Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

Butte Falls Discovery Loop

The Rogue Valley offers numerous recreation opportunities, from Shakespeare and shopping to historic Jacksonville. But there is actually another Oregon which many people never see, the real Oregon.

Long before the first settlers arrived, the volcanic geology of Oregon sprouted plants
and trees which became home to wildlife. Near the tiny town of Butte Falls,
that natural Oregon still thrives, broken only by a few roads. To appreciate Oregon
is to see it as it was ... and is.
The Butte Falls Discovery Loop is designed to help you do just that. The Loop takes a half day by car, including stops for short hikes, photos, and deep breaths of fresh air. The Loop includes history --- both natural and cultural, plant & animal life, and breathtaking panoramas. You will see an old logging arch left to rust in the woods, tiny wildflowers, and giant old growth trees. Usually, you will get glimpses of deer and other denizens of the forest.

You will also find campsites, ready and waiting, rivers and streams flowing with cold, clear water, trailheads into the wilderness, and other recreational opportunities. The eleven stops shown below are suggested stopping-off points; however you may find yourself stopping at other places. Water and restrooms are available at most of the camping sites along the way. We would like to welcome and encourage you to discover the other Oregon, the real Oregon!

A brochure titled "Butte Falls Discovery Loop Tour" can be obtained from any of the offices listed at the bottom of this document. What you see here on this page is a reproduction of that brochure. Rather than rely completely on the enclosed map you may wish to purchase a Rogue River National Forest visitor's map (which provides better detail and additional information) from local Forest Service offices.


We invite you into "Nature's Living Room." Enjoy what she has to offer. In return, we ask that you respect nature, especially in the following ways:

Please bring out or dispose into trash cans what you bring in. That includes trash, food wrappings, and food itself. There are trash cans in every campground. Please take advantage of them and help keep our forest clean. Do not discard things on the ground such as fishing line or six-pack holders. These items ensnare wildlife and cause needless suffering.

While the occasional pine cone or pet rock is not a problem, too much gathering by many people can damage the forest ecology. There are state laws and federal regulations regarding the gathering of forest products. The U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station in Butte Falls can provide you with expert assistance in planning whatever gathering you have in mind. Contact them first.

Fire is a special danger to the forest. Be alert to the fire danger status which is posted by the U.S. Forest Service. Regardless of the fire status, never discard lit tobacco products from the window of your vehicle. Make camp fires only in the campground fire pits. Be sure that the fire is dead out when you leave.

Thank you for your cooperation!

Town of Butte Falls, Stop #1

At the turn of the century, a water-powered sawmill situated right at the Falls of Butte Creek led to the founding of the nearby town of Butte Falls. By 1910, the Pacific and Eastern Railroad line reached the town from Medford.

For the next half century, the town's destiny would be linked to this railroad line and the lumber companies that owned it. By the 1920s, the main line carried daily log trains down to Owen-Oregon's big mill on the outskirts of Medford.

In 1932 during the hard times of the Great Depression, the bankrupted Owen-Oregon firm was reformed Medford Corporation (Medco). The new company struggled through the Depression, as did the town's residents. World War II brought renewed prosperity to the Pacific Northwest's lumber industry. The arrival of log trucks led to the railroad's demise in 1960.

Recent years have seen much controversy over logging in the Northwest. The lumber industry has also experienced major changes. Butte Falls has had to adapt to these changes. However, the town remains proud of its heritage as a small Oregon logging community.

Butte Falls Fish Hatchery, Stop #2

Butte Falls Hatchery was started in 1915. Originally a game commission hatchery, it shared the present site with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At that time, these two stations were the only facilities on the Rogue River System.

In 1945, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided there was no need to duplicate the state's efforts, and they deeded their portion of the grounds, building and ponds to the Game Commission with the provision that it would remain a fish rearing site.

When Cole Rivers Hatchery started production in 1973 at its site by Lost Creek Lake, Butte Falls hatchery was considered for closure. However, it was decided to use Butte Falls in a diminished capacity to rear fish for south coastal rivers. Staff cuts were made and records indicate that by 1988, the Butte Falls Hatchery was actually producing over 100,000 pounds of fish per year, more than the production before the staff was reduced. By 1994, budget limitations kept the hatchery from full production. It is estimated the hatchery production for 1994-95 will include 417,000 salmon smolts and 211,000 rainbow trout fingerlings.

The Butte Falls Hatchery is open to visitors seven days each week, from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. There is a lovely picnic site available and large rainbow trout in the show pond.

Whiskey Spring Interpretive Trail, #3

While the Whiskey Spring Interpretive Trail focuses on natural history, especially the role played by marsh animals in the local ecosystem, some of the interpretive signs give a bit of historical background as well. As you walk the trail, you might notice some of the old pine stumps still visible along the marsh's edge. These date to the 1920s railroad logging era. An area that once was filled with the dust and clanking sound of tractors and steam engines is now a quiet refuge for beaver, birds, and other plant and animal life.

