Soaring temperatures in July can make it hard to find a comfortable hike.
But a high-elevation segment of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in Ashland's backyard provides a bearable outing even in the afternoon.
The internationally known PCT, which runs from Canada to Mexico, takes a jog up the side of Mount Ashland and then across the back side of the mountain, facing away from Ashland.
To access the trail from Ashland, leave town via Exit 14 and then travel south on I-5 to Exit 6, the Mt. Ashland Ski Area exit.
Low down on the mountain, near a junction where visitors turn right to go to the ski area on the Mt. Ashland Access Road, is a trailhead for the PCT.
In the summer, I would recommend passing that trailhead by and continuing up toward the ski area.
Just past mile marker 7 on the access road is a trailhead with a dirt parking lot large enough for several cars. That trailhead provides access to a cooler segment of the PCT.
On a recent July afternoon when I hiked there, the temperature was 92 degrees in Ashland, 83 degrees at the lower trailhead for the PCT and 77 degrees at the higher-elevation trailhead.
At the higher trailhead, the PCT crosses the ski area access road, giving hikers a choice to go downhill or uphill.
Going uphill keeps hikers in cooler temperatures, while also providing slightly downhill walking on the way back.
Traveling uphill, the trail is relatively level, with some minor ups and downs, and it leads through dense forest with towering trees that provide dappled shade.
Every now and then, the trail passes through open wetland meadows that provide views of Mount Shasta to the southeast.
Rivulets of water run through the meadows, which are abuzz with bumblebees, dragonflies and butterflies. A profusion of wildflowers and wetland plants grow up to chest high.
Hikers who continue on the trail for three miles will reach the Grouse Gap shelter, a scenic spot with a picnic shelter and stellar views that makes a good resting and turn-around spot.
Although the temperatures on the trail are cooler than in the valley, hikers will still warm up once they start walking. Bring plenty of water and be prepared with appropriate clothing. Insect repellent will help keep the wetland meadow insects at bay. Mountain bikes are not allowed on the PCT.
Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings.