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South Fork of Rogue trek leads to huge sugar pines

November means snow could close many high mountain trails any day, so hikers will need to move down toward lower elevation routes such as the one that follows the South Fork of the Rogue River.

The South Fork Trail (No. 988) follows the stream for nearly 12 miles. This route wins kudos from trail-guide authors for the diversity of its trees and their size as well. It's a great place to immerse visitors in the scenery that's made Oregon the subject of countless coffee table books and calendars.

There are fine specimens of Douglas fir, western hemlock, white fir and western white pine. "Tree people" will enjoy seeing some large Pacific yews growing in the shaded understory beneath the giants. There's also a mammoth sugar pine just off the trail.

Several roads cross the trail along its length, so hikers can cover the entire distance over the space of several outings. Forest Road 37 splits the trail neatly in half, and provides a starting point for a 1.5-mile trip along the river and a visit to the big sugar pine.

To get there take Highway 62 past Eagle Point to the Butte Falls Highway, turn right and proceed for about 15 miles to Butte Falls. Go straight for a mile, and turn left where the sign points to Prospect.

Drive nine miles to the junction with Forest Road 34 and turn right. Follow Forest Road 34 for 8.5 miles and pass the South Fork Campground. There's hiker parking on the right.

Downstream from the bridge, the trail is open to hikers and bicyclists. Upstream it's hikers only. Horses and mechanized equipment are banned from the entire route.

Below the bridge the trail follows the river downstream through stands of big old trees, crossing several small tributary creeks along the way. After about 1.5 miles, there's a side trail off to the right that leads to several giant sugar pines.

It's worth the .3 mile side trip to see these big trees. Sugar pines are easy to identify once you see them in their mature form, but the younger ones can be easily confused with ponderosa pines.

Mature sugar pines have a distinct purple cast to their bark and their branches droop conspicuously at the tips, carried down by the weight of the massive cones that hang at the end of them.

The mounds at the base of the trees are the accumulation of bark, needles and debris that have been shed over centuries.

From the sugar pines, it's about 1.8 miles back upstream to the bridge where you started.

For trail descriptions, see Art Bernstein's "Hiking Oregon's Southern Oregon Cascades and Siskiyous," John and Diane Cissel's "Old Growth Hikes Washington & Oregon Cascades," or William Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon."

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