The Interpretive Trail, only a mile in length, is well prepared for people of ages and challenges. In the heat of summer, it is usually cool and breezy. When the floor of the Rogue Valley is gripped in fog in the winter, this area is more likely to be sunny and warm. Hundreds of species of trees and plants can be found along the trail. A special viewpoint takes you to the edge of a beaver pond where you can observe quietly. The nearby campground has picnic tables, fire pits, restrooms and water. If you camp for the night, you may see the trail during its two most dramatic times: sunset and sunrise.

Old Logging Arch, Stop #4

The Owen-Oregon Lumber Company began cutting timber from the Forest Service's "Fourbit Creek Timber Sale" in the mid-1920s. This was one of the largest timber sales in the Northwest up to that time, and Owen-Oregon invested in the latest logging technology to harvest the large-diameter ponderosa pine, sugar pine, and Douglas-fir. Tractors (made by Best and Co., a forerunner of Caterpillar) pulled hydraulic "logging arches" through the woods. These ungainly contraptions were used to lift loads of logs and drag them to the nearest railroad spur.

A short trail brings you to the remnant of one of these old logging arches. Abandoned after the arch snapped, the rusted hulk lay virtually forgotten in the woods until rediscovered by the Forest Service in the 1980s. An interpretive sign provides additional information at the site.

Cat Hill Burn, Stop # 5

Off to the east, you can see the brushy slopes of the 1910 "Cat Hill Burn." This fire consumed almost 20,000 acres before fire-fighters (including U.S. Army troops) and a change in the weather brought it under control. The scorching-hot and tinder-dry summer of 1910 brought a fiery holocaust to much of the Pacific Northwest. During the Cat Hill Burn, Forest Service fire fighters had to submerge themselves in the shallow waters of the tiny Twin Ponds to keep from being burned to death. Elsewhere in the Northwest, others were not so lucky.

The Forest Service began experimental reforestation efforts on the Cat Hill Burn the next winter. These hot, dry, brushy slopes have challenged a succession of young tree seedlings for over eight decades and efforts to reforest the area continue. Today, through the work of the Forest Service Ranger Station and J. Herbert Stone Forest Service Nursery near Jacksonville, the forest is being reestablished and the forest wildlife is starting to return. This area should remind visitors that forest fires are not only a problem while they occur, but continue to be a challenge for decades afterwards.

Junction of 37 and 3770, stop #6

Near the junction of Road 37 with Road 3770, you catch a glimpse of Mt. McLoughlin. With a summit reaching 9,495 feet above sea level, it's the highest point in southern Oregon. Mt. McLoughlin is a relatively young composite volcano that first began to build up less than a million years ago. A hike to the top rewards the climber with a wonderful panorama of southern Oregon and northern California.

Some local residents still call the peak "Mt. Pitt," a name that came into use during the nineteenth century due to confusion caused by early map-makers. Fur trapper Peter Ogden, who in 1827 was the first European-American to see and name the mountain, called it "Mount Sastise"-- a name that was modified and transferred to Mt. Shasta. Ogden's boss, Dr. John McLoughlin, was the head of the Hudson's Bay Company in the Oregon Country. Known today as the "Father of Oregon," McLoughlin was one of the most important figures in its early history. It is fitting that Mt. McLoughlin bears the name of this tall, snowy-white-haired pioneer.

Mt. McLoughlin is located within the Sky Lakes Wilderness, which stretches from the mountain northward to the boundary of Crater Lake National Park. The 113,000-acre wilderness contains numerous spring-fed mountain lakes, extensive meadows, and dense forests of red fir and mountain hemlock. Deer, elk, black bear, and other wildlife make the area their home. As wilderness, Sky Lakes is open to visitors on foot or those riding stock; no motorized or mechanized travel (including mountain bikes) is permitted. Sky Lakes Wilderness is a special place where special rules apply. If you're intrigued with visiting Sky Lakes or any other wilderness, be sure to contact the Forest Service to learn more before planning your trip.

If you're feeling adventuresome and want to take a 12-mile (round trip) side excursion to get a closer view of the mountain and the wilderness, follow Road 3770 to its end at Blue Rock. The bumpy last mile or so brings you to the site of a 1930s Forest Service fire lookout, with a grand view of the surrounding countryside.

Lower South Fork Trailhead, Stop #7

From the moment you step into the shade of the trees, you have entered a remarkable area. Within a hundred feet, you will find two giant old-growth trees and hardy specimens of the Pacific yew tree, whose bark is prized for a cancer-fighting extract. Look to the ground and you will find delicate wildflowers, wild ginger, and the delightful Prince's Pine.

