The Collings Mountain trail at Applegate Lake may be best known for the infamous Bigfoot trap found at its lower reaches. But this six-mile, moderate-to-difficult hike has a lot more to offer, including huge views of the Siskiyou crest.
To reach the trailhead, take Highway 238 to Ruch and head south on Upper Applegate Road. You'll pass Star Ranger Station and Applegate Dam. Just south of Hart-tish Park, you'll find the first of two Collings Mountain trailheads. If you have two vehicles, leave one of them here, then keep heading south.
Pick up the map "Applegate and Western Half of Ashland Ranger District" from a U.S.Forest Service ranger station
To use an interactive USGS map, see http://goo.gl/eb6rF
To download the 7.5-minute USGS quadrangle Carberry Creek, see http://goo.gl/MNiz7
About 2.5-miles south of Hart-Tish, and about 18 miles south of Ruch, is Watkins Campground and the south Collings Mountain trailhead.
You'll start hiking through a field of manzanita, which at points reduces the trail corridor to a tunnel. As you ascend, you'll get your first views of the snow-capped peaks to the southeast. Those are the Red Buttes rising above their 20,000-acre namesake wilderness. Rocky soils high in magnesium will indeed radiate a red hue, especially if you're lucky enough to watch the sun go down over them in late summer.
The manzanita tunnel gives way to a mixed-pine forest and comes to a flat, park-like area.
Collings Mountain Wildlife Unit was brushed out and seeded with conifers in 1979, so you can bet how old most of the trees are. But some of them stand out above the rest, and you'll soon find yourself running into sugar and ponderosa pines wide enough to merit some photographs.
Just as the climb starts to feel monotonous, the trail breaks a divide and opens up with sneak-peek views to the west.
You'll probably actually pass Collings Mountain without even realizing it, then shortly come to a knob with views of the area's prominent peaks. This is about a 1,500-foot, 2.5-mile climb from the south trailhead.
As you continue on, you may begin to notice old-growth stumps left from past logging projects. You'll also notice a large bearing-tree that outdates others in the immediate vicinity. This is a corner section of the county grid system.
You'll find yourself riding a ridge up and down for a while before the trail descends into the Grouse Creek drainage. After crossing some shallow headwaters, the trail runs parallel to the creek through stands of impressive old-growth Douglas fir, a sheer contrast from the cankerous manzanita field you started in.
This quiet descent through the shade of large conifers is a good way to end the hike. You'll pass an old cabin site and perhaps notice an unmarked trail nearby. It heads northwest and uphill to the Bigfoot trap. A lot of people hike there from the north trailhead at Hart-tish Park, which is less than a mile away.
But the longer, six-mile hike is worth those uninterrupted views of the rugged Siskiyou Mountains straddling the Oregon-California border. They're a jumbled geologic mess whose contours look like an old, crumpled piece of newspaper lined with thick, green forest, at least for now.
If you left a car at the north trailhead, you can drive away. If not, you'll have a 2.5-mile walk south along the lake to reach Watkins Campground and the south Collings Mountain trailhead.
Including the road walk, the total mileage is about 8.5-miles. With a couple of breaks and no shuttle, the loop takes about four hours.
Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.