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Illinois River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Typical view looking down at the river from the trail. (Jerry Adams)
The trail sometimes goes through sparse, not real steep slopes. The Rogue River trail, by comparison, has lots of steep cliffs, not so here. (Jerry Adams)
Other places, the trail goes through forested areas. This area is much drier and nothing like the dense growth in the rain forest around Portland. (Jerry Adams)
  • Start point: Oak Flat TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Illinois Southeast Trailhead
  • Trail log:
  • Distance: ~30 miles
  • Elevation gain: ~4,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Year round, but very hot in summer; may be snow on Bald Mountain in winter
  • Family Friendly: Yes, east and west ends, but not the through hike
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No, but east and west ends can be busy in summer

Contents

Hike Options

Depending on your enthusiasm level, you can do at least three different hikes involving the Illinois River Trail: (1) An out-and-back dayhike or backpack from the western trailhead, (2) An out-and-back or loop dayhike or backpack from the eastern trailhead, or (3) a through backpack of the whole trail (about 30 miles), either west to east or east to west (a little easier direction).

From the Western Trailhead

A popular option here is an out-and-back dayhike or backpack to Indigo Creek, with a visit to Buzzards Roost along the way. Starting from the trailhead at the end of the paved road at 240 feet elevation, it's a little confusing where to go. Don't go down, to the river, on the potholed dirt road, there's no way to get back up to the main trail that I saw. Don't go up, on the more obvious trail, which immediately goes to a gravel road, although you can follow the gravel road and soon connect up to the main trail. You want to go East, on a trail that stays at the same elevation on a bench above the river. After about a mile the trail goes up a bit crossing a creek. There are a couple alternate routes that connect up by here. The trail gains some elevation the first 3 miles up to about 1200 feet elevation at Buzzards Roost. Slightly scenic view of rock. Then back down to 350 feet elevation at 4.6 miles at Indigo creek. Just before the creek is an unmarked junction. You can go straight on the more obvious trail, down to a meadow area Indian Flat next to the creek. Several campsites. You can get drinking water from the creek. It's 8.8 miles RT and 1,700' gain to Indian Flat.

For a longer dayhike or some exploration if you camp at Indian Flat, you can continue on to Fantz Ranch. At the unmarked junction you want to go right on the less obvious trail, which is the Illinois River Trail. Go a short distance down to a significant bridge across Indigo Creek. This creek would be fairly difficult to cross without the bridge. The trail goes back up to another high point, at 850 feet elevation, at an unsigned trail junction. Here the Silver Peak – Hobson Horn Trail #1166 goes up to the left, while the Illinois River Trail goes down the other side of the ridge to an unsigned junction with a short side trail to Fantz Ranch. It's an additional 2.4 miles RT, with 800' of gain, to the ranch.

From the Eastern Trailhead

The most popular option here is an out-and-back dayhike or backpack to Pine Flat (10.6 miles RT, 1,650' gain). The Illinois River Trail to this point is in great condition and there are good campsites at the Flat. Water is available from Pine Creek. There are good views of the river along the way and, if you time it right, you might see patches of the Kalmiopsis flower along the trail near York Butte.

You can also do an out-and-back along the Illinois River Trail to the summit of Bald Mountain (20 miles RT, 3,000' gain). There are campsites and a small spring near the trail below the summit. Note that the #1161 trail past the Pine Flat junction is only lightly used and has received less maintenance. It's not hard to follow but may have more ravel and blowdown for you to contend with.

It used to be posssible to do a loop (20.6 miles RT, 4,125' gain) to Bald Mountain by going out to Pine Flat on the Illinois River Trail, then down to the Flat and back up to near the summit on the Florence Way Trail (#1219A). This #1219A-#1161 loop over Bald Mountain is written-up in several of the current guidebooks but this route has become increasingly difficult as the adverse impacts of the 2002 Biscuit fire continue to be felt and maintenance is directed at the more popular trails. The Florence Way Trail has recently been described as "…overgrown, filled in with downed trees, arduous to pass, and quite difficult to find in many places." Expect serious route finding and bushwhacking. Watch out for poison oak, ticks, and rattlesnakes.

