Hike and Climb Pilot Rock
Oregon › Pilot Rock Trailhead
Added by Dan Loch
Pilot Rock's summit boasts a 360-degree view of Southern Oregon and Northern California with views of the Siskiyou Mountains, Trinity Alps, Cascades, Marble Mountains. This is home to some of Southern Oregon’s best scrambling and technical climbing routes offering unobstructed views of Mt. Shasta, Mt Ashland and Mt. Mcloughlin.
Pilot Rock is one of the most prominent features in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and is visible from over 40 miles away in the Shasta Valley of northern California and the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon.
Similar to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, though much smaller in stature, Pilot Rock is a columnar basalt volcanic core located 1.6 miles north of the CA border. It provides impressive scrambling and rock climbing opportunities to expansive views of the surrounding area. Its prominence stands 570’ above its base and from the summit you will have an unobstructed 360 degree view of Southern Oregon and Northern California. On a clear day, you can easily see Mt. Shasta, Trinity Alps, Mt Mcloughlin, and Mt Ashland.Depending on the season, Pilot Rock can be accessed a few different ways.
In the summer and fall months, the trail is short and sweet to the base of Pilot Rock. At 1.25 miles each way and only 1,000 feet of elevation gain, this can be easily enjoyed as a day hike.
The trail starts out at an old quarry in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and it used to follow an abandoned forest service road for the first .75 miles. Thankfully as of 2014, a recent restoration project has restored the area and eliminated the road, leaving a small beautiful trail to meander along until you arrive at a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Veer left and follow the Pacific Crest Trail/Pilot Rock Trail for short while until you veer right off the PCT toward Pilot Rock again. The trails are clearly marked. The trail then gains elevation quickly over a series of newly restored switchbacks to prevent erosion, so please stay on marked trails. Once at the base of the rock, accessing the summit requires Class 3 scrambling up a gully with a few Class 4 6-8ft exposed and near vertical rock faces that you need to cantilever yourself over. A slip and fall could result in serious injury in these areas and smaller children may require close supervision and/or assistance to get up and down these pitches. Care should also be taken on the summit as there are a few exposed drop offs that may prove fatal. Loose rocks are abundant in the gully as well so be aware of rockfall and kicking rocks down below you on to unsuspecting others.
The Pacific Crest Trail Route:
Pilot Rock can also be accessed entirely from the PCT. This route is longer (4.4 miles one way) and increases overall elevation gain to 2,500’. It also passes through private and BLM land necessitating closure of a few gates behind you to prevent wandering cattle. The trailhead for the PCT route starts 1.25 miles south of Exit 6 on the Old Hwy 99 Frontage road. You will see a clearly marked PCT sign on the east of side of the road marking the trail.
In the Winter, both routes can be used to access Pilot Rock. The directions for the PCT route are the same though parking along the frontage road may be more challenging depending on the snow levels along the road. For the standard route, the Pilot Rock access road will be closed and you will need to park at a turnout on the Old Hwy 99 frontage road and hike, snowshoe or cross country ski to the trailhead and hike in from there. This adds about 2.75 miles each way to the trip bringing the total to around 8 miles. Route finding can be tricky along the PCT and restored trail system with heavy recent snowfall, so familiarity with the trail is recommended prior to leaving. It is possible to gain access to the summit in the winter, however; alpine climbing experience on ice and lose rock is highly recommended and requires proficient use of necessary equipment. Icefall and rockfall are prevalent as well and highly dangerous in the exposed areas.
If you are looking for more technical climbing instead of scrambling, the South side of Pilot Rock boasts some of the best technical rock climbing in Southern Oregon with seven technical routes. Keep in mind the South and East face of the rock are closed from Feb 1st to July 30th annually for Peregrine nesting areas.
How to Get There:
Drive south of Ashland, OR on I-5 and take Exit 6 toward Mt Ashland Ski Road. Continue South on Old Hwy 99 Frontage Road and do not turn on to the Mt Ashland Ski Road. If using the PCT route, the trailhead will be 1.25 miles from the exit. If using the standard route, it is another .8 miles from the PCT trailhead (just over 2 miles from the exit) to Pilot Rock Road. Follow this narrow, rough gravel and rock road 2.75 miles to the quarry and trailhead
Parking is free and a pit toilet is available at the standard trailhead in summer. I have seen dogs on the summit, but not sure how they got up there! If you are looking for a bite to eat or a tasty brew, there are a plethora of options in Ashland. Some solid options are Calderabrewing (Pilot Rock Porter), Standing Stone Brewery, Granite Taphouse, and Creekside Pizza.
Gear (you will not want a large pack during scrambling and canter-leaving so try to keep gear minimal or plan on leaving it at the base of the rock):
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Camelback or water reservoir
- Camera or GoPro
- GPS or map
- Rock climbing gear if climbing
If going in winter:
- Snowshoes or cross country skiis
- Multiple moisture wicking and wind/waterproof layers
If you plan on summiting in winter:
- Ice tool
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I hiked Pilot Rock just before sunset on the eve of the eclipse. Others were there. The stars stood starkly in the absence of our satellite, and I bathed in the perspective of the ancients. I assured myself that I would never allow that peculiar radiance to wane in my mind, but it was a lie. I knew my instruments to be insufficient. Memory is not a CMOS. Plasma boiled and split and spun while I shivered on a rock, on a rock, on the vast dimensional canvas. I'm none the wiser, and that's why I live
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