Wet and mild winter is the ideal time to head for Gold Beach to hike the Shrader Old Growth Trail.
This one-mile loop walk in the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest is neither strenuous nor remote. The reward of this outing is a patch of old-growth coastal rainforest composed primarily of Port Orford cedar and Douglas fir. Many of these trees are between 200 and 250 feet tall — as tall as a 25-story building — and many are more than 200 years old.
To reach the trailhead, drive north on Highway 101 from Gold Beach and turn right on Jerry's Flat Road at the south end of the Rogue River bridge. Continue 9.5 miles along the river and turn right on Forest Service Road 3300-090 across from Lobster Creek Campground. Continue two miles to the trailhead on a paved road that turns to gravel.
The free interpretive guides at the trailhead contain interesting explanations of history and ecology along the trail and are well worth the read. The trail is graveled and sloped to allow walkers of all abilities easy access.
During a heavy fog, you can hear water dripping from the forest canopy. Lean against the trunk of one of these wet giants and look up. You'll see and feel drops falling from the nearest branches, often 100 feet above your head.
By intercepting the moisture from the fog in this way, the trees increase the amount of effective rainfall that reaches their roots, and this is the main reason they grow so quickly and so large. Along the trail you'll see a few trees that are more than 10 feet in diameter at eye level.
Many of the Port Orford cedar trees are dead or dying and several blew over in a windstorm. These trees are native to a small coastal range in southwest Oregon and northwest California. The disease that kills these trees is spread by water-borne spores.
As you retrace your route to Jerry's Flat Road, the next road to your left as you continue north is Forest Service road 3310. In less than a quarter mile you'll cross high over the Rogue River on a one-lane bridge that offers a panoramic view. Take your first right after the bridge, uphill on a gravel road, and stop after a quarter mile at the sign for Myrtle Tree Trail #1163.
Though this forest is less than three miles from the Shrader trail, this patch of old-growth is truly unique. The canopy trees are primarily Oregon Myrtle, also known as California-laurel, and a few Douglas fir. The influence of repeated fires for more than 200 years is evident from the blackened scars at the base of these large myrtles. After a five-minute uphill walk, you'll reach the prize: Oregon's largest myrtle tree: 88 feet tall, 42 feet in circumference, with a 70-foot-wide canopy. This grand tree is nearly 200 years old.
Notice that fire has burned several large holes at the base of the trunk. The interior is hollow. This myrtle grove, with its low and wide canopy and hollow trunks, has a Middle Earth feel to it. You never know who might live inside these trees.
For more information, call the Gold Beach Ranger District in Gold Beach at 541-247-3600. A small lobby area, with a variety of free literature, is open 24/7.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.