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Day-hiking the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail forms a 150-mile arc in the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges to the south and east of the Rogue Valley. That's one-third of the 450 PCT miles between the California border and the Columbia River.

Southern Oregon's PCT romances long-distance hikers from around the world with its ridgeline views and well-engineered grades. It puts local day hikers within 60 miles of dozens of PCT trailheads between the Red Buttes Wilderness and the southern edge of Crater Lake National Park.

We don't have space to detail every PCT trailhead or access point within shooting distance of the Rogue Valley, so we chose eight of the best jumping-off spots for day hikes on this world-famous trail.

Cook and Green Pass to Lilypad Lake

You'll kick up about 12 miles of dust to the south of Applegate Lake and pass into California on your way to Cook and Green Pass (4,750 feet), a remote trailhead east of the Red Buttes Wilderness. Your four-mile route heads south and west to a pass between the camelback humps of Red Butte (6,739) and equally red Kangaroo Mountain (6,680) — surreal backdrops for neon-green valleys and sun-baked ridgelines that support complex plant communities.

The hike begins with a 2.5-mile climb to a 5,800-foot pass with a view into Echo Canyon and north to Grayback Mountain and Abney Butte. In the next 1.5 miles the trail dips slightly to round Red Butte, then rises to a pass beyond Lilypad Lake. Views stretch south to the Marble Mountains and deep into the Klamath Valley through a patchwork of vigorous forests, clear cuts and charred trees.

Mount Ashland Meadows

Scientists have counted 100 butterfly species in the meadows on the south side of Mount Ashland, where wildflowers form successive waves of color from mid June to mid August. The PCT contours through this wonderland, alternating between old-growth forest and wide open meadows laced with springs.

Hikers can arrange shuttles or out-and-back hikes from several close-in trailheads. You can start under grand fir and Shasta red fir from paved Mount Ashland Road and hike 1.6 miles to Grouse Creek Road (6,500 feet). The next 1.9 trail miles to 6,600-foot Grouse Gap are as level as you could expect from any trail. Mount Shasta floats on the southern horizon as you curve around an open bowl that features gale-force winds in winter and islands of twisted aspens in summer.

Pilot Rock

Between Mount Ashland and Pilot Rock, the PCT plummets 2,000 feet to Old Siskiyou Highway 99, then climbs to a 5,000-foot ridgeline in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Hikers can pick up the trail west of Pilot Rock, a 5,900-foot remnant of a 30-million-year-old lava flow that guided early pioneers into the Rogue Valley.

From a parking lot at the end of bumpy Pilot Rock Road, your route heads toward Soda Mountain, 6.5 miles to the northeast. In a few hundred yards, a steep path cuts right to Pilot Rock, and the PCT enters an old-growth woods, home to pileated woodpeckers. At one mile, the trail opens to a volcanic panorama with views of Mount Shasta and Mount Eddy. At two miles, you'll reach a gate and a tangle of dirt roads. From here, the PCT criss-crosses a road that hugs the crest. Views fluctuate between the Rogue and Shasta valleys. Wear long pants to avoid getting scratched by snowberry and scrub oak.

North and south from Soda Mountain Road

At the PCT crossing on Soda Mountain Road (5,300 feet), day hikers face two compelling choices. To the south, the trail passes under power lines and emerges in a forest of grand fir on the edge of the proposed Soda Mountain Wilderness. After an unmarked side trail to Soda Mountain at one mile, the PCT skirts tiny ponds with cliff-edge views of Mount Ashland. By August, caterpillars have stripped many corn lilies to lacey finery. At two miles, a prominent rock outcropping offers a logical stopping place.

A 4.3-mile hike north to Green Springs Summit (4,551 feet) roughly parallels Soda Mountain Road. The brushy path mixes oak woodland with rare views of eastern shield volcanoes. At one mile, a side trail veers off to Hobart Bluff, a bony rock garden setting with 360-degree views. The PCT continues north, dropping into forest and private property.

Green Springs Summit to Little Hyatt Reservoir

The PCT continues to cross and skirt private land on a 4.8-mile hike from Green Springs Summit to Little Hyatt Reservoir (4,670 feet). Hikers open and close gates, avoid cow patties and cross roads, including Little Hyatt Prairie Road, which offers vehicle access to the reservoir.

Despite these intrusions, the land calls out to be noticed — a rise around Green Springs Mountain, valley views from far above Emigrant Lake and a mix of forests and meadows that attracts wildlife. The reservoir is ideal for swimming, fishing and primitive camping. A PCT rerouting due for completion next year will take the trail higher for more views.

For a shorter hike to Little Hyatt Reservoir (1.5 miles one way), head west at a PCT crossing on East Hyatt Prairie Road.

Brown Mountain Lava Flow

A path of crushed red cinders eases your way through massive chunks of black rock on 7,311-foot Brown Mountain, located south of Highway 140 near Summit Sno-Park.

An eruption 2,000 years ago added a brown top and a small crater to the mountain. It also caused cooled lava to crack while fluid lava flowed underneath. Since then, a few trees and bushes have taken hold among the rocks, where Douglas squirrels and shy pikas hide from enemies. Most hikers turn around at a high point three miles out with good views of Mount McLoughlin.

Sky Lakes

North of Highway 140, the PCT climbs into white fir, red fir and mountain hemlock as it passes by a trail to Mount McLoughlin. You will be in the Sky Lakes Wilderness but still a long way from the trail's exhilarating traverse above two glaciated basins that contain hundred of ponds.

Thirty-five miles of the PCT straddles the Cascades in this long, narrow wilderness. Most trails into the PCT are full-day hikes in their own right, which means you need a backpack trip to explore this isolated footpath.

The mosquitoes subside in late August and September, and the lakes are as warm as they are going to get before the snow flies. For short hikes that ultimately reach the PCT, start at Four Mile Lake and head north 1.8 miles to Squaw Lake or west 1.8 miles to Badger Lake. You can combine these trails with the PCT for a 14-mile loop with opportunities to swim and pick huckleberries.

Crater Lake National Park

The 34-mile stretch of PCT through Crater Lake National Park is a lonely, often viewless, route through open lodgepole pine forests east of the Crater Rim. In 2004, a new 2.5-mile section of trail added pizzazz to the path by replacing an old fire road through the forest with a higher trail that captures views of alpine meadows, Union Peak and the Pumice Flats.

Few day hikers see this section, which starts three miles south of the PCT trailhead at Highway 62 (6,100 feet) beyond a turn-off to the reworked Union Peak Trail.

Mary Beth Lee is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail her at gentlejourneys@ashlandhome.net.

Mount Ashland provides one of the easiest access points for Rogue Valley day-hikers who want to explore the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT covers 450 miles between the California border and the Columbia River, but 150 of those miles lie within easy striking distance of the Rogue Valley. - Denise Baratta