Signature Routes of the Siskiyou backwoods

Signature Routes of the Siskiyou backwoods

About our Signature Routes

Hike our Signature Routes with us
We are leading a series of hikes through our Signature Routes to celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2020. Just email for details and to sign up.

  • June 5 – 7 backpack the Illinois River Trail
  • July 16 – 19 backpack the Young Kelsey Route
  • August 3 – 9 backpack the Cascade to Caves Monument Route
  • September 3 – 7 backpack the Leach Loop

    About our Signature Routes
    These routes are simply suggestions of hikes to take. In all cases, we put in a lot of work with our partners to restore long gaps in the routes, but didn’t usually have to restore the entire thing. We promise to maintain the entirety of these routes at a minimum of once every three years.

    We are leading group hikes on our signature routes in 2020. To join them, email for details and to sign up.

    Cascade to Caves Monument Route

    Miles: 85 (approximately)
    Jurisdictions: Red Buttes Wilderness, Oregon Caves National Monument, Rogue River-Siskiyou and Klamath national forests.
    Supporting partners: USDA Forest Service, private donors, REI
    Map: Red Buttes Wilderness (doesn’t include PCT portion of route

    The Cascade to Caves Route uses about 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Pilot Rock to Cook ‘n Green Pass, then continues along a commanding complex of rocky summits rising higher than 7,000’. It then drops into an expansive basin peppered by cedars so big they’re often mistaken for California Redwoods. From there, the route rises back to the high Siskiyous before reaching a labyrinth of marble caves.

    We are planning a group hike of the Cascade to Caves Route August 3 – 9, 2020. Join our experienced hike leaders and see it for yourself. Just email for details and to sign up

    The route’s western arm from Cook ‘n Green Pass to Mt. Elijah had fallen into disrepair after decades-long neglect combined with sustained fire damage. Restoration work started in 2016 and was complete in summer 2019.

    Signature Route: The Young Kelsey Route

    Miles: 40 (approximately)
    Jurisdictions: Siskiyou Wilderness, Klamath, Six Rivers, Rogue River-Siskiyou national forests
    Support for work: USDA Forest Service agreements, Del Norte Trail Alliance, private donors

    This 40-mile route begins at the lower reaches of Oregon’s East Fork-Illinois River, rising to the lush plateau of Young’s Valley. From there walk along the pristine Clear Creek, then ascend its West Fork to the South Fork-Kelsey National Recreation Trail. Traverse a rugged highland area and finally descend to the South Fork Smith River where there are deep emerald pools and an old growth forest out of this world.

    We are leading a group hike through the Young Kelsey Route July 16 – 19. Enjoy the route with experienced hike leaders. Just email for details and to sign up.

    Field director Aaron Babcock has been putting time into the route since 2016 when he started work on its northern arm. “There was some pushback,” he says. “I think a lot of people thought we couldn’t do it.” But Babcock and his crews proved them wrong.

    He continued piecing the sections together. This year our Pro Crew and Wilderness Corps were able to restore the West Fork-Clear Creek Trail and the Kelsey Trail, finally connecting this signature route through Northwest California’s 180,000-acre Siskiyou Wilderness Area.

    Illinois River Trail

    Miles: 30
    Jurisdictions: Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
    Support for work: USDA Forest Service agreements, private donors

    For the first time in over a decade, the entire trail is possible. The National Recreation Trail traverses the northern recess of Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness Areas, highlighting rare botanical areas, old growth forests, mountain prairies, and, of course, the rugged banks of the Illinois River canyon.

    We are planning a group hike of the Illinois River Trail June 5 – 7, 2020. Just email for details and to sign up.

    The system trail had fallen into disrepair as another cooperator picked at it in bits and pieces. But in 2019, with support from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, we were able to maintain the route in entirety. The work was performed by our Pro Crew. There is still a bridge at the trail’s eastern terminus that burned in 2019 and will be re-planked this fall.

    Signature Route: Lilla and John Leach Loop

    Miles: 50
    Jurisdictions: Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (see map above)
    Support for work: USDA Forest Service agreements, private donors

    This 50-mile route rides along the Kalmiopsis Rim before dropping into Oregon’s Wild & Scenic Chetco River. It traverses the canyon for about 10 miles and rises again to the Kalmiopsis highlands. The trail route is exceptionally rugged, with over 14,000 feet of elevation profile.

    Board member Ryan Ghelfi is an ultra-marathon runner with a passion for trails. He ran the route overnight in fall 2018. “There’s nothing like looking out from a ridge top and surveying land that is truly wild,” he writes. “Perhaps next year I’ll find the time to do it in one day.”

    Join us for a group hike of the Leach Loop Sept 3 – 7, 2020. Just email

    The route Ghelfi ran with his wife, Natalie, incorporates rare botanical areas, commanding ridgescapes, mountain lakes, and offers the quintessential Kalmiopsis experience. It is not for the faint of heart or your soft-soled hiker, but it offers a depth of solitude and degree of challenge hard to find in the continential United States. And most trail users will take more time than the Ghelfis.

    The route was first restored in 2015, but has taken heavy annual maintenance as the area exists in the damaging wake of multiple wildfires from over the last two decades.

    Signature Route: Wolf Loop

    Miles: 26
    Jurisdictions: Sky Lakes Wilderness, Rogue River-Siskiyou, Fremont-Winema national forests
    Support for work: USDA Forest Service agreements, private donors, REI
    Map: Sky Lakes Wilderness North

    This 25-mile route threads along the banks of Oregon’s Middle Fork-Rogue River to its headwaters at Alta Lake. It then winds through a lake basin to the Pacific Crest Trail and descends along the historic Halifax Trail. The route features high meadows, volcanic formations, and provides solitude very hard to find in Oregon’s Cascade Range.

    We began work on the route in 2016, focusing on sections damaged by the 2008 Middle Fork Fire. Since then, the route has demanded regular maintenance. Over 500 logs were crosscut from it in 2019 by our Wilderness Corps.

    Signature Route: Wild Rogue Loop

    Miles: 27
    Jurisdictions: Wild Rogue Wilderness, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Medford Bureau of Land Management
    Support for work: USDA Forest Service agreements, Oregon Recreational Trails Program, REI, private donors
    Map: Wild Rogue Wilderness

    The 27-mile route combined the Mule Creek, Panther Ridge, Clay Hill, and Rogue River trails to form an awe-inspiring loop that traverses Oregon’s Wild Rogue Wilderness (35,600 acres). The deep gorges of Mule Creek rise to stands of old growth more pristine than most anything west of Interstate-5. Clay Hill is home to a storied history, and the eight mile section of the Rogue River Trail from there to Mule Creek is especially unique.

    The route was restored in 2015 and we’ve kept our promise ever since, though the Mule Creek Trail presently needs heavy maintenance since we maintained it last in fall 2017.