GO HERE: Stretching Your Legs: Hikes Worth the Drive
It seems a bit paradoxical, but sometimes you need to drive to walk. Three favorite hikes that are worth the gas money.
Castle Crags: About an hour and a half drive from Ashland, this California state park is worth it for a beautiful day of climbing or a summer camping trip. The highlight of the park is the granite domes visible from most places within the park for which it’s named after. To summit the top, take the Castle Dome Trail (Crags Trail). The tallest portion of the dome towers 6,500 feet and you can get pretty close to that height while scrambling around on the top. The views are breathtaking. There are other trails as well, plenty of rock climbing including some rather advanced scaling around the dome, and lots of nearby camping. Entrance fee is $8. To get here take the 1-5 south to exit 724 toward Castella, less than a mile later turn right on Castle Creek Road, and you’ll see signs another half mile in for the park.
Applegate Lake: The drive through the Applegate is stunning. The mist hangs low over the mountains most days and tends to breed rainbows more often than not. The lake loop trail is a gorgeous weekend backpacking trail. Very little elevation, beautiful views of the lake the whole way and the incredible forest. There are plenty of great camping spots around the entire lake as well. The loop is 19.7 miles, and is very doable over 2 or 3 days, one day if on a mountain bike. If you just want a day hike, grab a map from the snack shop and check out to the Sasquatch trap or just head onto the loop until you find a private swimming area and then head back. To get to the lake follow 238 through Jacksonville and Ruch, once in Ruch turn left onto Upper Applegate Road, then stay on that road about 10 or so miles and you’ll begin seeing signs for the lake.
Fall Creek #1221 on the Illinois River: This trail is a special not necessarily for the hike itself, but for the stunning river beside the trail. The Illinois River is a beautiful turquoise color in the early summer and easily one of the most beautiful scenic rivers in the country. I’m a fan of the swinging bridge area; great for scuba diving, and also a nice spot to drop in an innertube and then floating back to the car. If you’re brave enough, you might even dare jumping off of the old swinging bridge. The trail follows the little wooden bridge behind the parking lot. To get to the parking lot from Selma, take the Illinois River Road (Forest Road 4103) to Forest Road 087 and take a left. Take Forest Road 087 to the parking turnoff, the trail is to the left of the parking area.