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Forest roads less traveled for a hike

When looking for a new hike, it's understandable for hikers to dismiss roads. We go to the woods to get away from cars, trucks and the bustle of town. But many roads on the map have been closed, creating new, quiet, outdoor opportunities.

This moderately difficult, 10-mile hike just above Ashland is one of them. Don't let the mileage scare you. This entire hike is along easy, continuous grade. It's easy to navigate and, most importantly, has unmatched views.

Start off by getting the Applegate and West Half of Ashland Ranger District Map from the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger Station. Park near Ashland's popular swimming reservoir at the south end of Lithia Park, where Granite Street runs into Glenview Drive.

Start walking south on Granite Street. Cross the creek, go around a hairpin turn and pass a closed, yellow gate. You should be walking south and slightly uphill on Forest Service Road (FSR) 2060.

At one mile, you may see a milepost marker. Just past there, listen for the hum of Ashland's water treatment plant. It's far down the steep slope of FSR 2060 but can be seen through the tree line.

You'll start noticing the recent forest work that is part of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project. Contractors clear out flammable underbrush to let native, fire-resistant tree species thrive. Not only does this type of direct conservation protect Ashland from wildfire, it makes the forest wide open and more attractive to walk through.

Pass a lush draw and notice the clear headwaters of Ashland Creek. Also see how easily the granitic outcrops here erode.

As the road heads west away from Ashland Creek, keep your eye out for Mount McLoughlin's snow cap that barely protrudes from the northeast mountain scape.

The road keeps winding around gulches with good-sized cedar trees that prefer riparian zones. Keep climbing slowly but steadily.

At three miles into the hike, there's an obvious junction at a saddle. Go left, following the sign for Horn Gap Trail No. 1014. You're now on FSR 2060-200. It traverses some even deeper, cooler gulches and passes along groves of old-growth pine whose size seems to increase with the elevation.

It seems the number of trees affected by dwarfed mistletoe also grows with elevation. Some stands have been completely invaded by the native parasite. Infected trees branch out, making massive "witches brooms," and some of them are eventually left as dead, spindly snags.

About 1.75-miles up from the junction, take a left on FSR 2060-250. After less than a quarter of a mile, this road terminates at the summit of an unnamed peak, 4,295 feet above the sea. The old log-landing, now designated as a helipad on the map, is wide open and expansive.

Ashland and the surrounding area is often said to stand where the Siskiyous and the Cascades meet — where ridges running north, south, east and west collide and young, active volcanoes merge with ancient archipelagos. That notion can seem abstract to those of us who aren't schooled geologists.

But from the landing on FSR 2060-250, see it for yourself — at least on a clear day. To the south are views of the Siskiyous and Mount Ashland, and to the north, views of Mount McLoughlin, Southern Oregon's claim to the Cascades. This is the only place I've found where you can catch a picture of both peaks in the same frame.

To find other anonymous spots in the forest with knock-your-socks-off views, look for similar topography and helipad spots. It's no guarantee, but it's a better bet than following random routes. And never be shy about using a closed road to get there. With every gate that closes, a wild opportunity opens up.

Freelance writer Gabriel Howe lives in Ashland and is founder and chair of the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com.

Mount McLoughlin viewed from the helipad on FSR 2060-250. Gabriel Howe photo