“A stunning and challenging trail located within the Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest.”
— Monique Schaefers
Birding · River/Creek · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
WILDERNESS RESTRICTIONS: Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands designated as wilderness. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Caching of equipment is prohibited.
Maximum overnight group size: 12 members.
Despite the name of this trail, you spend very little time on or near the Illinois River.
This route has stunning views, crystal clear waters, and amazing and abundant wildflowers. Go early in the season, as Memorial Day weekend temperatures were already ranging between 85-90 degrees. There was more water available along the way than I thought the route would have, but there are definitely stretches with seasonal springs or without water.
Ticks and elk are in abundance here, and rattlesnakes can be found on a sun-warmed trail. There were signs of bears along the way, but no bears spotted on this trip (On the Rogue River Trail bears are spotted every time.)
The whole trail is in burned out forest (Biscuit Fire 2002). Many sections did not burn too hot so the canopy still exists. Several spots are open, rocky, dry and hot.
Need to Know
The last 18 miles into the trailhead is gravel. The last 4 miles or so is dirt, rocks, and washed-out gullies. Drive in with a high clearance vehicle!
Make early morning starts to be heading out in cooler temperatures. Stop for water when and where you can.
It is important to note that this route requires a shuttle, as the starting and ending points are quite far apart.
The area is characterized by deep, rough canyons, sharp rock ridges, and clear, rushing mountain streams and rivers. The wilderness includes the headwater basins of the Chetco, North Fork Smith Rivers, as well as part of the Illinois River Canyon. Sections are burned out in the 2002 Biscuit Fire.
Trail #1161 is in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. It is a wilderness area in the Klamath Mountains of southwestern Oregon, within the Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest. It was designated wilderness by the United States Congress in 1964.
Memorial Day weekend 2016, we were on the trail from Sat-Mon on a challenging and fun backpack.
First day was 12+ miles to Bald Mtn camp. One section (about mile 9) was all exposed, rocky, HOT, and slow going. Once we got on the back side of the ridge it seemed cooler and the trail was dotted with springs.
Day two was challenging with almost all downhill travel. There is a switchback section, and it was killer in that the trees dropped lots of dry, slick leaves and rolly twigs on the trail, which made for a couple of unexpected sit-downs. The cross section view of the trail is very sloped. It makes for an more exhausting route as your body and muscles are constantly micro-adjusting to keep from sliding off the side of the trail.
Day three had a good up then down (200 ft to 800 ft to 250 ft within a mile) then up again (1080 ft at mile 3) before a gradual downhill to the Oak Flat campground. Some of this was pretty exposed but an early start meant it was on the cooler side.
The trail just past the Indigo Creek bridge is difficult and perilous. A wide rock/gravel slide on a steep hillside makes for a treacherous path. Take your time. Plant your trekking poles if you brought them. Shuffle out a ledge to step onto.
All of this trail was effected by the Biscuit Fire in 2002. Not all of the fire was so hot, and as a result not all of the trees are greyed snags. There are many lovely sections of green trees and shade. The vistas are amazing! The wildflowers were incredible.
Memorial Day weekend there was much more water than I expected from springs and creeks. Still, there were some stretches (especially that first day about 2/3 the way to Bald Mtn camp) with no water.
Flora & Fauna
Kalmiopsis leachiana, a slow-growing plant related to the rhododendron, was discovered in the area in 1930. Blue oak, Quercus douglasii, and Canyon live oak, Quercus chrysolepis occur in the Siskiyou National Forest. Lots of burned out areas have resulted in shrubby re-growth.
Other plants seen - Azaleas, Cedars, Rhodies, a kind of Pitcher plant.
Wildflowers include Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, miniature Wild Iris, Wild Lilac, Vetch, Shooting Star, Leafless Pyrola, Pacific Starflower, yellow SweetPeas, Honeysuckle, Columbia Lily, Mariposa Lily, Gooseberry, Phlox, Aster, Lewisia, Queen Anne's Lace, various Sedges, and so much more!
History & Background