Hiking trails follow the Rogue River for approximately 100 miles. One of these, the Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034), roughly parallels it for about 47 miles from near Boundary Springs to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area outside of Prospect, Oregon. It can be hiked in sections. We hiked our first section, the northern-most, in 2012 and completed the southern-most section in 2016. Done and done, except for the possibility (per Sullivan) that there was a path from the North Fork Dam Recreation Area to the Peyton Bridge Trailhead at Lost Creek Lake. This would allow one to link the true Upper Rogue River Trail (#1034) with the “Rogue River Trail” that goes around the north and south shores of Lost Creek Lake and ends at Casey State Park. We conveniently ignored that “except” until the nagging malaise of incompleteness was too much to bear. So we dragged ourselves off the sofa and went out yesterday to finish the hike…
In an addendum to the 3rd Edition of his 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon, Sullivan provides this description of how to get from Lost Lake to the North Fork Dam:
…the trail now continues [from Lost Creek Lake] up the embankment towards Mill Creek Drive and comes out first on a Pacific Power access road that then leads to Mill Creek Drive. From there you walk past the Pacific Power compound and the trail reappears on the right/river side of the road. The trail then parallels the road until it starts downhill through a rocky area and ties into the Mill Creek Falls trail right at the stunning Barr Creek falls. This trail is heavily used and can be followed to a large paved trailhead. From the trailhead the trail continues to parallel Mill Creek Dr about a half a mile until you reach a bridge over the river. At this point you must cross the road where the trail takes off again along the river through an area logged about 10 years ago. Follow the trail to Hwy 62 at another bridge, at this point you cross the road and find a small parking area on the north side of the river. The trail continues from there up towards the north fork dam…
In the 4th edition of this guidebook, these directions had been shortened considerably (and almost uselessly) to:
From Peyton Bridge on the upper arm of Lost Creek Lake, the path follows the river for 4.7 miles. Then follow Mill Creek Drive and a section of the Mill Creek Falls Trail (Hike #125) for 4 miles to Prospect.
So we tried to follow the directions in Sullivan’s 3rd Edition. It did help to know that the Ashland Hiking Group had followed this route from the lake to Mill Creek Road in 2014. But we’ve had a couple of hard winters since then and trail conditions change…as we would soon discover. But we left the Peyton Bridge Trailhead under the warm, sunny skies that we’d been dreaming about all winter,
and proceeded up what was, for at least the first three miles, a delightfully easy trail,
running along the shore of a full to overflowing Lost Creek Lake.
We soon came to the first of the large bridges (there are many smaller ones) that span the trail,
here over Nye Ditch. Little did we know that this would be the only bridge, large or small, that we’d cross that wasn’t impacted, to a greater or lesser extent, by fallen trees, cascading rocks, or intrusive brush.
But, comforted by blissful ignorance, we continued on the nice open trail,
through fields of still blooming wildflowers,
and across a short section that had collapsed in this winter’s rains but which had been somewhat rebuilt since then. Chances are, however, that it will collapse further if we get another really wet winter.
There were, however, the occasional fallen tree problems but these were few and far between for the first three miles.
However, from three miles on, the trail got progessively less distinct,
and the fallen tree obstacles got more numerous, bigger, and more demanding.
By the time we reached the confluence of the north (main) and south forks of the Rogue River,
the trail tread had deteriorated to being barely discernible under the encroaching brush.
Poison oak is a fact of hiking life in Southern Oregon and there was an abundance of its bright, shiny three-leaf clusters all along (and in) the trail. There was also a super abundance of ticks – to the point where we had to stop frequently to get them off our clothes and skin. Still we pushed on, to the point where the “Rogue River Trail” is shown to end on the USGS map and where (we hoped) we’d find a use trail contouring up toward Mill Creek Road. Instead we found a massive 100-foot wide mud slide that had obliterated the hillside and the trail with it.
But we were able to pick-up the trail again on the other side of the slide and follow it a short distance to yet another slide; this slide was narrower but deeper, heavy flows having scoured the slope right down to its bedrock boulders.
We searched up and down the far side of this slide but were unable to reacquire the trail. Either we didn’t search low enough or the likely faint use trail beyond was obscured by this summer’s vegetation. It was at this point that we decided to just get on up to Mill Creek Road and away from the poison oak and ticks! So we went directly up 700 feet, through yet more poison oak, to Mill Creek Road and then followed it past part of PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric project,
to where we were able to find the trail again just after we crossed the penstocks.
We continued on this piece of trail past “Jeff’s Viewpoint” – a local institution – with its view toward Crater Lake and Mount McLoughlin,
then back on the road for a bit until we found another piece of trail angling off toward Mill Creek Falls. This faint and seemingly little used trail crosses a well-scoured spill channel, which is a bit unnerving since it could spill quickly and with little warning – you’d be shot by a wall of water over the edge for a 700-foot fall into the river!
The described route would have had us following this trail down to the Barr Creek Falls overlook and then back up to the Mill Creek Falls Trailhead. But, with the trail becoming fainter the further we went toward the overlook, we decided to go back to the road and go directly to the trailhead. After a break there, we picked-up another section of the trail on the north side of the parking lot.
This trail is more obvious because it leads from the parking lot to an overlook of the Rogue River at the Avenue of Giant Boulders. With the Rogue in full Spring flow, this was an impressive sight with a loud roar.
From here, we were supposed to cross Mill Creek Road and find a trail through a clearcut on the west side of the river. After some wandering, we found a faint, but followable, trail just above the river, in the trees on the edge of the clearcut. After a fairly pleasant stroll along the river,
we ran into a nasty barbed wire fence just before State Highway 62, managed to get over it without injury, and then crossed the Highway 62 bridge over the Rogue River to where we’d parked our shuttle car in a turnout on the north side.
At this point, if we were “real” hikers (or masochists of the first order), we would have crossed the road (avoiding any chickens also crossing) and continued the 1,600 feet or so up to the North Fork Dam Trailhead. But the poison oak, ticks, and sweat were just too much, so we jumped in the car and cranked-up the AC. Ahhhh…
Can you go the nine miles or so from the North Fork Dam to Lost Creek Lake (or vice versa)? Yes, but it’s not an easy, straightforward, or particularly aesthetic journey. If we’d not lost the trail in the slides, we might have been able to contour up to PacifiCorp’s power plant access road and thus shorten our thrash through ticks and poison oak-laced brush. But that road is technically private property, the crossing of which could raise – if PacifiCorp were so disposed – some unpleasant legal issues. So, while it was rewarding to finally “finish” our Upper Rogue River Trail project, it’s unlikely we’ll be revisiting this connector section anytime soon. However, the first three miles out from Payton Bridge Trailhead are delightful, particularly now that the lake is at full pool.