If you want real experiences of wilderness, you don't have to travel far. Southwest Oregon contains eight federally designated wilderness areas, with several others nearby in Oregon and Northern California.

If you want real experiences of wilderness, you don't have to travel far. Southwest Oregon contains eight federally designated wilderness areas, with several others nearby in Oregon and Northern California.

If you're new to wilderness exploration, it's possible to hike in with an experienced group, such as the Siskiyou Mountain Club, which is not just about hiking and sightseeing but gets volunteers to work rebuilding overgrown trails.

"It was beautiful, and I'm going back and do it some more next summer," says Ann Rossman of Ashland, who took a trip into the region's newest wilderness area, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area, with the mountain club. "It was really enjoyable with some beautiful, long meadows going on and on ... and outstanding views of Mount Shasta and Black Butte."

The trek into Soda Mountain Wilderness, south of Highway 66, took the group across 20 miles of backcountry roads, then almost two miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, then a similar distance to Lone Pine Ridge, all with great views.

Schlepping crosscut saws, clippers and other nonmotorized tools (motors are not allowed in wilderness), they go there to work, cutting rounds out of fallen trees and snipping back brush, which would bar many wilderness trekkers, says hike leader Gabriel Howe.

"In the last 10 years, the D.C. budget squeeze has really marginalized the trail maintenance program in these hard-to-reach places that don't get used much," says Howe. "Trails fill in with fallen trees and it becomes near impossible to use some of them."

Howe organizes day hikes in the Soda Mountain and Kalmiopsis wilderness areas for volunteers, as well as treks of up to two weeks, with lots of preparation for meals, camping and sleeping under the stars.

"It is rugged. It's what sets us apart," he says. "The logistics are challenging. It's 15 miles to get to a project site and takes two days in and two days to get out."

It's great for teens, he notes, and can earn them credit toward scholarships.

Micah Nash, a veteran of wilderness work in the Kalmiopsis and a recent graduate of North Medford High, says wilderness work brought such a change in his life that he shifted from video games to "more valuable experiences," such as his writing and music.

"It's been a great experience. A lot of people should engage in it," says Nash. "We forget the value of wilderness and the good feeling of physical exertion. A lot of people don't want to do the hard work, but it's a great challenge and builds character and endurance. It's inspiring and helps you think more clearly."

Hiking the wilderness is different than hikes near town with parking nearby, says Howe.

"You feel like there's still somewhere you can discover," he says. "You can hike a lot of places, but when you get in a federal wilderness, it feels like you're really finding something. It's remote. You go, 'Wow, I haven't ever seen this, and very few other people have.' If you go year after year, you develop a sense of ownership of it, like you discovered it. It's like the wild west frontier."

Even the names of Wilderness Areas summon a sense of mystery and seem to beckon — Sky Lakes, Red Buttes, Rogue-Umpqua Divide, Mountain Lakes, Wild Rogue, Mount Thielsen. In addition to hiking and camping, you can do cross-country skiing, horseback riding, hunting and fishing, but you can't use motorized vehicles, says Joel Brumm, assistant manager of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which includes Soda Mountain.

"The hiking is fantastic. You find a lot of amazing landscapes," he says, "and there are a lot of what we call foot-worn paths. You have to be careful; you can get lost. You should be equipped if you go off-trail, and know what you're doing."

Some stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail go through wilderness, and they've created a new Lone Pilot Trail, south of Pilot Rock, near the California border, he notes. In addition, you can seek to get familiar with lots of old roadways that aren't on maps.

To participate in wilderness trail work, contact Gabriel Howe, Siskiyou Mountain Club, at howegabe@gmail.com or call 541-708-2056.