As far as outdoor recreation goes, Applegate Lake is low-hanging fruit. It is accessible year-round, and you can drive right up to the reservoir's shores.
But this year, do yourself a favor: Ditch the car and explore Applegate Lake's roadless eastern shoreline on foot.
To view an interactive map of the hike, see http://goo.gl/mqphL
This 5.5-mile hike is easy, so you can bring the grandparents and the kids. And if you want to extend it, there are a few options, especially if you can shuttle a car or bicycle.
Before you go, buy the Applegate and West Half of Ashland Ranger District Map, which is available at any of the local ranger stations.
To get there, from Highway 238 in Ruch, head south on Upper Applegate Road. Pass Star Ranger Station and Applegate Dam. Go by Watkins Campground, and then at the stop sign turn left to stay on Upper Applegate Road. A mile after the stop sign, you'll see Seattle Bar on the right and FSD No. 1041 on the left.
Follow FSD No. 1041 for about two miles to its terminus, which also is the Payette Trailhead — Manzanita. The first half-mile of the hike is on an old, steep roadbed and adjacent to a barbed-wire fence, but then the trail reduces to a path with an easy grade.
Before long, the path breaks out of the forest and laces right up to the lake's high-water mark. Applegate Dam was finished in 1980, forever changing this landscape. There once was a small settlement where the lake bottom is now. It was called Copper, and it had a post office and some buildings.
While most of this forest is pretty spindly and logged over, there are some notable Ponderosa and sugar pines here and there. This section of the trail is quiet, secluded from more populated areas of the lake. There also are some spur trails that lead to easy water access.
After about 2.5 miles of gently winding in and out of the lake's gulches, you'll reach Tipsu Tyee Campground, which contains a few campsites with picnic tables and fire rings and an outhouse. This is the preferred spot should you choose to camp, because it is farthest from either trailhead.
Walking through Tipsu Tyee, you should notice a sign for the Harr Ridge Trail No. 947. On your way back, take it.
The Harr Ridge Trail has a more primitive feeling, and it winds for about two-thirds of a mile through some impressive stands of Douglas fir. It rises up for about 200 feet before descending back to the Payette Trail. This forest — old, insulated and hidden beyond the lake — is the highlight of this hike.
Once the Harr Ridge Trail connects back to the Payette Trail, head west back toward the trailhead. That's about another two miles.
If you catch this trail in the spring, you'll be sure to have a decent display of wildflowers and a chorus of birds. In the summer, this can be a refuge from more populated spots on Applegate Lake. Come in the fall to catch the vine maple and oaks changing colors and shedding leaves.
The Payette Trail is perfect for people looking for a hike that puts very little wear on the knees. And if you're looking for more miles, just take a look at the map and extend your hike to Stringtown, Latgawa Cove or French Gulch.
Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.