It's a steady 700-foot climb, but gradual enough for kids and families

As long as the snow level stays above 6,000 feet, you can still enjoy some excellent high-country trails in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness.

Two little mountain lakes just inside the wilderness boundary make an easy destination for a day hike on these short autumn days. Itís less than two miles from the trailhead to Buckeye Lake and another quarter-mile will bring you to Cliff Lake, at the base of Grasshopper Mountain.

The Lakes Trail (number 1578) does climb steadily to the lakes (700 feet elevation gain in two miles), but the grade is gentle, so itís a good place to give kids a taste of the mountains.

In addition to the lakes you can show the young ones some interesting geology. Part of Grasshopper Mountain let go sometime in the past few thousand years ó yesterday in geologic time. The cliffs that lie above the lakes mark where the rocks broke off and slid into the valley.

A wildfire burned through part of this area in 2002, so youíll also see how a forest begins to remake itself after a burn.

The mountains make this area feel higher than it really is. The lakes lie at about 4,200 feet, so the trail often stays open well into November.

The trail begins at about 3,600 feet in stands of mid-elevation pines and moves quickly into Douglas-fir and mountain hemlock. Plenty of giant boulders along the way remind you of the big slide.

Getting there from Medford takes some time, because thereís no quick way across the 6,000-foot ridge that marks the Rogue-Umpqua divide. At this time of year the drive features the fall color of maples, alders and cottonwoods.

The easiest way to reach the trailhead is to take Highway 62 from Medford to Trail. Turn north on Highway 227, the road to Tiller, a wide spot in the road about 20 miles north. At Tiller, turn right on Forest Road 28, which is also marked as Douglas County Road 46. This road follows the South Umpqua for some 25 miles, past South Umpqua Falls, a pleasant little 15-foot cascade.

Continue past the falls to Forest Road 2823 and look for signs for the Skimmerhorn trailhead. Take Road 2823 where it leaves Road 28, and continue to Road 2830 for about 3.9 miles to where it intersects Road 600. Itís about two miles on Road 600 to the trailhead.

The trail forks less than a quarter-mile from the parking area. Turn left (east) and continue about three-quarters of a mile to the wilderness boundary. From there itís less than half a mile to Buckeye Lake. If you go as far as Cliff Lake, you can practice your yodeling and listen to the echo bounce off the sheer cliff.

For a trail description and directions, see William Sullivanís ď100 Hikes in Southern Oregon.Ē

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com