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Wild Side: Wrapping up the summer outdoor guide

This is the final installment in the 2017 Summer Outdoor Guide, featuring my list of the top overnight backpacking trips. Part one sampled the nonprofits that can help get you out in nature. Part two looked at guided trips that outfitters offer in the region. Time to make some plans, get out there, and enjoy the public lands that are owned by you!

I have a confession to make. I don’t like backpacking the Cascades that much.

It is not an ugly or terrible place — it is beautiful and I do love going there. Just not for backpacking. Crater Lake is wonderful. The peak bagging at Mount Thielsen is epic and waterfalls on the Rogue and North Umpqua are gorgeous.

But for my money, the Siskiyous are for backpacking. To the west of the Cascades is some the biggest, wildest country on the West Coast. I love overnight camping and long hikes in the Siskiyous because the landscape of these forests, flowers, and wildlife are fascinating. They offer new surprises at every bend in the trail.

Here are three backpacking trips in the Siskiyous, all within a few hours’ drive from Ashland (Note: Backpacking requires specialized gear, knowledge, and grit. I do not offer all the necessary tools, maps, and skills in this column required for backpacking. Only go to the wilderness well prepared!).

Red Buttes (Azalea Lake from Fir Glade Trail) — A moderate 5.7-mile (each way) backpack into the heart of the Siskiyou Crest is just what you need on a summer day. The Fir Glade Trail leads you to wonderful Azalea Lake in the Red Buttes Wilderness. The hike offers vistas of the High Siskiyou, the Red Buttes, and the surrounding unprotected wilderness expanse.

Getting there: From Applegate, take Thompson Creek Road (it becomes Road 10) for 11.8 miles. Bear left on Road 10 (Carberry Creek Road) for 2.6 miles, turn right on Road 1030. Continue 11 steep miles to Road 800. Turn right to a parking area. Maps you need: Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Siskiyou Mountains District.

Siskiyou Wilderness (Raspberry Lake from Young’s Valley Trail) — If I had to pick, the Siskiyou Wilderness would likely be my favorite. This wilderness has it all: Beautiful lakes? Check. Rare plants like the Brewer’s Spruce and darlingtonia pitcher plants, you ask? Why yes. Massive peaks to bag? You betcha! Young’s Valley to Raspberry Lake is a 6.8-mile (each way) difficult adventure that gives you great feel for the wilderness. From the lake there is an off-trail approach to Preston Peak, the highest peak for miles with views of the Pacific — but not for the faint of heart.

Getting there: From Grants Pass, take Highway 199 south 48 miles. Just under 4 miles past the summit tunnel, take Knopki Creek Road (18N07) on the left. Drive 6 miles to a “Y,” and stay right on 18N07, keep heading toward Young’s Valley trailhead. Maps you need: Smith River National Recreation Area, Siskiyou Wilderness.

Kalmiopsis (Pine Flat from Illinois River Trail) — The trail takes you to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and beautiful camping on a flat river terrace. While you will only scratch the surface of this rugged, wild landscape, this is a good introduction to the Kalmiopsis. After about 5 miles on the Illinois River Trail, take the short, steep hike accessing Pine Flat and the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River.

Getting there: From Highway 199, take Illinois River Road for 6.5 miles to Forest Road 4105. Take 4105 all the way to School Flat. While you might be inclined to drive on to the trailhead, don’t. The road is not safe for driving past this point, so you need to walk the last mile or so of road. Maps you need: Wild Rivers Ranger District, Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

— Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.