Pilot Rock

Pilot Rock

  • Moderate
  • 2.8 miles round-trip
  • 1010 feet elevation gain
  • Open late May through November

Pioneers once looked to Pilot Rock to find the easiest pass across the Siskiyous from California to Oregon. Today Interstate 5 may miss this mountaintop Gibraltar by a few miles, but the landmark’s sweeping viewpoints and dramatic columnar basalt cliffs are just a short hike away in the new Soda Mountain Wilderness of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The Pacific Crest Trail skirts the base of the crag. From there, agile hikers can tackle a very steep scramble route to the top.

Geologically, Pilot Rock is a remnant of a 30-million-year-old lava flow. Whenever basalt lava cools slowly enough, it fractures into hexagonal pillars perpendicular to the cooling surface. The sheer cliffs on Pilot Rock’s south and west faces are entirely composed of these 6-sided stone columns. It’s a popular practice spot for serious rock climbers.

The area also has a history as a wild hideout. Oregon’s last grizzly bear, Old Reelfoot, was felled near the base of Pilot Rock in 1891. In 1923, after the D’Autremont brothers killed three men in a bungled train robbery at the end of the Siskiyou tunnel, they camped under a fallen log near Pilot Rock—and managed to elude a four-continent manhunt.

To find the trailhead …

At the top the view of Mt. Shasta steals the show. Look to its right to spot Mt. Eddy (with a patch of snow) and the jumbled, distant peaks of the Trinity Alps. Close by to the west is Mt. Ashland, with the white dot of a radar dome on top. If you face north you’ll see I-5 snaking between Ashland and Emigrant Lake, while Mt. McLoughlin’s cone guards the horizon to the right.

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