Brown Mountain is a small, youthful-looking (it’s only about 12,000 to 60,000 years old), basaltic andesite shield volcano sitting directly south of its more prominent neighbor, Mount McLoughlin. Much of Brown Mountain is bare, unweathered, dark-colored, block-lava, with a glacial valley carved into its northeast flank. I snowshoed to it’s summit in early 2016 and we circumnavigated it later that year using the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Brown Mountain Trail (USFS #1005) [#3724 on the Fremont-Winema National Forest], and the High Lakes Trail (USFS #6200). At that time, we thought, per the Forest Service website, that the western end of the #1005 was at Forest Road (FR) 3705. We would later find that it actually continues to the west and north on a mix of trails and old roads. So the idea emerged of using the PCT and this additional piece of the #1005 to make a loop to the west of Brown Mountain. The LovedOne’s knee is still being cranky, so I set off alone (sigh) under near perfect hiking conditions to have a go at this loop.
The Brown Mountain Trail’s western trailhead is a mile south of Highway 140 on FR 900 (also called Pillette Road). There’s parking here but no amenities. FR 900 is blocked by a gate a short distance past this trailhead.
From the trailhead, I went northeast on the #1005 for less than a mile to where it essentially ends at a junction with the High Lakes Trail.
After a short jog east on the #6200, past my first view of Mount McLoughlin for the day,
I came to its junction with the PCT and turned south on that, through the massive fields of jumbled lava rocks on Brown’s western flank. I’m always impressed by the amount of effort it must have taken to so skillfully work this trail through these miles of lava rock!
Until the PCT passes its high point on the side of Brown, Mount McLoughlin is your constant companion on the northern horizon.
I reached the PCT’s (and this hike’s) high point (5,490 feet) on the side of Brown, amidst a vast expanse of lava,
and then, with a last look (for the moment) at McLoughlin,
started descending along the PCT. Rather than follow the PCT to its junction with the #1005 (and then have to double-back on it), I left the PCT for a short cross-country ramble across some lava and through the woods to meet the #1005 near its crossing of FR 3705-500 (also called Blue Lick Road). This junction is marked only with a brown carsonite post. From here, I needed to go north on FR 500 for about 100 feet, over the creek, to where another carsonite post (and a homemade “trail” sign high on a tree) marks the westward continuation of the #1005. If I hadn’t already known this, it would have been a little difficult to figure-out how to continue. From FR 500, the #1005 ambles plesantly through the woods,
along the South Fork of Little Butte Creek. In a little under two miles, I reached the South Brown Mountain Trailhead (parking but no amenities) on FR 3705 (also called Brown Mountain Road). Here there’s signage pointing you toward FR 900 and Fish Lake. From here, the #1005 is a trail for a while but eventually merges into the still drivable remains of FR 3705-375 (whose actual alignment differs sharply from the one shown on the map). Along in here I was passed by a lone mountain biker – the only person I’d see all day.
Following FR 3705-375 eventually brought me back to FR 3705 itself. I turned left (north) here, crossed a tributary of the South Fork of Little Butte Creek,
and found a trail sign on the right about 100 feet further up the road. The #1005 follows FR 3705-350 for a short distance to further signage, then strikes off north as a true trail, past large walls of lava rocks,
to a high point where Mount McLoughlin came back into view to the north,
and Brown Mountain could be seen in full to the east, beyond the fields of lava it had spewed-out in ages past. Seen here from the side it looks like the shield volcano that it is.
I followed the #1005 as it wound north through the lava,
and eventually descended,
to become FR 900. This road is part of the Lollipop Loop, one of several nordic trails that wind around this area from the Fish Lake Recreation Area.
But without snow, these nordic trails don’t look inviting and FR 900 is the obvious route to follow, which I did, right back to the western trailhead.
This was a long (16 miles; 1,700 feet of elevation gain) but not particularly difficult loop, once I figured out where the trail was. Following the PCT gave me some great views of Mount McLoughlin (and of Mount Ashland if it hadn’t been behind clouds today) followed by a really pleasant ramble (with views) through the forest, along a creek, and over the lava. Thanks(?) to this low snow year, all the trails were snow-free and some had even received recent maintenance. To further secure my trail geek cred, I drove over to the eastern end of the #1005 (it’s technically the #3724 here because it’s on a different forest), where there are two trailhead choices: directly off of FR 3640 (limited parking and no amenities) or from a High Lakes Trail trailhead (also limited parking and no amenities, other than an information kiosk) using the High Lakes Trail Tie #6200B.