Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is a land of great biological significance. Read on to learn a little biology, a little history, and a lot of tips on where to go and what to do in these particularly thrilling mountains!

So, where is it?

The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest stretches from southwest Oregon to northwest California. The 100-mile coastal mountain range of Siskiyou is a subset of mountains from Klamath that receives a much higher amount of rain than its neighboring mountain ranges, resulting in a very dense, green, biodiverse forest.

The renowned Pacific Crest Trail crosses these mountains. To access the trail from Oregon, follow signs for Pacific Crest Scenic Trail on Highway 140, which you should find around 1.5 miles east of Fish Lake. Remember, if you’re staying overnight, there are not many parking spaces at the trailhead. Arrange a drop-off and pick-up at a specified location.

The Pacific Crest Trail winding through mountains - this trail passes directly through Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
The scenic Pacific Crest trail passes through Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest – Image by Chris B from Pixabay

History of Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

What’s with Rogue River Siskiyou’s long name?

Well, Teddy Roosevelt established Siskiyou National Forest in 1906. Two years later, Crater National Forest was born. Crater was renamed Rogue River because people were getting it confused with the neighboring Crater Park.  The two forests were combined in 2004, creating one joint national forest, with a name that represents both parts of the forest, even though Siskiyou National Forest is the larger of the two at 1.1million acres. Rogue River is approximately 630,000 acres.

The name Siskiyou, believe it or not, is a big mystery. At some point in history, the last person who knew the origins of the name died and did not leave any trace as to what the name meant. There are many theories, including those who believe Siskiyou must have been the name of a Native American tribe or individual. Some historians assert that ‘siskiyou’ was not originally a name, but a word in Chinook meaning “bob-tailed horse.” There exists a distant story of a fur trader who once traveled through a pass in the mountains where one of his bob-tailed horses perished, and after this, the pass was named Siskiyou.

Ranger Offices in the Forest

The officials of Rogue River Siskiyou can tell you how to prepare for any given trail, current weather conditions, fire restrictions, and more. For any questions you may have, either contact the main supervisor’s office at (541) 618-2200 or contact any of the five ranger districts listed here, all of which are open by 8:30 at the latest and close at 4:30. Be sure to ask them about passes and permits, but also which trails and overlooks they recommend!

Lightning over mountains - weather in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in be wildly unpredictable.
The ranger offices in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest can help with trail closures, adverse weather weather forecasts and fire restrictions – Photo by Micah Tindell on Unsplash

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Recreation

How would you like to explore this forest? You have your pick from snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, OHV riding, biking, driving, and hiking! This is a place where nature is truly accessible to all. If you plan on straying very far into the forest, the USDA recommends these ten essential items:

  • Appropriate footwear (no flip-flops, come on!)
  • A printed map (you never know when that phone will cut out)
  • Extra food, extra water (who wouldn’t mind a little extra granola?)
  • Extra clothes (surprise! You fell in the river; don’t let it ruin your hike.)
  • Emergency items (flashlight, whistle, matches, rope)
  • A first aid kit (Surprise! You fell in the river again.)
  • A multipurpose tool (a swiss-army knife)
  • Sun protection (sunhat, sunscreen)
  • A backpack to put it all in! (and pockets for that cool rock you found)

If you are visiting during winter, the USDA urges extra caution. Always tell someone where you’re going before setting off alone, check the trail conditions, pack extra food for extra heat energy, don’t forget to drink just because you’re not sweating, and wear warm clothes!

Use this link to access interactive visitor maps and find where to purchase your physical copy. There are also download links for maps on smartphone applications.

Native Plant Spotlight

If foraging is your thing, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wild Oregon grapes. These clusters of plump blue and purple fruits look very much like grapes, which is where their nickname ‘Oregon grape’ is from. However, this plant is not actually in the grape family at all. Mahonia aquifolium is a mahonia shrub with leaves that resemble those of shiny, spiny hollies. This has helped it earn the nickname “holly mahonia”.

Well before settlers ever arrived, indigenous peoples had been using different parts of the Oregon grape plant. For thousands of years, it was a treatment for fever, jaundice, and arthritis. The fruit itself is seedy but edible, and some enjoy the puckery tartness, however, most people describe the taste as unpleasant. Don’t expect this mahonia to taste like the grapes from the grocery! Also, be aware that this fruit has been traditionally used to stimulate appetite. Don’t eat much unless you want to feel hungry later!

Even if you find a mahonia plant and have no desire to try the fruit (which is frankly the best thing to do unless you are an expert forager) it is still a feast for the eyes. This beautiful shrub is a stalk of branches arrayed out in rows, circling the plant with thick, shiny green or red leaves. The very top of the plant is crowned with clumps of delicate, sunshine-yellow flowers, then the powdery-blue and purple fruits begin to appear, an important food source for local wildlife.

Keep an eye out for wild Oregon grapes in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest – Photo by Валерия on Unsplash

Rare Species in Rogue Siskiyou National Forest

Serpentine soil is a thin layer of greyish earth derived from weathered rock such as serpentinite and peridotite, and it is famously hard for plants to grow in. It lacks essential nutrients like nitrogen and is too abundant in hard metals and other minerals. Why does this matter? It actually has a lot to do with the biology of Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest!

Areas where serpentine soil dominates tend to bear incredibly rare organisms through unique paths of evolution that differ drastically from their close neighbors who don’t have serpentine soil. These organisms beat the odds of survival by utilizing adaptations to the poor soil. The California Pitcher plant, which flourishes in serpentine bogs, has developed carnivorous tendencies to make up for the lack of nutrition in the soil. Many flowers accumulate absurd amounts of metals in their leaves, and scientists are still studying these rare organisms to find out exactly how they are thriving so well in conditions that contradict everything we thought we knew about what plants need to survive.

Interested in observing these crazy plants, along with the taller forested parts of the land? Try out the trails in each of these eight designated wilderness areas and revisit your favorites often!

Visit Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest

Stay up to date with the latest Alerts and Notices from the USDA. These updates can include information anywhere from fire restrictions to seasonal alcohol prohibition, so they’re definitely important to check before you go!

Don’t forget to save The National to your reading list so you’ll always have a quick and easy connection to America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-By Heaven Morrow

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