Hike to the Summit of Mt. McLoughlin
Oregon › Mt. McLoughlin Trailhead
Added by Chaney Swiney
Stand at the highest point in Jackson County, Oregon - the 9,495 foot summit of a volcano that provides sweeping views of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Survey the Cascades from Mount Thielsen to Mount Shasta, admire the rim of Crater Lake, and gaze down on the lower lakes that flank the mountain. It's a steep hike, but your perseverance is more than fairly rewarded.
This is not an easy hike, but every step is more than worth it. Unlike Mount Thielsen to the north, this summit requires no scrambling/climbing; it's just a long, steep hike. Mount McLoughlin (named for John McLoughlin of Hudson's Bay Company and Oregon Trail fame) is a lava cone on top of a composite volcano, inactive for tens of thousands of years. Its slopes bear the marks of glaciation, and its summit provides views of roughly a quarter of Oregon, more in perfect conditions. At 9,495 in elevation, it is the highest peak between Mount Shasta to the south and South Sister to the north, another link in the scenic arc of Cascade volcanos.
The trailhead is easy enough to navigate to. From Hwy 140, just north of Lake of the Woods, two Forest Service roads provide access to the trailhead, one directly and one with a short turn near the end. Google Maps should get you there just fine (see below). Starting at 5,600 feet, the environment down here is very different from the one at the other end of the trail.
The first half of the hike is pleasant and, compared to the climb that lies ahead, rather easy. The trail rolls for a mile through woods of Mountain Hemlock and Shasta Red Fir, then joins the PCT for roughly half a mile before continuing on its own, winding through boulder fields as the incline gradually increases. Douglas squirrels scamper among the open forest floor, and obstructed views of the peak can sometimes be glimpsed through the canopy.
Around the halfway mark, the trail begins to climb in earnest, and the rest of the way is all uphill. Roughly 2/3 of the total elevation gain occurs in the second half of the hike. The thick woods of the lower elevations begin to thin as the trees become shorter and more sparse. Whitebark pine gradually becomes the dominant tree, though its reign is only temporary as it too will eventually succumb to treeline.
After about 3.5 miles of hiking, now on the exposed rocky slopes high above the forest and lakes below, the trail hits the eastern ridge at a small saddle that provides the first unobstructed views up to the summit. The heavily eroded north slope is evidence of the glacier that once hung on here in the shade, carrying the mountain away with it. It's just under a mile to the top from here, but it's a slow, dusty, rocky trek up to gain the last 1,250 feet of elevation.
The trail roughly follows the ridgeline to the summit, and then all of the sudden you're there. The base of a long-gone fire tower provides a nice spot to sit and enjoy the view. The caldera rim of Crater Lake and the jagged spire of Mt. Thielsen sit to the north. Fourmile Lake and Upper Klamath Lake glimmer to the east, while Fish Lake and Willow Lake break the woods to the south and west respectively. On a clear day, Mount Shasta looms across the state line in California, 70 miles away and almost perfectly due south.
Enjoy the view. Scramble around the rocks at the peak. The hike back down is much less tiring, though perhaps a bit harder on the knees.
Snow can be on the trail almost any time of year. In early autumn, there may be patches, but it should be mostly clear above the trees. Of course, check weather conditions before you go, and make sure the peak isn't blanketed in snow if you're planning on a straightforward day hike.
Note: DO NOT try to take a shortcut on the way down. Stick to the trail. Some hikers try to shave time and distance, but wind up hitting the forest well off trail, and that makes it a lot more difficult to get back.
- Hiking boots (sneakers not recommended)
- Trekking poles (if you so desire)
- Plenty of water (shoot for at least 2 liters)
- Layers (the temperature is going to fluctuate)
- Sunscreen (you'll be above the trees for a good while)
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