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Visiting the little-known Klamath Hills

Photo by Lee Juillerat Spring Lake dominates the landscape looking north from an overlook in the Klamath Hills.
Photo by Lee Juillerat Irrigated farmland is part of the view while hiking south back to the Klamath Hills trailhead.

Mention the Klamath Hills to most people, including those who’ve lived in or near the Klamath Basin for decades, then wait for the quizzical look. And, after a pause, responses like, “The what?” or “Where are they?”

From Klamath Falls, it’s only about a 15-mile drive to the Klamath Hills. But, because the “hills” aren’t distinct peaks, they’re little known and often unrecognized. But once visited they take on their own personality.

It’s a region of raw, rugged and subtle beauty, a semi-barren expanse where cross-county hiking leads to high points overlooking lakes, farm fields, Stukel and Hogback mountains, Mount Shasta and other landmarks.

The Klamath Hills are little known because from a distance, and even from up close, it lacks the dramatic appeal of the Cascades or other mountainous areas. From the trailhead the region seems deceptively unchallenging, with massive stretches of wide-open grasslands, sage and, less commonly, mountain mahogany and junipers in a landscape shaped and carved by volcanic activities.

Access to the Klamath Hills begins from a trail off Lower Klamath Lake Road, which is managed by the Klamath Falls Bureau of Land Management as the Klamath Hills Recreation Area.

The trail, which is closed to motorized vehicles, begins as an obvious path. From an elevation of 4,121 feet, it gradually climbs to a wildlife water guzzler, one of three in the 1,596-acre area. Beyond the guzzler the hills are mostly open for cross-county exploration, with sometimes faint paths leading to valleys and a series of high points. Because of the often uneven, sometimes steep rocky terrain, trekking poles are recommended. The Hills’ tallest point is 5,138-foot Captain Jack, named after the Modoc leader.

On some treks friends and I have seen an assortment of wildlife — deer, quail, chukar and antelope. More evident are varieties of small critters, including mice, rats, ground squirrels and snakes. Less seen are ground hogs, but their presence is revealed by their many burrows.

Wildlife and birds were infrequent on this early spring hike, but other times we’ve seen soaring hawks and eagles, rock-scampering lizards and squirrels, and once, a fully intact deer carcass.

From high points, views west and south feature Mount Shasta 90 miles away, and closer, a mosaic of irrigated farmlands on sections of what was Lower Klamath Lake. Sometimes we’ve hiked to Captain Jack’s summit, but this hike we ventured north, stopping for lunch at an overlook overlooking Spring Lake and Jory Canyon and, farther distant, Klamath Falls and Upper Klamath Lake.

Our cross-country route headed east before winding down a rock-littered, make-it-yourself route and eventually angling downhill westerly to regain the trail.

BLM will host a volunteer event at the Klamath Hills Recreation Area from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2. Volunteers will meet at the Klamath Hill Recreation Area trailhead.

To get there from Klamath Falls, take Highway 97 south. Shortly after passing through Midland, turn left (east) on Cross Road, then right (south) on Lower Klamath Lake Road. The trailhead is about 6.5 miles southeast of Midland.

BLM organizer Kerry Johnston said the event will “focus on area cleanup and restoration by planting drought-tolerant native plants around the new information kiosk and trailhead.”

Volunteers are asked to bring lunch, water, hat, gloves, eye protection, camera and wear sturdy shoes. Long sleeves and pants are suggested. Tools and light refreshments will be provided. People interested in participating are asked to email Johnston at kjohnston@blm.gov with a daytime phone number.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.