Stay low on this Applegate Lake hike

The Grouse Loop trailhead is just across from Hart-Tish Park on Upper Applegate Road.Photos courtesy of Gabriel Howe

If you're yearning to hit a trail and maybe get some views without strapping on skis or snowshoes, you'll need to stick with low-elevation trails this time of year, and the Applegate Lake area can fill the bill.

This 2.8-mile, moderately challenging, loop hike just off the reservoir's west bank will get your blood pumping and bring great views of Applegate Lake through a shady conifer forest.

If you go

Where: Grouse Loop Trail at Applegate Lake

What: Moderate, 2.8-mile loop trail with 700 feet of climbing and some views of the lake

Getting there: From Star Ranger Station, head south on Upper Applegate Road for about 9 miles to Hart-tish Park. Park there or across the street at the Grouse Loop trail sign.

Bring water: The trail is near some facilities, but they don't always have potable water.

The Grouse Loop trailhead is just across from Hart-Tish Park on Upper Applegate Road. There's limited parking on the road and more at the park. Start hiking west past the sign and you'll quickly reach a three-way junction. Head left there.

Right away, the trail starts a moderate ascent through a shady, medium-sized forest without much character. But as the trail nears its 700-foot ascent, you'll be walking along a wide, flat basin where there are large specimens of Douglas fir, Ponderosa and sugar pine, and madrone trees worth stopping for and taking a few pictures.

This is probably an ancient stream bed. During the last ice age, snow-fed spring melt flowed through this topographical divide, creating a creek and now a basin. The water table still rises there, and you'll find cedar trees and other riparian plant species growing, and maybe even some early spring sprouts.

After traversing the basin, the trail reaches the bottom of a rocky landslide area, switches back up to the top of it, and then starts descending on wide tread on an easy grade. Finally, atop a ridge, you'll catch your first views of Applegate Lake interrupted by the tree line. Then you'll descend on the trail along a steep, forested slope.

The isolated slope is part of a micro-climate with quick-changing weather influenced by the lake. Sometimes it may be locked in by low-pressure clouds. Other times a blanket of moisture may be blowing up from the lake, creating an updraft effect. Once in a while the trail is just high up enough that you'll be perched above a thick layer of fog, stuck in a stagnant weather inversion.

Just 20 minutes from the junction, you'll come to an open spot where the view of Applegate Lake and the mountains behind pays rewards. Stop and eat lunch in the dirt before returning to the trailhead.

By hiking this trail clockwise, you're rewarded with the views rather than left wanting more of them. Ignore the old road tracks; they go to the same places but less luxuriously.

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

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