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Vulcan Lake Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
Lish Lake (l.), Vulcan Lake, and Vulcan Peak from the Vulcan Lake Trail, Kalmiopsis Wilderness (bobcat)
Darlingtonia (cobra lilies) on the shore of Lish Lake (bobcat)
Remains of the Gardner family shack near the Gardner Mine (bobcat)
Western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale), Johnson Butte Trail (bobcat)
Tall Port Orford cedar, Vulcan Lake Trail (bobcat)
The loop to Vulcan Lake and Gardner Mine (unmaintained section a dotted line) (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Johnson Butte TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Vulcan Lake
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 890 feet
  • High Point: 4,185 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-spring to mid-fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: Yes, camp at Vulcan Lake
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

Vulcan Lake nestles in a glacial cirque below the red peridotite slopes of Vulcan Peak in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. While the drive here can be somewhat hair-raising, the path is short and a dip in the lake’s sparkling waters is a just pleasure. The area of the lake just dodged the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire, but it was burned over in Oregon’s largest recorded forest fire, the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Many Port Orford cedars survived that blaze, however, and hikers will be enchanted by azalea and irises blooming in late spring. The loop continues on a scratch of a trail to the Darlingtonia shores of little Lish Lake (also known as Little Vulcan Lake) and then on to the Gardner Mine. You can follow the old mine road back to your vehicle. Note that the traverse from Vulcan Lake to Lish Lake and the Gardner Mine is really an off-trail excursion and requires some patience and route-finding ability.

Behind the trailhead signs, you’ll be following the old Gardner Mine Road, now the Johnson Butte Trail #1110, around a berm. It’s only about 50 yards to an unsigned junction where the Vulcan Lake Trail breaks off up the slope to the right. You’ll start getting views down the Boulder Creek drainage to Big Craggies and pointed Collier Butte as well as to Dry Butte on the ridge to your right that points directly north. Among the snags from the Biscuit Fire, there is a healthy assortment of shrubbery, including white-leaf manzanita, western azalea, canyon live oak, and Sadler’s oak. Then the trail makes four switchbacks up under surviving Port Orford cedars and western white pines. From the fourth switchback, you’ll get your first views to the Pacific Ocean. Two more switchbacks take you to a pass, where you can look up to Vulcan Peak, with Vulcan Lake and Lish Lake not far below. Chetco Peak stands out to the south and on the southeastern horizon is snow-capped Preston Peak in California.

Descend the rubbly track, and switchback among scattered Port Orford cedar and Jeffery pine. You’ll reach a grassy stretch where there’s an indistinct split in the trail. Break off to the right here (note that you’ll be returning to this spot) for the descent to the shore of Vulcan Lake. There are small cairns to mark the way and a number of downed snags to step over. Once at the lake, the inviting waters command a cooling dip; there are also a couple of established camp spots near the shore.

Return to the grassy junction, and take the left fork. In a few yards, you’ll arrive at a low cairn in a boggy spring area. The Gardner Mine Loop continues straight ahead, while the Lish Lake Trail, such as it is, heads down the slope to the right. Once again, there are small cairns to mark the route as it descends with a running draw on your right. Shrubbery and downed trees often obscure the trail tread. The route edges to the left and then drops to the shore of Lish Lake, where in June you’ll find a dense ring of Darlingtonia californica, an insectivorous plant sometimes called ‘cobra lily,’ encircling the little lake. Other plants that bloom here include western azalea and Labrador tea, both relatives of the rhododendron.

Return to the junction at the bog, and begin traversing the slope in a northeasterly direction, following small cairns. At times the trail is obvious and at others it is completely obscured. Make two short switchbacks up the slope to eventually pass over the nose of a ridge getting views down the valley of Box Canyon Creek looking ahead to Pearsoll Peak and Gold Basin Butte. Irises bloom here in the spring. Then you’ll wind down a slope to the shallow Sørvaag Bog, where azalea, spiraea, and bear-grass bloom in profusion. You can cross the trickling creek that issues out of the small tarn. A sign posted on a tree states this is the “Gardner Mine Cabin Site”; it’s actually where the cookhouse and bunkhouse stood and a handful of rusting remnants have been collected together.

Hike out along the old road bed, which is running with seep water and colonized by cedars and lodgepole pines. At the ruins of a shack, once the cabin for the Gardners, you’ll see a grown over jeep track running down to the right. This runs past a nearby claim and then all around the head of Box Canyon Creek to the much larger set of tailings from the Rosie Mine. Follow the main road track uphill to pass tailings and the only adit of the Gardner Mine, which produced over 200 long tons of high grade chromite beginning in the 1950s. You can continue to follow the track up, passing open pit mine tailings and along the edge of the Chetco Bar Burn, to reach the junction with the Johnson Butte Trail. (The latter trail leads 3 ½ miles to Salamander Lake and 5 ½ miles to Johnson Butte, with the first 1 ½ miles or so being a rough road bed.)

Turn left to return to the Johnson Butte Trailhead along the Gardner Mine Road. Seeps issue out onto the road bed supporting, in places, thick growths of azalea and large Port Orford cedars. Views extend down the Boundary Creek valley towards the Chetco River. Carpets of blue-eyed Mary bloom on the road bed in the spring as do medicinal yerba santa shrubs. Soon enough, you’ll be back where you started.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Kalmiopsis and Wild Rogue Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Powers and Gold Beach Ranger Districts
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Siskiyou National Forest

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Picnic table at trailhead
  • Remote area: narrow roads experience rockfall
  • Wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Southern Oregon by Art Bernstein & Zach Urness
  • Hiking Oregon’s Southern Cascades & Siskiyous by Art Bernstein
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon’s Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes: Southwest Region by Elizabeth L. Horn
  • 75 Hikes on Oregon’s Coast Range & Siskiyous by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Hiking Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hiking Oregon by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • A Guide to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness by the U.S. Forest Service
  • From Sea to Summit: The R.A.D. Guide to Hiking in Curry County, Oregon by the R.A.D. Outdoor Club
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Best Hikes With Dogs: Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop

More Links


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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