The Rogue Siskiyou National Forest is a 1.8 million acre expanse of some of the most unique and biodiverse land one can find in the nation; the perfect place to spend your fall hiking the many mountains, rivers and lakes that dot and wind through the landscape. The incredible diversity of flora, fauna and landscape didn’t just spring about for no reason. This land has an ancient secret that has helped it become the enchanted forest it is today.
Like much of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest has a notable geological past. Unlike the rest of Oregon, the rocks in this forest are particularly old, and were not formed exclusively by volcanic activity. 200 million year old rock that was formed by underwater volcanoes and the constant shifting of both tectonic plates and the underwater currents themselves support the habitat of countless sensitive plant species that have a hard time surviving elsewhere. This explains why when Dr. Robert Whittaker, a giant in the world of ecology, explored the region in 1950, he named it one of the most biodiverse places in the nation, only rivaled by the Great Smoky Mountains of the American South.
The Rogue Siskiyou National Forest got its name when the Rogue National Forest was combined with the Siskiyou National Forest in 2004. The word “siskiyou” comes from the Indigenous Cree and means “bob-tailed horse.” The word became associated with the forest in 1828 when French Canadian workers of the Hudson Bay Company began to call it that.
Fast forward to now, and the modern Rogue Siskiyou National Forest is ripe for adventure and exploration by everyone. There are seemingly endless options for hikers in the area, so here are a few great spots to get you started.
A local favorite hike is the Raine Falls Trail, located an hour west of Medford and through Grants Pass. The drive might be a bit long, but the hike is so worth it. The out and back trail hugs the banks of the Rogue River for all 3.7 miles, providing constant views of the raging waters below. At the end of the hike, you’ll come across Raine Falls, a wide and short waterfall at a bottleneck section of the river where huge amounts of water are pushed through a small section, creating monumental whitewater rapids. Sometimes, you’ll even be lucky enough to catch an expert rafter or kayaker brave the falls. This trail is overall moderate in difficulty, with a few sections of uneven terrain.
For a longer day hike with breathtaking views of expansive forests and not-so-distant mountain peaks, try out the Wagner Butte Trail. A forty minute drive south from Medford, this 9.4 mile out and back trail is considered one of the more difficult climbs in the region, but well worth the effort. Much of the hike takes place in a shaded forest, offering relief from the sun. In this section, hikers will get an up close look at the incredible biodiversity that lies within the forest, and might even catch a glimpse of wildflowers, if they hike early enough in the season. After climbing 2,300 vertical feet, hikers will get amazing views on clear days, catching glimpses of Mt. Shasta to the south, coastal range peaks to the west and many more hills and buttes that can be tackled in other hikes.
For a family friendly hike that feels more like frolicking through a magical forest, check out the aptly named Enchanted Forest Trail, which breaks off into the Felton Memorial Trail. Another hike that lies about forty minutes from Medford via highway, the Enchanted Forest Trail is a 4.4 mile out and back hike that features a lush forest of madrone, fir and pine trees, wildflowers in the spring and summer, an antique and abandoned Chevy truck, and even a chance to witness wildlife like deer and wild turkeys. The hike itself is made mostly out of switchbacks, but offers amazing views of the Applegate Valley. About three quarters of a mile in, hikers will come across a fork in the road that leads to the Felton Memorial. Instead of switchbacks, this trail will offer a much more gradual climb until hikers reach a clearing where a helicopter crashed in 1993.
For serious backpackers looking to take in as much of the Rogue River as possible, there is a trail at the north end of the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest perfect for river exploration. The Rogue River National Recreation trail is not for the faint of heart, but can offer a true taste of remote adventure. The trailhead is a two and a half hour drive northwest of Medford, but don’t worry about driving it twice in one day. The forty mile trail typically takes hikers 4-5 days to complete as they hike the length of the river between Big Bend and Grave Creek. The trail includes uneven terrain and is considered one of the most difficult hikes in the region. Due to moderate temperatures, fall is an ideal time to attempt the hike. While the trail comes with risks, it also comes with great rewards; majestic and steep canyon walls, cascading waterfalls and idyllic creek after creek are just a few of the sights to behold along the wild Rogue River. Some hikers opt to have support via boat and have supplies delivered to them that way, while others choose to pack everything on the trail.
While some trails are more well maintained than others, all trails can be kept clean by following the simple principle of “pack it in, pack it out.” Simply put, hikers are expected to leave no trace as they take with them everything that they brought with them, including trash that would otherwise litter the trail.
These hikes are just a fraction of the adventure waiting for visitors in the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest. From family friendly trails to days of overnight backpacking, this enchanted forest, filled with lush trees, vibrant wildflowers and some extreme biodiversity, will keep hikers wanting to revisit again and again.