Take a walk on the wild side in the Jacksonville hills

A trail cuts through a stand of oak trees in the Jacksonville Woodlands.Courtesy Gabriel Howe

Behind its historic enclave, trendy restaurants and quaint storefronts, Jacksonville is endowed with a wild side, including 18 miles of connecting interpretive and recreational trails in the 320-acre Jacksonville Woodlands, and the 1,100-acre Forest Park, with 15 miles of vistas, hiking trails, creeks, the town's old reservoir, interpretive markers and remnants of old gold mines.

Hikers during any season can use a number of route possibilities to provide anything from an easy stroll for grandma and the kids to a challenging tour for those so inclined. This moderate, 2.5-mile loop in the Jacksonville Woodlands starts and ends downtown.

If you go

Interactive map of my route: http://goo.gl/9Cxcg

Jacksonville Woodlands Association website: www.jvwoodlands.org

Map (PDF): http://goo.gl/pwsMe

From the intersection of Main and East California streets, walk south up some steps to a plaque honoring a large sequoia tree. This is the Sarah Zigler Trail (No. 1). Follow it for just a few minutes, keeping your eyes out for a trail heading left and uphill with a sign to the Britt Ridge Trail (No. 2).

The unnamed connecting trail will get your blood pumping as you climb from the banks of Jackson Creek into the Britt Woods. When you reach the Britt Ridge Trail, veer right.

Intensive mining unabated by environmental review left this landscape's geology, ecology and even the topography forever changed. During this hike you'll come upon a couple of interpretive signs that educate on the area's history.

Keep an eye on your map and ignore the junction with the Jackson Creek Trail (No. 4). This should put you heading south, but still on the Britt Ridge Trail and run you into the Jackson Forks Trail (No. 5). Follow the Jackson Forks Trail east to Rich Gulch Trail (No. 3), which connects with Panorama Point Trail (No. 6).

Panorama Point has some great views of the park and the valley below, but be forewarned that fog often lingers throughout the year's shortest days, inhibiting a decent line of sight. There are a few nice benches nestled under the canopy of a few colorful madrone trees.

From Panorama Point, keep walking south into the next junction, which is the Oregon Trail (No. 7). Turn left on it. That brings you back to California Street and straight into town.

These directions are complex for a hike lasting just a few miles. But exploring these easily reached trails sheds a different light on the area's history than you'll get from a stroll through Jacksonville's historic downtown area.

This is where the work was being done by the hands of tough laborers, and you'll see the work in the ditches and holes that were dug, hillsides that were blasted, and rock walls that were built. Even though the miners left a lasting environmental footprint, there is something to be admired about ambition strong enough to change the direction of water.

To find out a route of your own and check out the many other areas of interest in the Jacksonville Woodlands, pick up the map from the Chamber of Commerce, or check out the Jacksonville Woodlands Association's interactive map. Or just go and get lost for a few hours.

Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com.

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