Paulazzo Pasticceria, or truffles from the local Supernatural Chocolate Company.

Enchanted Forest/Felton Trail

The Enchanted Forest Trail is tucked up in the vineyard-rich Slagle Creek area of the Applegate. At 1.7 miles, it isn’t long, or super-steep, but its continuous ascent induces a steady huff. The route opens with an airy meadow before entering an emerald gallery of old-growth forest.

The last section of the trail crescendos up to a viewpoint of Slagle Creek. The trail then pops over a ridge and peters out shortly after with a couple of private property signs (please respect them!)

The 1.5-mile Felton trail starts at the same trailhead and gently rolls though madrone-fir forests. Buckbrush chaparral and blue-blossom ceanothus court pollinators with a bloomy perfume in spring. Park considerately and respect private-property signs.

Pro-tip: The Enchanted Forest trail pairs well with an afternoon of wine tasting as it is tucked up in the vineyard-rich Slagle Creek area of the Applegate. Tasting rooms such as Walport Family Cellars, Troon, Wooldridge, Augustino,and others are close to the trailhead

 Wolf Gap/Siskiyou-Little Applegate Viewpoint

For a nice and easy amble, try the Siskiyou Viewpoint hike. To get there, start from the Wolf Gap trailhead, one of Sterling Mine Ditch Trail’s access points. The nearly level 2.5-mile out-and-back trail culminates in a rare flat spot with a fetching 270-degree view of the Siskiyou Crest, the Red Buttes Wilderness and the Applegate Valley.

Pro-Tip: Watch for slippery road conditions  in wet weather!

Stein Butte

Looking for a challenge? The 2,480-foot climb on the Stein Butte Trail just south of Jacksonville is a good pick.

Starting at the south shore of Applegate Lake across from Seattle Bar, huff up the trail through an old-growth forest.  If you tire out, a ridge 2.5 miles into the hike delivers a riveting Applegate watershed view and makes for a satisfying turnaround point. If you’ve got more ambition, complete the 4.5-mile hike and arrive at the summit for some of the best views of the Applegate Valley. Hike back down, or loop back on the New London Trail to Elliott Creek Road and to the parking area near Seattle Bar.

Pro-Tip: A post-hike swim in Applegate Lake might be in order!

For maps and more information about Applegate Valley hiking trails visit The Siskiyou Uplands Trails Association, The Siskiyou Mountain Club, The Applegate Trails Association, and the Applegate Siskiyou Alliance.

Further Reading: Called the “Galapagos of North America” by the World Wildlife Fund, the surrounding Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are unique in the world. For a deeper dive, read

The Klamath Knot by David Rains Wallace

The Klamath Mountains: A Natural History by Michael Kauffmann and Justin Garwood.

For a more hands-on experience, can also take field courses through The Siskiyou Field Institute.

“Every major ecosystem in the West collides here,” says Applegate Valley conservationist, author and trail advocate Luke Ruediger.

“Every major ecosystem in the West collides here,”

says Applegate Valley conservationist, author and trail advocate Luke Ruediger.