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Hiking the metal mountains of Scott Mountain Crest

The lovely forested peaks of the Scott Mountain Crest in Siskiyou County, California, are most frequently enjoyed from two vantage points — the popular Kangaroo Lake Campground on the north side of the crest, and from the Pacific Crest Trail on the south side of the mountainous ridge.

Both of these viewpoints offer ample scenery, and with a little effort one can enjoy broad views of vast old-growth forests, wide valleys, towering Mount Shasta and the shimmering diamond of Thompson Glacier far off to the west in the Trinity Alps Wilderness.

If you can tear yourself away from the majestic and sweeping vistas, the Scott Mountain Crest offers a slew of subtle forest delights. The serpentine and peridotite rock formations that give the mountains their unique orange hue are among the oldest geological features in the Klamath Mountains. The high nickel content and low nitrogen levels in these soils mean that only hardy plants that have evolved to fill that particular ecological niche are going to survive in these metal mountains.

Botanical oddities thrive in the rugged Scott Mountain Crest. The orange rock gardens support a variety of interesting plants, including a number of buckwheats and penstemons. The meadows and savannahs boast a profusion of wildflowers — many quite rare — and the conifer forests include a strange mix of pines, with a few ancient cedars thrown in for good measure. It is an ecological stew that is both beautiful and strange.

To its credit, the Forest Service has recognized the unique botanical and ecological values of these mountains through designation of special places, including the Rock Fence, China Mountain and Cory Peak botanical areas. While each of these wildflower hotspots is a world-class botanical treasure, the entire Scott Mountain Crest is chock full of meadows, riparian areas and rock gardens that contain unique and endemic plants and ecosystems. In a region famous for its botanical diversity, the Scott Mountain Range is the heart of a wildflower wonderland.

Peak bagging and backcountry botanizing are all fine and good, but sometimes one just wants to spend the day lounging by a trout-filled lake with a fishing poll. The osprey at Kangaroo Lake can be counted on to join your fishing efforts with their circling and diving acrobatics that often end with a trout in their talons and a victory shimmy to shake the water from their feathers.

The stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that traverses the Scott Mountain Ridge from Mount Eddy toward the Trinity Alps Wilderness is particularly scenic and is often accessed from the Parks Creek Trailhead, which also serves as an access point for exploration of Mount Eddy and the much-visited Deadfall Lakes. The Parks Creek trailhead is likely to get a major facelift in coming years, because the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is working with conservation interests to help improve facilities at the parking lot.

The national forests of the Scott Mountain Crest are a public lands success story. Well-maintained roads lead to popular campgrounds and trailheads that are beloved by fishermen, families, botanists, birders and backpackers. There are easy hikes with tremendous views, as well as challenging backcountry opportunities for adventure and challenge. Discovering our natural heritage is easy and inspiring in this beautiful mountain range.

— George Sexton serves as the Conservation Director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center.





George Sexton and Zola admire an immense old-growth pine. Photo by George Sexton
Zola takes a view of Mount Eddy from the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo by George Sexton