If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t get lost.
That was the attitude when a group of us on an “exploratory” hike decided not to follow the faint trail we had followed earlier back to where we’d parked our cars. Instead, we ventured off cross-country. We had a general idea of where we wanted to go but didn’t know exactly how to get there. Bill Van Moorhem, who had suggested the outing, wanted to see if we could find a new route.
We had started our outing at Eagle Point, near the tip of Eagle Ridge, the long finger-shaped ridge bordered by Shoalwater Bay to the west and Upper Klamath Lake to the east. The two-plus-miles long Eagle Ridge is a little-visited northern extension of Klamath County’s mostly undeveloped 634.88-acre Eagle Ridge County Park. A well-maintained dirt road off Highway 140 follows Eagle Ridge Road past the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead to the county park, which has a seasonal boat dock, six primitive campsites, drinking water, picnic tables and vault toilets.
Beyond the campground-boat launch the road narrows and turns seriously rumpy-rough. Trailers are not permitted and high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended.
Our group followed an existing but faint trail steadily uphill to the ridge. Clouds and trees — stands of incense cedars, Ponderosa pines and junipers — obscured clear views, but below us to the east was Bare Island and a broad swath of Upper Klamath Lake. After some wanderings, we paused for lunch on Eagle Point’s west side, where openings revealed sights of Shoalwater Bay and Spence Mountain along with Aspen Butte, Mount Carmine and Mount Harriman in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area. Unseen but faintly heard were the soft, high-pitched, clear, ringing “beeps” of a Townsend solitaire.
Hiking back to our cars, our small group fractioned into two. Two angled off, eventually following the trail back to the road and cars. Some of us took a more “scenic” route, curling below rock outcroppings and making steep switchbacks around trees, rocks and other obstacles. We finally reached the road at a steep drop-off, where we elected to sit on our derrieres for — Whoopee! — a short downhill slide.
Instead of immediately leaving, I followed a narrow path from our parking area to the lake searching for signs of a hot springs. Sure enough, close to the water emanated the mildly rotten egg scents of escaping sulfur. At the top of the lake trail was an open area with old, crude, wooden steps. Was it the site of the old Eagle Ridge tavern/hotel?
According to “A History of Rocky Point, Oregon,” by William and LoEtta Cadman, a hotel/tavern built by Dan and Mary Griffith opened July 20, 1909, at the tip of Eagle Ridge. Because it was inaccessible by road, visitors came by steamboat. In 1910, the nearby marshland was partially reclaimed and used for hay and pasture by Dr. W.H. Gaddes. In 1921, Gaddes leased 220 acres of marshlands for a mint-growing operation, a venture that failed. From 1920 to 1923, a tavern was operated by a Mrs. Weston and a Mrs. Kilbourne. Later, the Eagle Ridge Hotel Company bought the property and tavern from Gaddes. The tavern was leased to the Eagle Ridge Rod & Gun Club in 1925, but according to the Cadmans’ book, it was little used and closed. The tavern burned to the ground Dec. 8, 1932.
Years later, according to the Klamath County Parks website, the land that includes Eagle Ridge Park was purchased by Klamath County from the Oregon State Game Commission. The Hoo Hoo Club, a forest products industry club, assisted in constructing the road to the park’s boat launch-campground.
What’s next for the undeveloped lands of Eagle Ridge is uncertain.
The Klamath Trails Alliance, which has already developed more than 35 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails at Spence Mountain, has long-range plans to develop a trail along the road north of the county park to Eagle Point and another trail that would follow the ridge back. Although not envisioned in the immediate future, the section along Shoalwater Bay would be an extension of the existing Old Eagle Trail to Eagle Point. The connecting trail from Eagle Point south, tentatively called the White Sulfur Trail, would be a more challenging trail that would climb more than 600 feet from the lake to the ridge before returning to the lower trail.
If and until that happens, the undeveloped lands of Eagle Ridge are a place to explore, even if you don’t know where you’re going.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.
Eagle Ridge County Park is about 50 miles east of Medford. From Medford drive east past Rocky Point. After milepost 52, turn left at the signed Eagle Ridge Road turnoff and follow the road to the park. The rocky road continues to Eagle Point, the site a former hotel/tavern and likely a future site for hiking-mountain biking trailhead.