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Visiting Oregon Caves via Mount Elijah

The winds had shifted and pushed the smoke from the forest fires south. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the day beckoned. We gathered that morning to load our gear into one pickup and then ourselves into two other vehicles. The plan was for Tom Gilley and Tom Murphy to transport our overnight gear to the Oregon Caves, where we would meet up with them after a long hike.

Those of us traveling to the Sturgis Fork trailhead agreed to meet at the Applegate Store before turning up Thompson Creek Road. The trip seemed to be off to an auspicious start as Diane Gilley, Linda Murphy and I sat waiting at the Applegate Store for the other two, Vicky and Jim Grantland, to join us. Finally a call came in — Jim had followed a truck he believed to be us onto Upper Applegate Road and it took him some time before realizing his error.

We turned left off Highway 238 onto Thompson Creek Road after crossing the bridge and followed this paved road to the end of the pavement. There we picked up Forest Road 1020. After 3.5 miles, we turned right onto Forest Service Road 600 for another three miles and then a left onto a steep spur road for a half mile that ends at the clearly marked Sturgis Fork trailhead. 

The trail follows a creek through grand firs and corn lily to the Boundary Trail atop a forested ridge crest. There we turned right to another junction in a small meadow, where we turned left following a switchback trail to the top of Mount Elijah.

Mount Elijah is named after Elijah Davidson, the hunter who discovered the Oregon Caves in 1879. The granite peak rises 6,400 feet and offers views of all the Siskiyou peaks and is a great place for a lunch stop.

After enjoying the view, we followed the trail down to the Oregon Caves National Monument. The National Monument, created in 1909, sits on the western slope of Mount Elijah. We hiked down until we reached the Big Tree Loop Trail, where we took the right fork to see Oregon’s largest Douglas fir tree.

We had made reservations at the lodge to spend the night, and it proved to be a good decision. The staff was gracious and we enjoyed an adult beverage in the foyer while revisiting the day’s hike. Later the Illinois Valley String Band provided music that fit the lodge. Afterward we enjoyed dinner in the lodge dining room overlooking the surrounding forest.

After an enjoyable overnight stay, we began the return hike to the Sturgis Fork trailhead. The hike back included a moderate climb of 2,400 feet to the summit of Mount Elijah. We again paused at the top, then hiked down the trail to our vehicles and back home — a trek worth taking and a trip to remember.

Jerry Sessions lives in Medford.

The hiking group posed for a group shot at the largest Douglas fir tree in Oregon on their hike to Mount Elijah and Oregon Caves. Photo courtesy of Jerry Sessions
Water tumbles into a pool in front of the Oregon Caves Chateau. MT file photo