Hike Difficulty: challenging
Hike Length: 11.74 mi
Elevation Gain: 2385 ft
Time: 5 hrs 3 mins
I had attempted to get to this hard-to-reach trailhead of the Illinois River Trail once before when I ended up at Deep Gorge, so I was obviously intimidated when I was taking my brand-new car up roads that could easily break a hole in my oil pan. Because of the AWD and high clearance, my car didn’t have much of a problem getting up the roads, though sometimes I had to hug one of the edges and got scratched up by blackberry thorns as a result.
(As a side note: you can enter the Illinois River Trail from Briggs Creek and add on a few miles if you want to avoid the bad roads.)
Nevertheless, this trail was absolutely worth the trouble of getting to it. Each time I’ve hiked the Illinois, the word “rugged” comes to my head. Zach Urness put it better when he said, “There is a raw beauty to the land…but it can be tough to enjoy when the trail actively seems to be trying to kill you.” The Illinois River Trail isn’t a walk in the park. There are washed-out sections where it makes you feel like you’re going to fall into the turquoise waters below. What’s more, this early in the season, there are tons of downed trees that you have to walk around. I tried to throw as many branches as I could off the trail, but the BIG ones were immovable by one person and sometimes took a few minutes to get around.
At the junction with Shorty Noble Way trail, I saw evidence of a big group of backpackers. I came to find out that they were with the Siskiyou Mountain Club, doing some trail maintenance. I ran into another backpacker, an older gent who had been down to Pine Flat and was heading back. I trudged on.
When I saw the sign for Pine Flat, I’d already climbed 800 or 900 feet and traveled just under 5 miles. Then I saw how much the trail dropped. And dropped. And dropped. In one mile, it dropped 970 ft. By the time I got to the edge of Pine Flat and the river’s edge, I was looking at a 12 mile roundtrip with over 1000 feet to climb to get back out to my car. So, I enjoyed a brief break by the riverside and started to head back up. I realized later how stupid I was for not traveling a little deeper to the west because I missed the magic of the meadow at Pine Flat. Next time, I’ll make it an overnight.