Kalmiopsis Wilderness: Visitor’s guide

Tucked away in the Southwest corner of Oregon, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness reigns in as the state’s third largest, and probably its least visited, federal wilderness. Its 180,000 acres are defined by schizophrenic ridge systems that fall into three distinct Wild and Scenic Rivers — the Chetco, Illinois, and North Fork Smith — with pristine water quality and strong native fish populations.

Its diverse landscape is shaped by fire, ancient webs of life, and extreme conditions. The Kalmiopsis is a deep, primitive cry from anything else on the West Coast, and home to unconfined adventures.

To plan routes in the Kalmiopsis, start with the Powers and Gold Beach Districts Map and Wild Rivers Ranger District Map. Then move onto using 7.5 minute USGS quadrangle maps.

Major routes
The Lilla and John Leach Memorial Loop combines sections of the following Forest Service Trails: Babyfoot Lake 1124A, Babfoot Lake Rim 1126, Kalmiopsis Rim 1124, Emily Cabin Trail 1126, Bailey Cabin 1129, Bailey Mountain 1109, Upper Chetco 1102, Johnson Butte 1110, and Chetco Divide 1210. Check our maintenance log to see when these trail sections were last maintained.

What is commonly referred to as the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route is the aforementioned route, minus the Chetco Divide 1210. It requires a shuttle. Both of those routes are comprehensive and challenging.

The Illinois River Trail 1161, especially its eastern arm into Pine Flat, is regularly maintained. The Tincup Trail 1117, Babyfoot Lake Trail 1124A, Vulcan Lake Trail 1110A, and sections of the Kalmiopsis Rim 1124 Trail are also maintained with some frequency.

Most other trails are not maintained and not advised, though some may be found in decent condition. Check out when trails there were last maintained (click here).

Projects en cours
We are focusing on extending the Lilla and John Leach Memorial Loop by restoring Forest Service trails that feed it. Three year projects in the works include restoring sections of or all of the Tincup Trail 1117, Upper Chetco Trail 1102, Red Mountain Trail, Navy Monument Trail, North Fork Smith River Trail, and others.

Longer term projects on our radar include restoring the Collier Bar Trail, Game Lake Trail, and others. Check out our volunteer calendar and join a work party.

Tips and tricks
Trails are just a start in your exploration of the Kalmiopsis. Serpentine ridges and slopes with sparse vegetation provide good hiking routes as well, and creeks and rivers at low water can provide good travel arteries.

Signage is minimal and often lacking altogether, and good map skills are required for even the simplest trail routes into the Kalmiopsis.

Some hikers will find the areas resting just outside the official Kalmiopsis Wilderness are promising harbors of wild and unconfined recreation opportunities.

Leave No Trace Tip
Always follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace. In the Kalmiopsis, take careful diligence to plan ahead and prepare. This mountainous pocket of Oregon is subject to the violence of marine storms and extreme inland heat. Lack of water is an acute challenge for hikers, much of the area is highly exposed, and the topography is extreme.

Trip reports and literature

  • High Country News: How to love a weird and perfect wilderness

  • Trans-Kalmiopsis Trip Report from 2014

  • 2015 Oregonian article on Lilla and John Leach Memorial Loop

  • Hiking Illinois River in winter

  • Taking away only memories: A memoir from retired Kalmiopsis Wilderness Ranger Rene Casteran

    Help restore and maintain trails in the Kalmiopsis and join Siskiyou Mountain Club with a tax-deductible gift of $25 or more. Check out membership packages, or give now:

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