To find the trailhead from Interstate 5 in Medford take either the North or South exit from I-5 and follow the signs to Jacksonville and Hwy 238. Jacksonville is a quaint historical town located about 6 miles west of Medford. The whole town of Jacksonville is on the National Historic Register because of its well preserved buildings from the 1850’s when gold was discovered nearby. After driving through the middle of Jacksonville continue on Hwy 238 towards Grants Pass. About 8.6 miles from Jacksonville is the little settlement of Ruch. Applegate Road is the major intersection here. Turn left or south onto Applegate Road and head towards Applegate Lake.
The trailhead is 12.1 miles from Ruch. On the way you will pass the Star Ranger Station and McKee Bridge. McKee Bridge is a little settlement that is famous for its covered bridge across the Applegate River. The trail is adjacent to the road on the left or east side of the road. The trail has been numbered by the forest service as number 919. There is not much parking at the trailhead, you have to park along the road. Be careful that you don’t get too far off the pavement, otherwise you will easily slide down into the ditch. The trailhead elevation is about 1,790ft.
The route to the summit of Baldy Peak from the trailhead is easy to follow. From the parking area, walk down through the roadside ditch and through the fence where the sign is located. The trail heads east directly away from the road and it parallels a fence line. In just under .25 mile you will come on a large metal gate. Undo the keeper and go through the gate. Make sure you close the gate behind you. There are more trail signs on the other side of the gate to mark the way.
The trail continues going east and gains elevation rapidly. Soon you are in a nice forested area that feels good on a hot afternoon. The trail is easy to follow up. It makes a switchback to the south and proceeds to an exposed point looking down into the Mule Creek drainage. There is a fork in the trail here about .75 mile from the trailhead and it is signed for Mule Creek. Go left, stay on the ridge. Don’t go down to Mule Creek.
Stay on the trail as it swichbacks up Mule Mountain. This is the pleasant part of the hike mostly under a forest canopy. At about 2 miles as you are passing on the south side of Mule Mountain and your elevation is about 2,975 ft you will get your first glimpse of Baldy Peak. It is still about 2.75 miles ahead, but you can see the ridgeline ahead as it ascends and ends at the summit of Baldy Peak.
Stay on the trail and continue up the ridge. The trail is a little overgrown in spots and you have to move branches out of the way. You will be happy if you have long pants and a long sleeve shirt through this next section. If not to prevent scratches from the brush, then so you can easily identify the ticks on your clothing.
Continue up the trail to a grassy area on the ridgeline ahead. At an elevation of 4,280 ft the Mule Mountain Trail meets the Baldy Peak Trail coming up from the north. This trail junction is not signed and you may not notice the other trail intersecting. In any event, once you have reached this grassy ridgeline, you have reached the end of the trail part of the climb.
To reach the summit you have to pick your way cross country up the grassy ridge to the summit. It is only about .25 mile, but it gains about 400ft. No problem finding the way because it is an open and grassy ridge with some rock outcroppings. Pick your way up, and bear to your left instead of entering the trees at the top. The summit is a rocky area to the left. Return to the trailhead the same way you came or if you want an adventure, find the Mule Creek Trail for the return. Total round trip distance is about 8.9 miles with an elevation gain of almost 2,900 ft. Allow at least 4 hours for the hike and another .5 hour to check for ticks on yourself and your partner.
When hiking, the ten essentials are always required. No technical gear is required. Be sure to bring water in the summer and wear a hat and sunblock. Take your camera and enjoy the views. I have hiked this trail 3 times and have picked up ticks all 3 times. This last time I brushed off 19 ticks before one found a tasty spot on my arm.