Though it tastes bitter when eaten raw, the Prince's Pine is a common ingredient in carbonated cola drinks, prompting some to call it the Pepsi Plant. Or did a popular soft drink get its name from the Indian term for the plant, pipsissiwa?

All of this is within the first few hundred feet of the trailhead. The rest of the trail is 5.3 miles of easy, rolling grades that declines from 4,400 ft. elevation to around 4,000 ft. at the end. This is a lovely trail for spring, summer, and fall, featuring mixed conifers interspersed with sheltering stands of old growth Douglas-fir. The other end of the trail is near Stop 10, the South Fork Bridge. Pack a picnic lunch and fish for tasty brook trout. Fishing licenses and fishing season information are available at the Butte Falls General Store and other retail locations.

Imnaha Guard Station and CG, Stop #8

Imnaha Creek is one of four tributaries of the South Fork that were named for streams in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon. The story goes that Imnaha, Wallowa, Whitman, and Sumpter creeks received their names sometime before 1900 from a local settler who had previously lived in that area.

The clear, cold water of Imnaha Creek and the small meadow near it provided an excellent location for early-day rangers to rest and graze their horses. In about 1908, Forest Service trail crews built a small "tool cabin" at Imnaha. During the Depression of the 1930s, young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) constructed the guard station now on the site. This rustic building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an outstanding example of C.C.C.-built architecture.

A short distance south of the campground is a large Douglas-fir. Like the sugar pine, another "monarch" of the area's forests, Douglas-fir has long been one of the Northwest's most important timber species. The Indians brewed a medicinal tea from the needles. This tree was lightning-struck at the top and lost some of its height as a result.

Giant Sugar Pine and South Fork Trailhead, Stop #9

A short trail brings you to Green Creek and one of the largest sugar pines growing on the Butte Falls Ranger District. The forests of southern Oregon became famous for their scattered stands of sugar pine, highly valuable for lumber, cabinets, shakes, and other uses. The Indians not only built their houses from wedge-split sugar-pine planks, they ate the pine nuts and chewed the sap as a kind of medicine. An interpretive sign at the trail gives more information on this particular tree and the historical uses of sugar pine.

On the other side of the road, a short spur trail leads down to a section of the South Fork Trail that is open to hikers and mountain bikers. The cool shade of the forest, as well as the sight and sound of the whitewater South Fork of the Rogue, makes this stretch of trail a refreshing change of pace from driving.

The Sugar Pine (Pinus Lambertiana) is a very different tree from the Ponderosa Pine. The Sugar Pine has five short needles in its needle groups as opposed to three long needles for the Ponderosa. Long 3-needle pines have sharp tangs on the petals of their cones while five-needle pines have tangless petals. 3-needle pines are "yellow" pines, referring to the yellowish color of their wood. 5-needle pines are the so-called "white" pines. 3-needle pine cones tend to have a "pineapple" shape as compared to the "cucumber" shape of 5-needle pines. Sugar pine cones are some of the largest around and are prized by collectors. They are of even greater value to various forest animals and future generations of sugar pines.

South Fork Bridge, Stop #10

The South Fork of the Rogue River has its origin among the high mountain lakes and springs of Blue Canyon, in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. It joins the main stem of the upper Rogue near Prospect. During the 1830s, French-Canadian trappers named the river for the hostile reception they received near Table Rocks from the native inhabitants, whom they dubbed "les Coquins" (the Rogues).

Enjoy cool well water from the campground pump. It is drawn from the volcanic rock fissures where winter snow melts and seeps through, being constantly purified until its release through springs in lower elevations. Melting snows also contribute to the water in the South Fork of the Rogue, accounting for its chill clarity. All of the slopes in the area add to the flow of the water above and below ground, which is why this area is referred to as a "watershed".

Lodgepole Kiosk, Stop #11

Lodgepole Road (Forest Service Road 34) follows the route of an early-day Forest Service trail; the trail was improved into a crude truck road during the 1920s. Today the paved highway is one of the major access routes of the Butte Falls Ranger District of the Rogue River National Forest.

Most of the forest along Road 34 consists of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, incense-cedar, and white fir. The white blossoms of Pacific dogwood and serviceberry enliven the lower forest canopy during much of the spring and early summer. Lodgepole Meadow, located out of sight north of the road, was named for the small stand of lodgepole pine--unusual at this relatively low elevation--that surrounds the moist meadow. Mushrooms, fir boughs, berries, and yewood bark are just a few of the commercial plant products that have been gathered in recent years from this area.

If you have taken the stops in numerical order, you are nearing the end of your Discovery Loop. However, you have just begun a lifelong adventure in the forests of the Big Butte region. Come back whenever you wish and stay as long as you like. Each time you return, we know that you will discover other wonders of nature.