East Applegate Ridge Trail (Photo by Lanessa Pierce)

A Signature Trail With Soaring Views

About 6 miles south of Jacksonville, the East Applegate Ridge Trail — called “East ART” by residents — was recently designated by the Oregon Trails Coalition as a signature trail that showcases one of our state’s iconic landscapes. Applegate residents love it for its soaring views from Burnt Ridge — not just of the Red Buttes and the Siskiyou Crest but of paraglider pilots launching from Woodrat Mountain. Since it’s located in an area of the Applegate Valley known for its sunny weather, be sure to bring a hat, water and sunscreen. Along this trail spot hound’s-tongue, balsamroot, columbine, silver lupine and red dabs of Indian paintbrush from April to June.

For a level hike, start at the eastern trailhead, accessed via gravel road near mile marker four of Sterling Creek Road. Hike just over 2 miles in from the parking lot and you’ll arrive at a bench with great views. This is a good turnaround point. With two cars, you can hike the entire 5.6-mile trail by leaving one at the western trailhead on Highway 238. Be aware that this adds a steep grade to your hike.  

Warrior’s plume (Photo by Kyle Sullivan / BLM)

Hill Climb With Cool Breezes and Ferns

The Applegate Valley generally runs hot and dry, despite being only 60 as-the-crow-flies miles from the Coast. Coastal fog can be felt in the Cathedral Hills, a well-groomed trail system minutes from downtown Grants Pass. Here, 10 miles of trails ply through forested dells and up to big Rogue Valley views. The cool, fern-friendly climate, combined with mixed soil types, inspires an unusually robust wildflower display.

Waves of color start in April and continue through July. Expect a succession of varieties, including carpets of shooting stars, phlox and one unique to the area, warrior’s plume. Also look out for the largest whiteleaf manzanita in Oregon, which thrives here. In spring it produces endearing pinkish-white flower clusters. 

With so many choices, you can customize a hike that matches your gusto and time constraints, from a steep workout on the Manzanita Tunnel Trail to an easy cruise on the Outback Loop. Routes are well marked and color-coded by difficulty level. There are three trailheads, but the Espey trailhead has the most parking. Be on the lookout for poison oak.

Bear Gulch (Photo by Lanessa Pierce)

From Gold Mining to Golden Flowers

Minutes away from the East Applegate Ridge Trail, also south of Jacksonville, the 26-mile-long ditch along the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail was hand-dug in 1877 to procure water for hydraulic gold mining in the area. Some relics of that era remain — a tunnel, flume, headgates — but these days the route provides access to a different kind of gold: bleeding hearts, wild roses, three types of fritillary, rattlesnake orchids and many other species. The best mix of flowers occurs from April to June. 

Now a well-maintained route, the trail can be accessed from six different trailheads. The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail itself is level, but the short access trails are moderately steep. A classic 4.7-mile loop starts at the Bear Gulch Trailhead off Little Applegate Road and emerges 4 miles later at the Tunnel Ridge Trailhead. Reunite with your car by strolling a quiet half-mile stretch of Little Applegate Road. This hike features a masterpiece of a madrone. No coordinates needed — you’ll know it when you see it.

Another stellar wildflower section starts at the Tunnel Ridge access point and ends 7 miles later at the Little Applegate Trailhead. The habitat variations on this stretch are particularly pronounced, with the trail meandering through oak woodlands, thickets of chaparral, open grasslands and small patches of mixed-conifer forest. 

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