Mt Ashland is an easy drive up to within 500 ft of the highpoint and is a great place to take the family for a picnic. I’ve done that, I’ve hiked up from the ski lodge a few times, and this day I wanted to hike up from Lithia Park in the town of Ashland. There is an annual race called the Mt Ashland Hillclimb Run
which challenges participants to run from Lithia Park to the summit of Mt Ashland. They have buses available to bring you back to the park so you don’t have to run back down the mountain. My goal was to hike to the top and then back down to the park.
I picked a day in mid-June to do my hike so that I wouldn’t have to contend with skiers and the race is usually held in August. I knew this was going to be a long day so I started early and got to the park at first light. Not surprisingly, there was no problem finding a parking space. I parked across the creek from the kids play area, made sure I had my pack full of food and 5 liters of water, and started my hike on the trail through the park. Lithia Park is one of the most beautiful urban parks in the country and the hiking is on a nice wide trail along Ashland Creek and under a canopy of large trees. The trail meanders south through the park for about ¾ of a mile along the creek before the park ends and the trail climbs up to Glenview Drive.
I went north on Glenview Drive for a couple hundred yards where Ashland Loop Road comes in from the right. This is a sharp right turn that is like a switchback heading you back in a southerly direction. This is a residential area and the road turns east, goes by a couple homes, and then enters an intersection with another road. Stay right and the road bends to the right and then starts going south again. You can’t get lost here unless you go up someone’s drive way or you go downhill back into town. I went uphill and followed the road that was now dirt. This road is gated to block vehicles from driving up, but it is open to hikers, runners, and bicyclists.
This was a good start and I followed the road up. At 2.5 miles I passed the parking area for the White Rabbit Trailhead and continued up the road. At 4.5 miles I was at elevation 3,450 ft and crossed Lamb Saddle. Continuing up the road I arrived at Four Corners 6 miles into my hike and elevation 4,381. I wasn’t half way yet, but I took a break, ate, and hydrated well. There were a couple of cars parked here, but no activity. I continued straight past another gate uphill. The scenery was nice on this hike and I could see glimpses of Mt Ashland far ahead and other times it was nice to just hike through the forest. I saw a couple of runners on some of the side trails as I hiked, otherwise I was alone.
At 10 miles and elevation 5,500 ft I reached Bull Gap and took another break. This is a major intersection that can be driven to also. I passed through the intersection and then took kind of a right turn up a well used trail. I heard some commotion ahead of me and looked up to see bicyclists coming quickly toward me on the trail. I stepped off the trail and allowed a whole group of them to pass. This is an old roadbed, so it was plenty wide for me to get out of their way. I think this was a guided group who were heading down to Ashland. Sounds like fun to hire a guide to take you to the ski lodge at Mt Ashland and then bike down to the park. It reminded me of the bike tours on Haleakala on Maui. I kept climbing and had to step aside to allow two more groups to pass. These trails and roads are used for mountain bike racing during the summer also.
At 12.6 miles and 6,600 ft I reached the ski lodge and took a final break before hiking up to the summit. I hiked up to the left of the ski runs on the east ridge of Mt Ashland. It was nice hiking off trail and when I got to about 7,400 ft I had to climb over some large rocks before crossing over to the summit next to the Doppler Radar dome. Wow! I made it up, now can I walk all the way back down? Now I know why the Mt Ashland Hillclimb runners take the bus down. I ate more and hydrated a lot. No sense carrying all this water all the way back to the truck.
Going down from the summit, I just bailed off the north side and descended what was left of the snow on the ski runs. The snow was soft and easy going downhill. Unfortunately it ended all too soon as I was still a couple hundred feet above the ski lodge. Once I got to the ski lodge, I was grateful to be out of the direct sun and could use the shade of the trees. I had to step aside for more bicyclists on the way down to Bull Gap. Lower, I caught up with a man and his two young daughters biking along the roads. They made frequent stops and we kept passing one another. It was nice to see this young family enjoying the outdoors.
I just retraced my steps back to Lithia Park and then enjoyed the park. The park was now full with many barbecues going and families enjoying the afternoon. I saw a couple guys in Ashland Creek kayaking down the small rapids. Finally, the children’s play area came into view and I was back at my truck 11 hours and 20 minutes after I started. 26.6 miles and 5,600 ft of elevation gain were my totals. I had about ½ pint of water left in my camelback when I reached my truck. Time for PIZZA!!