“Miles of singletrack along a historic canal route.”
— Peter Carse
Not an old road, this narrow singletrack follows the edge of a hand-dug ditch as it contours through steep terrain. Although it is a mostly smooth trail with minimal elevation change, it earns the 'blue square' component to its difficulty rating by virtue of its winding narrow tread, as well as a couple of significant climbs and descents as it leaves the ditch to stay on BLM land.
Traversing as it does across south facing slopes of oak, madrone, manzanita, and pine, this trail rarely sees snow and is a good choice for year-round riding.
Shorter sections and loops can be done by using some of the other trailheads.
Need to Know
Poison oak is common in this part of the state. Although not usually an issue while you're riding, watch for it if you get off your bike for a break. In the summer there is no water available along the trail, so bring plenty!
From Deming Gulch Trailhead, head south and west along the ditch through mixed forest, crossing the Armstrong Gulch road after 1-3/4 miles. The trail continues following the contour, along a narrow ridge of excavated material alongside the old ditch. In places this feature has eroded away, and the trail dips briefly into the ditch proper. As you turn the corner of a ridge and head east, views are obtained of the Sterling Creek Valley, Little Applegate Valley, and the Siskiyou Mountains.
About 8 miles from Deming Gulch, The Wolf Gap trail (no bikes, un-signed as of july 2014) comes in on the left. Soon after, the trail leaves the ditch and climbs 200' up the hillside in half a mile, before descending again. The moderately steep grade and a couple tight switchbacks are a welcome change from the fairly level ride!
At about ten miles from Deming Gulch, the Bear Gulch Trail
descends to the right one mile to a trailhead on the Little Applegate Road. In another mile and a half, one of the largest madrone trees in the area is passed, then Tunnel Ridge is reached at the 12-mile mark. Here, rather than following the contour around the point of the ridge, the ditch builders tunneled straight through. Here, the Tunnel Ridge Trail
descends to the right one mile to a trailhead on the Little Applegate Road.
Another mile and a half of slightly less-travelled trail along the ditch brings you to another climb up to the left, this time gaining nearly 500 feet in a mile. Another mile of sweet downhill though tall grass and oaks lands you back on the ditch for one last mile.
Here, 16.5 miles from Deming Gulch, the trail leaves the ditch and descends a little over 300 feet in a half mile to the Little Applegate Trailhead.
Retrace your route for the 34-mile out-and-back!
History & Background
Here is a short history of the ditch from the BLM website:
"Gold was discovered on Sterling Creek in 1854. The first gold was easily removed by panning. Eventually, the greatest success was achieved with hydraulic mining, which uses a powerful jet of water from a hydraulic giant to wash out gold lying under layers of soil and rock. Ditch construction began in 1877 to bring water from the Little Applegate to operate hydraulic giants. The Sterling Mining Company was the contractor. A 26.5 mile long ditch, three feet deep, was completed in December, 1877. Up to 400 workers, many of them Chinese laborers were employed to construct the ditch. The ditch was in use through the 1930s."