Just north of Oregon’s Red Buttes Wilderness Area in Southern Oregon is a patch of forest called Applegate Valley. And slap in the middle of this rocky and remote region is a gem of a lake -- Applegate Lake. It’s a quiet and picturesque part of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, offering visitors a multitude of outdoor fun, from paddleboarding or hiking, to fishing and mountain biking. A sprinkling of campgrounds in the area make this a perfect extended weekend getaway spot.
The trail looping the lake is a great way to get familiar with the area, especially by mountain bike. It’s a smooth singletrack with intermittent views of the lake as it weaves in and out of mixed woodlands. There’s no official starting point, but I’d recommend kicking off at the Swayne viewpoint near the dam. From there, head south along the Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail from the parking lot. This will allow you to ride the curve of Applegate Lake straight to Watkins Campground.
From the campground continue along the southern side of the lake along what turns into a mix of dirt roads and paved pathways. There’s a short uphill part at the end of the Payette Trail segment as the path turns back into a singletrack. It’s a long ride on the eastern part of the lake, with numerous opportunities to dip into the woods on short side trails – perfect for shade breaks.
Take your time closing the bike loop, and enjoy views of the lake and the amazing forest habitat, which includes a wide range of tree species, among them madrones, oaks, firs, pines, and maples. In the spring and summer you’re treated to an astonishing medley of leaf shapes and woodland scents. Visit in the fall to catch the forest in an array of autumnal hues.
The trail loop closes at French Gulch Trailhead. It’s just a short ride from there back along a paved road to the Swayne viewpoint.
It’s possible to spend a full day biking the loop, especially if one is looking for a relaxed introduction to mountain biking. The track is smooth and flat enough to be gentle on those new to the sport, but the offshoots and length (it’s a 17.5-mile-long shoreline!) make it challenging enough to entertain seasoned bikers.
Please do note there are patches of poison oak growing trail-side, so exercise caution when venturing into the woods! And while trails are labeled, it’s useful to have a map handy when making trail connections.
Camping fees vary in the area, but expect to pay between $20-$40 for a camping spot. Booking ahead in the summer is advised.
Click the Learn More button for details about camping at Hart-Tish Park on Applegate Lake in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.