Friday, August 14, 2020

Grizzly Peak (Oregon)

Shasta, Pilot Rock, and Mount Ashland from Grizzly Peak
5 miles loop, 950 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Decent unpaved road to trailhead, no pass required

Grizzly Peak is in the backyard of Ashland, Oregon, an easy and enjoyable hike that delivers great views of the Rogue River Valley and the landscape of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. A few rocky viewpoints on this hike deliver great views to the south, but the highlight is a walk through a former burn area where beautiful early summer wildflowers complement views of Mount Shasta. You'll likely have to share these delights with other hikers, as the trail is quite popular due to its proximity to Ashland. The peak is named after Old Reelfoot, the last grizzly bear to roam the Oregon wilds that was shot near Pilot Rock in 1891.

I hiked Grizzly Peak on a lovely early July morning when the wildflowers were still blooming. I reached the trailhead from Ashland by following Highway 66 out from town across I-5 and then turning left onto Dead Indian Memorial Road. I followed Dead Indian Memorial Road into the mountains for 6.5 miles and then turned left onto Shale City Road, where there was a sign indicating the route towards Grizzly Peak Trailhead. I followed the paved Shale City Road uphill for 3 miles until reaching a turnoff on the left for the Grizzly Peak Trailhead. Here, I followed this unpaved road for a mile to a four-way junction; here I stayed to the left and followed the road another half mile to its end at the Grizzly Peak Trailhead. The unpaved road was in decent condition, with just a few potholes.

As the trail left the parking area, there were immediately some views to the northeast of the Cascades. Mounts Bailey and Thielsen, Union Peak, Mount Scott, and the many high points on the caldera of Crater Lake were visible; this was the best view of those peaks on this hike. Nearby Mount McLoughlin was partially visible behind a tree.

Trailhead view of the Oregon Cascades
While the drive up to the trailhead had been through an arid landscape remniscent of California, the trail on Grizzly Peak was much more verdant and had the feel of the Pacific Northwest. Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument protects that very transition zone between the lush Northwest and arid California. Thus, views from this hike include both heavily forested mountains and brown grasslands in the valleys below.

As I hiked through the second growth forest, passing blooming paintbrush and columbine, I caught views through the trees of Mount McLoughlin, a nearby Cascade stratovolcano that is the highest peak in southern Oregon. Unfortunately, there are clear views in every direction from Grizzly Peak except east towards McLoughlin, so these are the best views that I saw of the volcano on this hike.

Mount McLoughlin
The forest along the first mile of the Grizzly Peak Trail was very enjoyable to hike through: the sparse trees were interspersed with meadows that allowed for peeks at the Cascades in the distance. Plenty of flowers were blooming, although the flower show here was not yet as impressive as what was to come. The trail ascended with a steady grade, covering just under 600 feet of elevation gain in the first 1.1 miles.

Open forest on the trail to Grizzly Peak
At just over a mile from the trailhead, I came to a juntion where the Grizzly Peak loop split. To the right, the trail quickly headed to the summit; to the left was the trail that more quickly accessed views. I chose to head left and do this hike clockwise.

Now atop Grizzly Peak's broad summit plateau, the trail passed through alternating forests and meadows as it headed west. Hiking 0.4 miles past the start of the loop, I came to an unmarked spur trail that led off to the left through the trees. This brought me out to the first viewpoint of the hike at a rocky outcrop. The upper Rogue River Valley was spread out before me, with Emigrant Lake at the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains and Mount Ashland. I-5 made its long rise from Ashland to Siskiyou Pass while Pilot Rock towered over the nearby environs. In the distance, Mount Shasta was illuminated by morning light and Mount Eddy stood guard on the opposite side of Shasta Valley.

Shasta, Pilot Rock, Mount Eddy, and Emigrant Lake
After enjoying these views, I returned to the main trail and continued west. The trail continued cutting through forest and meadow for another 0.4 miles before entering the region burned by the East Antelope Fire in 2002. Hiking through burned trees along the top of the ridge, I saw that the trail was headed towards a raised rocky table ahead. Arriving on top of the table, I found the most fabulous views of the hike.

I had a 270-degree view from the top of this table-like secondary summit of Grizzly Peak. To the south and east were the forested Cascades, with Brown Mountain and Aspen Butte, two shield volcanoes near Lake of the Woods, visible in the distance. Mount McLoughlin was just blocked out by the trees of Grizzly Peak's summit plateau.

Views of the Oregon Cascades
To the west was Ashland and the Rogue River Valley, with the Trinity Alps and the Siskiyou Mountains behind the valley. To the north, the Klamath Mountains faded out into the Oregon Coast Range and the Rogue River Valley widened up to hold Medford. The nearby ridges of Grizzly Peak all showed the scars of the Antelope Fire, which destroyed the forest here but opened up the views that you see now.

Hiking through the burn area
Although this seems like the summit of Grizzly Peak, it is not: the high point of the mountain is forested with no views on the return leg of the loop. Leaving the rocky table, I started descending through meadows on the west ridge of the mountain. This was a very scenic part of the hike: Mount Shasta, Pilot Rock, and Mount Ashland rose ahead of the trail, which cut through pretty wildflower meadows.

Wildflower meadows with distant views of Shasta
The trail reached its westernmost point soon after, making a U-turn at a good viewpoint over the town of Ashland. Ashland is the cultural heart of the region, hosting North America's longest running Shakespeare Festival. In its early days, Ashland promoted its mineral springs for curative properties. Prior to European American settlement, many native peoples lived in the Rogue River Valley, including Takelma people who lived along the river itself. These disparate tribes were collectively known to European American arrivals as the Rogue River Indians. European Americans found the Rogue River area to be an attractive emigrant route from to the Willamette Valley and a good area to farm and chose to displace the native peoples here in the Rogue River Wars, the result of which forced the native people here to relocate to the northern Oregon coast or to the dry interior of the state.

Ashland and the Rogue Valley
Leaving the viewpoint of Ashland, the trail began to head back to the northeast, following the lower slopes of the ridge through the burn zone. Wildflowers on this stretch of the trail were blooming profusely, making this section a particular joy to hike.

Wildflowers along the trail
Balsamroot blooming
Wildflowers of Grizzly Peak
Grizzly Peak forest wildflowers
I enjoyed the views, the flowers, and the flat hiking for the next 2/3 of a mile until the trail turned a corner and returned to the forest. Soon, another meadow opened up views to the north, where I once again spotted Cascade volcanoes or volcano remnants like Mount Bailey, Mount Thielsen, and Union Peak.

View northeast to the Cascades
As the trail finished up the loop in the next 0.8 miles, it passed through more of the summit meadows and forest that I had experienced earlier. Often, the forest floor here would be filled with blooming white flowers. I passed a good number of other hikers along this part of the trail: by late morning, many residents of Ashland had come up to enjoy the pretty day.

Summit meadows
The trail undulated as it crossed the summit plateau. At one high point, a spur trail branching to the left led off to a pile of columnar basalt. This was the unmarked summit of Grizzly Peak; there were no views here.

Columnar basalt at the summit
The trail headed downhill after passing the summit, soon rejoining with the incoming trail. I returned to the trailhead and then continued my drive towards California.

This is a really nice hike in the spring and early summer when wildflowers bloom in the meadows and burn areas atop Grizzly Peak. The views of Mount Shasta and Ashland are gorgeous as well and make this worth the short detour from Ashland.

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