Our original plan had been to visit Stuart Falls onthe south edge of Crater Lake National Park. But fallen trees had blocked the main access road (Forest Road (FR) 6205) about six miles from the trailhead. Our attempt to reach the falls via another trail was foiled when we found that trail had been largely obliterated by the 2008 Middle Fork Fire and had not been rebuilt. Sigh. So we kept Stuart Falls on the to do list and opted instead to visit Mount Elijah (actually both of them), which is now in the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. In 2014, the Monument was expanded from 488 acres to about 4,000 acres (to protect the watershed that feeds the underground river in the caves), which put Mount Elijah and the Bigelow Lakes within within the National Park system.
You can get to Mount Elijah and the Bigelow Lakes from either the west (via the Monument headquarters) or from the east (as we did) via the Sturgis Fork Trail (USFS #903). A short hike up the #903 through towering forests (which were pumping out pine scent as though it was June rather than February!),
brought us to an unassuming junction with the Boundary Trail (USFS #1207), which runs from near Tanner Lake to Grayback Mountain along the spine of the Siskiyous and the Mount Elijah Trail (USFS #1206).
From there we ascended the #1206,
to the summit of the higher of the two Mount Elijahs.
Up where we were, it was the requisite bluebird day but still foggy in the Illinois River Valley.
We left the summit of Mount Elijah (6,390′) and headed down past the summit of Mount Elijah (6,281′) – yes, both are on the map,
traversed in view of Preston,
then swung back east on a well-abandoned old road,
to the junction with the Lake Mountain/Bigelow Lake Trail (USFS #1214), the trail that would take us back up past the lakes.
Although it doesn’t look like it, it’s still February, so the lakes were bug-free and thus a great place for our lunch break.
After lunch, it was up the big meadows on the northeast side of the lake basin,
From near the upper end of the #1214, we had a good view of the lakes shortly before it reconnected with the #1206 which we would take back to the trailhead.
A short (9 miles round-trip; 1,800 feet of elevation gain) but sunny hike in a beautiful area that’s now part of the National Monument. Since Mount Elijah and the lakes can be reached via a short hike from the monument side, that’s something to consider adding to a visit to see the caves.