Aspen trees with shimmering golden leaves. Views of Cascades peaks like Mount McLoughlin, and Pelican Butte. Deer tracks along dried out sections of Upper Klamath Lake.
There’s much to see along two new trails that were completed earlier this year as part of the ever-expanding Spence Mountain trail system.
Completed earlier this year, the Shoalwater and Old Eagle trails combine to make the 4-1/2 mile loop from the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead especially tempting with the seasonal display of showy fall colors.
Unlike most of the Spence Mountain trails adjacent to Highway 140 that are designed for more experienced mountain bikers and hikers, the new trails are rated for beginners, with more gradual grades.
Old Eagle, so named because it follows the old road to Eagle Ridge, is actually mostly flat as it follows the bay’s shore line northeast for 1.3 miles from the Shoalwater trailhead.
Drew Honzel, one of the prime movers with the Klamath Trails Alliance, the group behind Spence Mountain’s trails network, says the two new trails are part of 11 miles of new trails opened this year, upping the trail system to 28 miles.
He notes the Shoalwater and Old Eagle are regarded family friendly, part of an effort by the Trails Alliance to provide easier trails for young people and beginner bikers.
“I think that loop is really beautiful,” he says, an assessment a friend and I verified during a recent hike.
Honzel recommends doing the loop in a counter-clockwise direction from the trailhead parking area because, “I think the views are better.”
The signed Shoalwater trail leaves from above the parking area, weaving and sometimes switchbacking 1.6 miles to Junction 7, where trail choices include the Modoc and Captain Jack trails or, continuing north along another 1.3 mile stretch of the Shoalwater trail.
He said the existing trail signs are expected to be replaced with sturdier metal signs in coming months.
“The Shoalwater trail is a more gradual climb,” Honzel says of the counter-clockwise route. “And the views are really nice going down.”
Those better views include frequent sightings of the trail’s namesake Shoalwater Bay, which this time of year has receded and left mud flats, along with sightings of Upper Klamath Lake and the string of Cascades mountains stretching the length of the Sky Lakes Wilderness to Crater Lake National Park.
Bay and lake sightings are also frequent along Old Eagle, which passes through forests of cone-bearing pines and cedars, berry-bearing junipers and turning red colored Oregon grape bushes.
Sometimes as it undulates and curls, the trail evokes a feeling of walking through a Impressionist painting with its rich sense of color and light.
Honzel says more trail building is planned in 2019, including one from the main trailhead-parking area alongside Highway 140 to Howard Bay.
It will be difficult build because of its steep, rocky terrain with much of the work needed by hand crews, not the mechanized equipment used on other sections of the 7,400-acres of Spence Mountain property. He says there are also developing plans for a major spring 2019 celebration and ongoing fund-raising events to finance more trail construction.
That’s in the future. For now, it’s the season to take advantage of cooler days, smoke-free skies and fall colors.