The 24,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness Area near Ashland is a bit of a mystery. It offers access to a region known for its biodiversity and provides a look into three mountain ranges, as well as the Great Basin, all at once. And while there are only two designated trails, the Pacific Crest and the Lone Pilot, there are a whole lot of other ways to get around.
This easy, two-mile hike to a spectacular place, Boccard Point, is an easy way to start exploring this wilderness in Medford's backyard. Bring the binoculars and the field guides, because if you like birds, flowers and views, you are about to be overwhelmed. Use the 1988 7.5-minute Soda Mountain quadrangle to get around, and check out the online map at http://goo.gl/RN9Js. Group sizes in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area are limited to 10, including animals.
To get there from the south Ashland Interstate 5 exit, head east on Highway 66 toward Emigrant Lake. Drive for about 14 miles to near the Greensprings summit and take a right on Tyler Creek Road. Take a left on Baldy Creek Road, adjacent to the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area, and follow it to its terminus. Park here and walk east past the Pacific Crest Trail until you come to a road split. Follow the road on the left, heading uphill. The old road meanders around a gentle slope and through the forested headwaters of the Dutch Oven Creek drainage.
The Bureau of Land Management has done extensive work here to remove barbed wire left over from before 2009, when Congress designated this area as wilderness. The work is done by hand and is very laborious, fusing habitat that was once fragmented.
After about 1.8-miles, the road ends, and from there you can scramble southeast for about a quarter mile to the famous rocky outcrop known as Boccard Point. The hike in is a couple of easygoing miles to the heart of the wilderness.
The near-panoramic views offer glimpses of three mountain ranges. To the southwest rise the ancient Klamaths adjacent to Mount Shasta, a young volcano. To the west is Pilot Rock and the Siskiyous, and to the north continue the Cascades.
And all below you is the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area, and there are few places to catch a better glimpse of these remote drainages. You'll also notice a utility line and a complex of antennas on Soda Mountain. These structures bisect the wilderness into two sections.
If you get bored of the views, which is doubtful, check out the flora and fauna. The stunted juniper twists and turns, revealing a shape molded by decades of weather. A plethora of flowers press their stems and pedals out from the rock, giving Boccard Point some color.
And in the spring you can hear a lot of birds enjoying a short detour from the nearby Klamath flyway. On a June day, we heard or saw everything from rock wrens to hermit warblers to lazuli buntings.
The BLM's Soda Mountain Wilderness Plan describes Boccard as the “heart of the wilderness” and concedes this old road route has the potential to be a popular day hike, if it's not already. But the plan calls for “full recontouring of the old road prism.” What this old route will look like after that work is finished is unclear. But it definitely means you should hike to Boccard Point now.
Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.