California Street in downtown Jacksonville

  • Easy
  • 3.3-mile loop
  • 350 feet elevation gain
  • Open all year
  • Use: hikers, bicycles
  • Map: at visitor center by trailhead

This well-preserved gold mining boomtown from the mid-1800s is more than just a living museum; it’s an active cultural center with shops, a first-rate summer music festival, and miles of hiking trails through recently-acquired parklands.

The 1860 McCully House

Miners on their way back from California’s more famous Gold Rush discovered gold here in Rich Gulch in 1852. The tent-and-plank town that sprang up was briefly Oregon’s largest. After the easy gold was panned out, giant hydraulic hoses washed away acres of land in search of gold dust. When the new railroad line through Southern Oregon bypassed Jacksonville in favor of Medford in 1886, the city slipped into a kind of suspended animation, lacking the money to remodel or even to tear down buildings. The entire city was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and a reawakening began.

For a walking tour of the town and its surrounding woodlands, start at an 1891 railroad depot converted to a visitor center on Oregon and C streets. If you’re coming from Interstate 5, take Medford exit 30 and follow signs 7 miles to Jacksonville on Highway 238. At a “Britt Parking” sign opposite the Jacksonville Museum, turn right on C Street for four blocks to its end at the visitor center.

The 1881 Presbyterian Church

Start at the far end of the parking lot, where a sign announces the entrance to Jacksonville Woodlands Park. Cross the highway on a crosswalk and climb a set of stairs into the Britt Gardens. Stone walls here mark the site of the home of Peter Britt, a Swiss-born miner, painter, vintner, and photographer whose acclaimed pictures documented early Southern Oregon.

The Britt House burned in 1960. A walkway to the left leads to the amphitheater where the Britt Festival’s open-air concerts are held on summer evenings. For the loop hike, however, turn right instead, following a pointer for the Sara Zigler Interpretive Trail. After just 150 feet you’ll pass a 4-foot-diameter sequoia planted by Peter Britt in 1862 on the day his son Emil was born. Then the path enters a forest of Douglas fir, madrone, white oak, and ponderosa pine.

After half a mile, turn right across a footbridge over Jackson Creek, continue upstream to a parking area, and turn left across another footbridge. Then follow signs for “Rich Gulch” and “Panoramic Viewpoint,” taking two right turns and two lefts, to find a knolltop bench (GPS location N42°18.638’ W122°58.748’) overlooking the town and Mt. McLoughlin.

After admiring the view, continue 100 yards to a trail junction, turn right, and then keep left at all junctions to descend through Rich Gulch. Trailside signs describe the flumes and giant hydraulic hoses that washed gold from this valley, leaving cobble tailings.

When you reach paved Oregon Street, turn left for 0.6 mile to the town’s historic center. If you’re ready for coffee, you might stop at the Good Bean Coffee Company, on the right just before California Street. If you’d prefer nachos and local microbrews, look on the far side of California Street for the restored 1856 Bella Union Saloon.

To continue the walking tour, turn right along California Street four blocks, passing the clapboard 1860 McCully House. Turn left at the Victorian Gothic 1881 Presbyterian Church on Sixth Street to find the 1883 county courthouse, site of the closed Jacksonville Museum. Then zigzag to Fifth and D Streets to see two rival Protestant and Catholic churches from the 1850s before returning along C Street to your car.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon.