Dream Trek: Siskiyou Wilderness 5-Day Inn-to-Inn Hike

Rogue River, Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon | Uladzik Kryhin

Imagine a 5-day guided hiking trip through one of the most biologically diverse mountain ranges in the United States. This multi-day trail hike through the Rogue River-Siskiyou mountain range is so unique that it is scheduled just once in May of 2008. While on the 40-mile trail trek, hikers will literally “walk through” incredibly diverse ecosystems, significant historic sites, and view myriad wildlife.

Scientists have described the Rogue River-Siskiyou wilderness range as one of the most plant diverse eco-systems in the United States-rivaled only by the Great Smokey Mountains. The old and complex geology, the global position and transverse orientation of the Siskiyou Mountain Range, which connects the Northwest’s Cascade and Coast Ranges, are responsible for creating this incredible eco-system.

Guided by enthusiastic hiker and Siskiyou trail historian, Jim Jackson, the 5-day, inn-to-inn hiking trip is a unique blend of exercise, biology, history, and, yes, comfort. Hikers leave heavy backpacks with the support rafts that shadow them on the Rogue River below. No tents necessary on this trip. Each night, with the exception of the first hiking night, hikers are welcomed into rustic lodges that provide private cabins, hot showers, and soft beds with fresh linens. Basically, all a hiker on this trail adventure needs is a daypack to carry a water bottle, camera, and perhaps an extra pair of comfy socks.

Jackson was the primary trail guide and organizer for the Sierra Club’s Rogue River-Siskiyou wilderness hiking trips for over 10 years. He worked in tandem with Whitewater Warehouse, an outfitter on the Rogue River to stage these incredible hikes. It was through this decade-long experience of running the hiking trips that Jackson’s desire to organize his “dream hiking trip” took shape. Planned for early May of 2008, the 5-day lodge-to-lodge hiking adventure meanders through the ecologically rich Rogue River-Siskiyou wilderness.

“This hiking experience is like no other…and I have hiked all over the world,” says Jackson. “You walk through all the glories of nature on the Siskiyou trail. The diverse eco-systems are just incredible. Over the 40+ miles, hikers see rocky, dry areas, rainforests that are home to some of the most sensitive plants in the world, eye-popping fields of wildflowers and fragrant wild azaleas lining the riverbanks.

“History is everywhere on this hike. Hikers have a chance to look in on author Zane Grey’s Rogue River cabin, view a gold mine near Tyee rapids on the Rogue River where 300 Chinese workers once took one million dollars in gold dust, and discover the where battles for “the territory” were fought between the white man and the Rogue River Indians.”

Jackson begins his dream hike with a first evening’s stay at Morrison’s Lodge. “I think it is a must to stay at Morrison’s Lodge the night before the actual trip begins. Gives all the hikers a chance to get to know one another and ask questions about the upcoming hike. The Lodge at Morrison’s is not far from the trailhead. The meals are marvelous and served outside on a deck with an expansive view of the river. A serene and relaxing experience to start this incredible adventure.”

The actual five-day hike begins at the trailhead of the wild and scenic section of southern Oregon’s Rogue River known as Graves Creek. Named after the grave of Martha Leland Crowley, the daughter of a pioneer couple, Martha was buried under an oak tree near the creek in 1846. The first five miles of the trail are somewhat rocky so hikers need to have sturdy hiking shoes/boots. The rocky layers are part of the Rogue-Siskiyou formation. They are a result of lava flows and rocks formed by ancient volcanoes, which were active 140 million years ago. High temperatures and pressure have altered and folded these rocks into nearly a vertical position. Signs of this folding can be seen on the steep canyon walls carved out by the powerful forces of the Rogue River over a period of nearly a million years.

Day one takes hikers 11 miles down the trail. The trail is in very good condition in this first section-three or four feet wide-so hikers feel at ease even though the trail proceeds right along a ledge carved out of the cliff. Views of the river here are excellent. On this section of the trail there are very few trees so it can get extremely hot in July and August-which is why May is such a great time to hike the trail. Whiskey Creek with its historic cabin is the perfect place to take a lunch break. Hikers leisurely stroll across the crystal-clear creek by way of a footbridge and explore the historic cabin while a spectacular riverside lunch is being prepared.

The trail gets narrower in the afternoon and with more afternoon heat. Hikers are happy to be greeted by Whitewater Warehouse’s upscale camping accommodations (Black Bar Lodge is closed many evenings in May). An incredible riverside dinner of bourbon-basted Oregon salmon, country biscuits, homemade raspberry jam, and organic green salads await hikers. Cots, sleeping bags, pads, tents are provided. Wine and beer, in moderation, are served with dinner.

The next morning hikers arise to a country breakfast served overlooking the famous Rogue River Horseshoe Bend rapids. The hike to Marial Lodge is a beautiful 13-mile hike. The trail in this section is in fine condition, again in sparse forest, and has fewer up and down sections than the previous stretch. The scenes are as beautiful as the day before, with even more wild flowers, including many “hen and chickens” succulents and gold/brown wild iris. Lunch is near Zane Gray’s cabin giving hikers an opportunity to experience history firsthand. The Rogue River Ranch museum is also located on this stretch of the hike-living history is everywhere. Upon arrival at the first riverside lodge, Marial, the friendly caretakers, Pat and Lori Cameron, greet hikers. Private cabins with bathrooms/showers and comfy twin beds await hikers. The Rogue River lodges date back to an era when fly-fishing on the Rogue was en vogue. So the atmosphere is rustic but clean and the food is outstanding.

On morning three, hikers enjoy a leisurely breakfast and head out about 1 p.m. for Paradise Lodge. This is a shortest hiking day-just 5 miles. Once at Paradise, the afternoon can be filled with short hikes around the area (led by Jackson) or spent relaxing at the Lodge. Again, a wonderful dinner and breakfast await hikers with private lodging accommodations. Paradise Lodge has no road access so all supplies are brought in by boat. Even guests must arrive by boat, hike in, or land their airplane there. Paradise has its own grassy field used as an airport, complete with runway markers and a windsock.

Since yesterday was a short hike day, hikers don’t tend to be so hungry for breakfast on this morning. Still, it is hard to resist the homemade bread, ham and egg country breakfast buffet. Moving down the trail on the fourth day hikers end up at Clayhill Lodge…a hike day of about 7 miles. This day, below the hiking trail, hikers have bird’s eye views of Huggins Canyon and Brushy Bar rapids on the famous Rogue River. Private cabins, snacks, dinner and breakfast are offered at Clayhill. Clayhill Lodge was featured in 2006 on Public Broadcast System (PBS) as an “Adventure Lodge of North America.” The series still runs periodically on PBS.

Day five begins as hikers linger over an excellent breakfast and lots of coffee. This section of the trail can have rock slides and downed winter trees. Wear long pants because poison oak can be prevalent here. The canyon is not so narrow here and hikers are quite often away from a view of the river; separated from it by a marshy area. The trail eventually joins a road, paved this time, and it is an approximate 7 miles hike to the take-out. Hikers arrive around 1:30 p.m. and eat a fabulous riverside lunch served by WWW guides. Vans take weary but happy hikers back over the mountain to waiting vehicles parked at Morrison’s Lodge.

Joy Henkle has spent two decades as an outdoor writer for magazines, newsletters, websites, and more recently, blogs. Over much of the last decade, her travel expertise has been focused on Oregon’s unique and diverse Rogue River region.

Source: Joy Henkle

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