How to Explore the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Get off the grid at this Southern Oregon treasure, celebrating 20 years of wilderness protection.
As you wander through its oak savannas, juniper-dotted slopes, undulating wildflower meadows and stands of old-growth conifers, it’s easy to detect the incredible biodiversity of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. “What I like to do when I’m hiking around here is notice the edges,” says public-lands advocate Shannon Browne. “Really pay attention when you come to the edge of a forest and a meadow opens up before you. In Cascade-Siskiyou, you’re often leaving one ecosystem and entering another.”
Among national monuments — and despite its close proximity to Ashland and Interstate 5 — Cascade-Siskiyou is an underrated treasure. Bisected by a stunning 43-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, it offers fishing and boating on rippling Hyatt Lake and eye-popping views from scenic overlooks at Hobart Bluff, Soda Mountain and Pilot Rock. But even on summer weekends its trails are rarely crowded. If you’re looking to get away from it all, this is one of Southern Oregon’s ideal destinations.
Breathe deep and take time to appreciate the small things in this protected natural area, like the sweet mariposa lily. (Photo by BLM)
An Ecological Treasure Preserved
Twenty years ago, on June 9, 2000, President Clinton established the national monument, which President Obama expanded by 48,000 acres in 2017, bringing the total to 114,000 acres of ecological wonder.
“The monument’s geological story is truly unique,” says Browne, who until recently served as the executive director of Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. She notes that it preserves an area with several distinct climate zones, where the arid 210,000-square-mile Great Basin meets the ancient Siskiyou Mountains, the much younger Cascade volcanic range and the fertile Rogue River Valley. “This history has helped to create the diversity of life that thrives here.”
Among its vast array of inhabitants are snowshoe hares, yellow-bellied marmots, mountain lions, river otters, black bear and elk. More than 200 bird species have been identified, from northern spotted owls to willow flycatchers and from rufous hummingbirds to California towhees. They all make their homes amid a landscape of western juniper, incense cedar, ponderosa pine, bigleaf maple, Pacific madrone, Oregon white oak and quaking aspen trees.
It's easy to social distance at Pilot Rock Trail and other trails in the Cascade-Siskiyou Wilderness. (Photo by BLM)
What to See and Do
If you’ve driven up I-5 from California to Oregon, you’ve actually passed through the southwestern corner of the monument, which stretches from just south of Ashland for about 15 miles east to the Soda Mountain Wilderness — a small parcel that extends across Oregon’s southern border. The monument is also bisected east to west by Highway 66, Green Springs Highway, which leads from Ashland to Klamath Falls. While it is vast, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is easy to get to.
If you’re short on time, Browne suggests making the 1.5-mile trek up to 5,500-foot Hobart Bluff, where you’ll be treated to 360-degree views of everything from the densely forested Rogue Valley to the snowy crown of California’s Mt. Shasta (75 miles south) to the high juniper and sagebrush desert of the Klamath Basin. With a bit more time, you can embark on the 2.8-mile round-trip hike to the base of Pilot Rock, a 25-million-year-old volcanic plug that rises 570 feet above the landscape. It’s a fairly easy trek to the base; only mountaineers with the proper gear and experience should consider attempting the steep ascent to the summit.
Another favorite spot for soaking up the monument’s majesty is the observation tower atop Soda Mountain, which you reach via a moderately challenging 4-mile round-trip ramble with a nearly 900-foot elevation gain. It’s located in the remote 24,100-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness. From the tower you can spy Pilot Rock to the west as well as a vast swatch of the Klamath Basin looking east.
One of the most accessible areas within the monument is Hyatt Lake, an 8-square-mile reservoir that you can hike or drive to from Green Springs along a fairly level 4.5-mile span of the Pacific Crest Trail. Framed by snowcapped Mt. McLoughlin just 18 miles north, this azure no-wake-permitted lake is a terrific spot for summer recreation, with 56 sites for tent camping (reservations required), a dock and boat ramps. It’s ideal for kayaking, swimming and fishing for trout and smallmouth bass.
