Fish Lake is the largest lake in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness (and one of the largest in Oregon). After gazing down on it during a recent hike to the Hershberger Mountain Lookout, a visit to it got put on the to do list. By starting at the Beaver Swamp Trailhead, I was able to both visit the west side of the wilderness and include Fish Lake in a loop hike. 🙂 This is Hike #9 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition). Update: The entire route of this hike was burned by the 2017 TL Pup 316 Fire (one of the High Cascade Complex Fires).
To do a loop, I had to take the Rocky Rim Trail (USFS #1572) east and up to the divide. What I didn’t know at the onset, but soon became painfully aware of, is that the first three miles or so of the #1572 beyond the trailhead have fallen into disrepair due to a lack of maintenance and its traverse of a wildfire caused by a lightning strike in 2002 (Tiller Complex Fire). So three miles of plowing through wet brush, over downed trees, and across eroded tread. I’d worn shorts (yes, it’s mid-October but the air temperature is still around 70ºF) so every encounter with sharp brush or ripping thorns was faithfully registered on my rapidly scarring legs. 😥 Despite its poor condition, the trail isn’t hard to follow – just wear long pants!
Trail conditions improve a lot in the last half-mile or so before reaching the divide at Rocky Ridge and I stopped there for a snack and the view.
The #1572 along Rocky Ridge is in good shape and the hike there went quickly. After about four miles along Rocky Ridge, and some appreciation of small details,
I soon reached its junction with the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (#1470). After less than a half-mile on that trail, I came to a junction with the Fish Lake Trail (USFS #1570), my return route. The #1570 descends rapidly off the ridge, skirting huge Highrock Meadow along the way,
under the eternal gaze of Highrock Mountain.
Beyond the meadow, the trail continues down into a deep forest, and stays there all the way to the lake. Fortunately, the forest gloom was periodically relieved by Fall color.
After about four miles heading downhill through the forest, I popped into the open at the lake, which appears much bigger in person than as seen from the ridge above.
The #1570 runs around the lake’s north shore,
to a junction with the Beaver Swamp Trail (USFS #1569). Because this trail runs through the same 2002 burn that had made the #1572 so much fun in the morning, I was worried that the last mile back to the trailhead would be an uphill struggle through fallen wood. But, not to worry – because the Beaver Swamp trailhead is actually the preferred approach to Fish Lake (as it is 2.3 miles closer to the lake than the actual Fish Lake Trailhead), the #1569 proved to be both well-graded and well-maintained as it climbed up through the old burn.
Given its painful start, this was, overall, a pretty good hike (13.2 miles round-trip; 1,900 feet of elevation gain) – the best parts being Rocky Ridge (views!) and, of course, the lake. There are a lot of trails in this wilderness but, based on my experience so far, I’ve found that they can vary unexpectedly in quality from good to very sketchy – and these distinctions are rarely discussed on the Forest Service website. So you have to approach hiking here with a little caution, a good map, and ( 😦 ) long pants.