A Through Hike from East to West

This trail is not nearly as popular as the Rogue River trail with a lot of the same characteristics, so it makes a good choice during busier periods. Or, if you've already done the Rogue and want to do something similar but different. Unlike the Rogue River Trail, the Illinois River Trail rarely comes close to the river itself - you have to rely on small tributaries and springs for water. You can do the whole trail from either direction but the climb up and over Bald Mountain is more gradual from the east. If you want to go end to end, you may be able to get one of the Rogue River shuttle services to shuttle you back to your car, or move your car to the other end:


Here is a mileage log assuming you start at Briggs Creek and hike west. It can be done as an overnight backpack but a two night backpack (eastern trailhead to Bald Mountain; Bald Mountain to Silver Creek or Conners Place; then out to the western trailhead) would match-up better with campsites and water sources and allow more time to savor the journey. Trail miles are shown in { }. Note that the massive 2002 Biscuit Fire greatly impacted this area, damaging trails, removing old "camps" (the Pine Creek, Bear Mountain, West Ridge, and Grapevine Camps still shown on USGS maps no longer exist), and altering the hydrology of some of the springs.

{0.0} Briggs Creek Trailhead

{2.0} Hayden Creek

{2.4} York Creek

{4.1} Clear Creek; small campsite and signed junction with the Shorty Noble Way Trail (#1185).

{5.0} Signed junction with #1219A (but sign says #1216), the trail down to Pine Flat.

{6.7} Pine Creek

{7.8} Cross saddle just north of Point 2303

{8.3} Former junction with the now defunct #1144 trail; this junction is no longer visible and this trail is no longer listed by the USFS.

{9.0} Pass very close to Forest Road 091

{9.5} Unsigned junction with the Florence Tie Trail (#1219B); this junction is no longer visible and the trail is also not visible or passable.

{11.5} Signed junction with the upper end of the #1219A trail

{11.8} Signed junction with the #1161A trail, which you can follow up to the old lookout site atop Bald Mountain.

{12.2} A spring and level campsites near the trail; this is your last reliable water before Silver Creek.

{15.4} Unsigned junction with the Pupps Camp Way Trail (#1174); this junction is no longer visible and the trail (which is also not visible) is now extremely steep, hard to find in places, and blocked by numerous downed trees and heavy brush. There is a small one-tent campsite next to the trail here and water may be found at Polar Spring about 100 yds further north on the #1161.

{19.9} Unsigned junction with the Collier Bar Trail (#1182), which is no longer passable. But you can follow the trail for about 50 yards from the junction to where it crosses a small creek, which is a readily accessible source of water.

{20.0} Silver Creek; good campsites but getting to water involves making your way carefully down to either Silver Creek or the Illinois River.

{20.7} Connors Place; excellent campsites but readily accessible water is only from small springs.

{21.5} Bluff Creek

{23.3} Forest Creek

{23.5} Junction with short, unsigned side trail to Fantz Ranch.

{24.1} Unsigned junction with the Silver Peak - Hobson Horn Trail (#1166)

{24.9} Indigo Creek

{26.8} Buzzards Roost

{27.8} Ethels Creek

{28.8} Nancy Creek

{29.8} Oak Flat Trailhead

Maps

Illinois River Trail: Briggs Creek Trailhead to Clear Creek
Illinois River Trail: Clear Creek to Upper #1219A Junction
Illinois River Trail: Upper #1219A Junction to Old #1174 Junction
Illinois River Trail: Old #1174 Junction to Black Rock Creek
Illinois River Trail: Black Rock Creek to Oak Flat Trailhead

Trip Reports

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Related Discussions / Q&A

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Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Hiking Southern Oregon by Art Bernstein and Zach Urness (2014 Edition, Hike #79 - from eastern trailhead)
  • Hiking Southern Oregon by Art Bernstein and Zach Urness (2014 Edition, Hike #86 - from western trailhead)
  • 100 Hikes / Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan (Third Edition, Hike #87 - from western trailhead)
  • 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon by William L. Sullivan (Third Edition, Hike #82 - from eastern trailhead)


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Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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