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 Mule Mountain 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 the trail traverses around the west side of Mule Mountain to the south side. You will pass through the last of the forest cover and the hillsides open up to brush and grass. Continue on the trail for a little ways until you are at about 2,950 ft elevation. I found a rocky drainage area that headed up towards the summit and that is where I left the trail.
I picked an area where I could see almost all the way up to the summit and I was pretty sure I didn’t have to do any bushwhacking to get there. This is just a steep grass covered slope with a few lonely scrub oaks trees to break up the landscape. No real technical difficulties here, just climb the final 600 ft of elevation in a little more than .25 mile. Total round trip hike is about 4.4 miles with 1,740ft of elevation gain. It took me about 2.25 hours car to car.
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.