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Applegate Lake trails make good winter hikes

Trails near Applegate Lake make good hiking during the short days of winter.

At an altitude of 2,000 feet, these trails are almost always snow-free and just a short drive from the Medford area.

They may lack the grandeur of high-altitude routes in the Cascades and Siskiyous, but they provide a quick and easy taste of the outdoors.

These trails are short and relatively flat, ranging in length from .6 to 1.6 miles. Using parts of several trails or all of them you can dial in as much walking as your legs can stand and see very little of the same scenery twice.

To avoid confusion - and biting off more walking than you really want - take a map. Mountain bikes are allowed on these routes, so don't be surprised if you encounter cyclists.

To get there, take Highway 238 west from Medford to Jacksonville and continue west to Ruch. Turn left (south) on Upper Applegate Road and drive to Applegate Dam. Turn left and drive across the dam, then follow Forest Road 1075 for three miles to the Dagelma trailhead, where several trails begin.

The Calsh Trail (No. 971) is just .7 miles, mostly through a stand of mature Douglas fir. It connects to the Payette Trail (No. 970) which follows the shore of Applegate Lake for about nine miles. If you turn left and follow the Payette Trail for about a quarter mile, you will meet the Sinns Bar Trail (No. 972).

At .8 miles, the Sinns Bar Trail is one of the little connector routes in this collection of trails. It passes through an area that is said to have been mined by a Chinese man. At its eastern end, it joins the Prospectors Loop Trail (No. 974), a 1.6-mile loop. Prospectors Loop is the longest single trail in this group.

Along the way you'll see evidence of mining activity that gave the trail its name. Look for the shallow holes that were dug in this area about 100 years ago, when miners were looking for mercury and copper. This trail passes through some of the varied stands of conifers that are so typical of low-elevation forest in Southern Oregon.

The Osprey Trail (No. 973) is a .6-mile route that connects the Prospectors Loop with the Payette Trail along the lake shore. This short route offers perhaps the largest range of tree species. As it descends toward the Payette Trail, the vegetation changes from a mixed stand of firs and pines to a drier forest of white oak, madrone and manzanita.

If you're looking for exercise and maximum distance, take the Calsh Trail (.7 miles), turn left and follow the Payette Trail for about three miles along the lake. Then turn left at the junction with the Osprey Trail (.6 miles) and follow it to the junction with the Prospectors Loop (1.6 miles). You'll finish where you started six miles earlier.