Sterling Ditch Tunnel

Big Madrone Tree at Sterling Ditch

  • Easy (to tunnel)
  • 4.7-mile loop
  • 550 feet elevation gain
  • Open all year
  • Use: hikers, horses, bicycles

  • Difficult (entire trail)
  • 17.1 miles one way
  • 700 feet elevation gain

Three years after the 1851 discovery of gold at Jacksonville, miners struck paydirt in Sterling Creek. After the easy ore was panned out, quite a bit of gold dust remained in the ancient river gravels stranded on dry slopes high above the creek. But how could miners get water up there to wash the gold loose?

That question launched one of Southern Oregon’s most remarkable engineering projects—a 26.5-mile ditch carrying water from the Little Applegate River to the Sterling Creek hills. Hand-dug by nearly 400 Chinese laborers in 1877, the 3-foot-deep ditch remained in use until the 1930s.

Today the Sterling Mine ditch lives on as a 17.1-mile recreation trail winding through the oak grasslands and pine forests of the upper Applegate country. While much of this route is best appreciated from the saddle of a mountain bike or a horse, hikers can sample the trail’s highlights on an easy, 4.7-mile loop to an explorable 100-foot tunnel where the ditch ducks through a ridge.

To drive here from Medford, …

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