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Big Tree Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

At Vista Point, overlooking the Illinois River Valley (bobcat)
Siskiyou iris (Iris bracteata), Big Tree Trail (bobcat)
Woodland phlox (Phlox adsurgens), Big Tree Trail (bobcat)
The Big Tree (bobcat)
The loop shown in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Oregon Caves Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Big Tree
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1380 feet
  • High Point: 5,160 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring into late Fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The Oregon Caves National Monument is one of the overlooked jewels of Oregon; even more overlooked is that, in addition to the Oregon Caves Loop Hike, you can take a trail that leads around the perimeter of the monument taking in Siskiyou Mountain woodlands and meadows and, surprise, Oregon’s largest Douglas-fir in terms of girth, the Big Tree, with a diameter of 13 feet. It is worth spending the time to do this short loop, enjoy the ambience of the Oregon Caves Chateau, a classic national park lodge, and take in the caves themselves.

From the day-use parking area, walk along the road until you reach the visitor center/gift shop. Head up between buildings to reach a junction and go left on the Big Tree Loop. Hike along the trail under typical Siskiyou mixed forest of Douglas-fir, canyon oak, tan oak, big-leaf maple and ocean spray. In early summer, wildflowers are profuse, including Siskiyou iris, woodland phlox, yerba de selva, blue-eyed Mary and the odd-looking ground cone. At a switchback, reach the Big Tree-Old Growth Trail Junction and go right.

Reach a second switchback at the monument’s water tanks. Keep heading up, and pass the Monument boundary to enter the Siskiyou National Forest. Look for Pacific madrone and manzanita bushes in this area. Enter an old growth coniferous forest composed mainly of white fir (the southern version of grand fir), Douglas-fir and sugar pine. The coniferous forest also marks the sudden transition from a marble substrate to argillite. Continue through the forest in a relatively open understory of young white fir and rhododendron. This area is a veritable garden of woodland blooms, including trillium, woods violet, deer’s-head orchid, bead lily, twin flower and wild ginger. Pass a rocky knoll and note the old Port Orford cedars in the forest mix. Cross lush Panther Creek, with its dense thickets of lungwort, thimbleberry, bleeding heart, and waterleaf, and reach the fenced platform at the Big Tree, an ancient Douglas-fir, trimmed by lightning strikes but 13 feet in diameter.

Above the Big Tree, pass below Waterfelt Spring, which harbors more lush thickets and reenter coniferous forest. Rise to reach the Big Tree-Mount Elijah Trail Junction, the latter trail also leading to Bigelow Lakes. From here the trail drops steadily to pass through two wildflower meadows. Arrow-leaf groundsel, stickseed, columbine, false hellebore, horsemint, cow parsnip and numerous other blooms decorate these slopes. Switchback down to cross the second meadow again before entering more coniferous forest. At a second switchback, you’ll cross and recross a creek. Continue down among Douglas-fir, white fir, and a few Port Orford cedars. Make two short switchbacks before you reach the Big Tree-Cliff Nature Trail Junction.

Go left here on the nature trail, which has interpretive signs on the nature and geology of the region. Pass a bench and then switchback before reaching Vista Point for a grand view towards the Illinois River valley. Marble outcroppings vegetated by green-leaf manzanita characterize this rim. The trail heads down and makes three short switchbacks before reaching the Oregon Caves Exit, the artificial outlet for guided groups to leave the cave. Make one more switchback below the cave exit to reach the cave entrance and Oregon Caves Chateau.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • No entrance fee to the National Monument
  • Cave tours: Adults $10.00, Juniors $7.00 ($5.00 Interagency Senior Pass)
  • Dogs on leash (not allowed in caves)


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Hiking Southern Oregon by Art Bernstein & Zach Urness
  • Oregon's Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide by Chandra LeGue
  • Pacific Northwest National Parks & Monuments: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • 75 Hikes in Oregon’s Coast Range and Siskiyous by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Hiking Oregon’s Southern Cascades and Siskiyous by Art Bernstein
  • 76 Day-Hikes Within 100 Miles of the Rogue Valley by Art Bernstein
  • Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes: Southwest Region by Elizabeth L. Horn
  • 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails and Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Trails of Crater Lake National Park & Oregon Caves National Monument by William L. Sullivan
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Oregon's Southern Cascades: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Hiking Oregon’s Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop

More Links

Page Contributors

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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.