Sleep easy in a wall tent at Willow-Witt Ranch, where you can help care for the goats and other farm animals.
Eat and Stay
Ashland, Medford and Klamath Falls are nearby bases with dozens of lodging options, but you’ll also find a few intriguing, one-of-a-kind lodgings in or just outside the monument. Near Hyatt Lake, the elegantly rustic, pet-welcoming Green Springs Inn & Cabins features eight rooms in the main lodge as well as nine spacious cabins with full kitchens, decks and Jacuzzi tubs. There’s also a lively restaurant serving elevated pub fare.
In the northwestern reaches of the monument, 12 miles from Ashland, Willow-Witt Ranch offers immersive, sustainable farm stays, with accommodations ranging from a beautifully appointed three-bedroom home and a cozier studio bungalow to furnished wall tents (sturdy canvas tents with vertical walls) and traditional tent sites. Guests can take engaging tours of the farm or go on hikes with the ranch’s adorable pack goats. With full amenities, Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites makes another comfy base camp, on the east side of Ashland along the road heading up to the monument.
And just off I-5 a few miles from the Pilot Rock trailhead, Callahan’s Mountain Lodge is a great option for a romantic getaway. Many rooms are outfitted with wood-burning stone fireplaces and jetted tubs. The excellent restaurant serves prodigious steaks and seafood platters.
Caldera Brewery and Restaurant in Ashland is a great spot for post-hike refueling.
For a hearty breakfast before setting out on a hike, look to Ashland’s hip and sleekly modern Hither Coffee & Goods, which serves first-rate coffee and tasty breakfast fare — think ricotta–stone fruit tartines and fried-egg biscuit sandwiches with cheddar and bacon. After a day of exploring nature, stop by Caldera Brewery & Restaurant, just off Highway 66 on the way back to Ashland, for a refreshingly hoppy pint of Dry Hop Orange Session IPA and a black bean–quinoa or white-truffle beef burger with a side of fries.
Keep It Sustainable
Especially in the more remote areas of the national monument, it’s important to pack your Ten Essentials and plan out a route in advance, ensuring that your physical skills and experience are a match with the adventure you’ve planned. Stay on designated trails, maintain a respectful distance from wildlife, say hello to others you meet on the trail and leave the space cleaner than you found it. Because this is an uncrowded park, it’s prudent to let someone know about your plans before you set out on a hike. Find more ways to Take Care Out There while exploring the state’s natural treasure responsibly.
The Green Springs Inn is one of the friendly lodgings that make a great basecamp in Southern Oregon. (Photo by Jak Wonderly / Travel Southern Oregon)
If You Go:
Like other national monuments managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Cascade-Siskiyou lacks visitor centers and museums, but there is a small but helpful BLM contact station on Highway 66 next to the Green Springs Inn & Cabins. It’s open Memorial Day through Labor Day, when rangers are on hand and offer occasional interpretive programs. Year-round on weekdays, you can find information from the BLM District Office in Medford.
Be sure to download the official monument guide, produced by the BLM and Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, whose website offers a wealth of guidance on visiting the monument. The organization is also partnering with Southern Oregon University’s Schneider Museum of Art in summer 2020 to present the exhibition “Celebrating Wild Beauty,” showcasing digital video installations (including a mesmerizing 24-hour time-lapse video) as well as paintings, photography, printmaking and other media depicting the monument. Check the Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument calendar for dates and additional upcoming events.
For excellent trail tips, pick up a copy of William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon, which includes all of the treks here and more.
Another invaluable resource is the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, which maintains miles of trails and offers guided hikes within the monument, often with a focus on biodiversity such as “fungus and lichens” and “flowers and pollinators.” Visit the site’s event page for details.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Collins divides his time between Oregon and Mexico City and writes about the Pacific Northwest for a variety of outlets, including Fodor's Travel Guides and his own website, AndrewsTraveling.com. He's the editor of The Pearl magazine and teaches food- and travel-writing classes for Gotham Writers Workshop. Andrew spends his free time road-tripping, hiking, and winery- and brewery-hopping around the state with his partner (and fellow travel scribe) Fernando Nocedal.