Ashland is the perfect jumping-off point for hikes for all skill levels.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs north and south 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada; every year hardy thru-hikers attempt to complete the trail in a single season, logging 25 to 30 miles a day.
The trail enters Oregon a few miles southwest of Mt. Ashland and crosses Interstate 5 before following the Cascade crest northward. The Southern Oregon stretch offers a diverse menu of options, from family-friendly outings to strenuous all-day treks, all within a half-hour’s drive of Ashland. Located off I-5 at the south end of the Rogue Valley, and with plenty of dining and lodging options to boot, Ashland is the perfect base camp from which you can sample bite-size sections of the popular trail — plan ahead now for a trip in warmer months.
Wildflowers and Expansive Views
Find out why locals love “Mt. A” with this popular and easy hike along Mt. Ashland’s south flank. For a satisfying 7-mile round trip, start at the Pacific Crest Trail crossing at Ashland Meadows just past the Bull Gap Sno-Park, and trek to the Grouse Gap shelter and back. The trail passes through some forested sections and traverses wet, spring-fed meadows that dazzle with wildflowers in July and early August. Be sure to look up or you’ll miss Mt. Shasta rising through the clouds. For a shorter hike, start at the Forest Service campground just past the ski area parking lot. If you’re not ready to leave the mountain afterward, stop at Callahan’s Mountain Lodge for a drink or a snack.
After crossing I-5, the Pacific Crest Trail enters the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. If dramatic views are your thing, Hobart Bluff is your destination, and trailheads are just 20 miles southeast of Ashland. For a shorter, family-friendly option and fantastic summer wildflowers — although the road may be impassable in winter — drive to the trailhead on Soda Mountain Road, 4 miles east of Highway 66. Or start at the parking area on Highway 66 near mile marker 16 for a longer, 7-mile round-trip that includes switchbacks through a beautiful forest of old-growth firs and cedars. Either way, you will have to take the short but steep side trail up to the bluff itself, where you’ll find twisty old juniper trees and 360-degree views of Pilot Rock, Mt. Ashland, and Mt. McLoughlin.
Forest Hikes and Wildlife Watching
Just a five-minute drive east of the Pacific Crest Trail parking area on Highway 66 is the Green Springs Mountain Loop, one of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in Southern Oregon. The roughly 2-mile loop uses the Pacific Crest Trail and a spur trail to circumvent the mountain, where a shady forest of Douglas firs and ponderosa pines gives way to big views of Soda Mountain and Pilot Rock. As you duck through oak copses and traverse sloping meadows on the mountain’s western flank, take in stunning views of Mt. Ashland, Emigrant Lake and Ashland tucked in its valley below. To get there, take Old Hyatt Prairie Road and look for the sign to the parking lot; from there, head north on the dirt road and look for the Pacific Crest Trail sign on the left.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly outing just 30 minutes southeast of Ashland, hike to Little Hyatt Lake and back. This 3-mile jaunt starts at the small pullout on East Hyatt Lake Road, 3 miles north of its junction with Highway 66. The trail winds through a mixed forest — look for a pair of mammoth Douglas firs about half a mile in — before switchbacking down to a large meadow and the pretty little reservoir. Cross below the dam and picnic under the towering ponderosa pines on the lake’s back side. While you’re there, look for osprey and kingfishers fishing, and river otters and muskrats near the shore. If you didn’t bring a picnic, stop at nearby Green Springs Inn restaurant afterward.
Where to Stay and Eat in Ashland
Staying in Ashland is an excellent option for a base camp. Choose from cozy hotels like Bard’s Inn, Ashland Creek Inn or the historic Ashland Springs Hotel downtown, or select from the tourist town’s many vacation rentals or bed-and-breakfast inns.
Dining options abound. Start with breakfast at Morning Glory or Brothers, or pick up picnic supplies at the Ashland Food Co-Op. For a special dinner, reserve a table at Cocorico or Osteria La Briccola. For more casual fare, try Skout Taphouse or Brickroom.
Top photo: Soda Mountain Wilderness (Photo courtesy of Kyle Sullivan / BLM)