Bike Rides & Hikes

Fresh Tracks: Trail in Lake County is worth the wrong turns

A hiker walks along one of the many roads in the Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest in Lake County, just outside the town of Cobb on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 in Lake County, Calif.
A hiker walks along one of the many roads in the Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest in Lake County, just outside the town of Cobb on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 in Lake County, Calif. rpench@sacbee.com

Some hiking routes, mostly out-and-back treks, are so straightforward that a map seems superfluous. Other times, on an initial traverse of a new (to me) trail, I’ll tuck a map in my back pocket merely as a security blanket – not essential but, you know, comforting to have along.

Rare are the times I actually need to consult a map, to unfold the blasted thing so often at forks and junctions that my dripping sweat reduces it to almost an unreadable smear. This lack of regular map perusing, by the way, speaks more to the thoroughness of signage on Northern California trail systems than to any internal GPS prowess I can claim. Being a guy, of course, I don’t like asking directions. Map consultation seems an affront to one’s very manhood.

That said, Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest, equidistant between Middleton and Clear Lake in rural Lake County, is one place where a map is crucial, especially to a hiker, trail runner or mountain biker unfamiliar with the scores of single-track and fire roads that snake around and intersect and, seemingly, turn back upon themselves. This is a trail system as crafted by M.C. Escher, a puzzle to suss out.

Please, do not let my map diatribe scare you off of this month’s Fresh Tracks, for Boggs Mountain – fortunately spared from August’s fires – is a surprisingly lush and verdant 3,500 acres, considering it was clear-cut by timber baron Henry C. Boggs in the late 19th century. The state bought the property in 1949 and repopulated the forest with sugar and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and several strands of oak for “demonstration” purposes, wisely building single-track trails into the hillsides to go with the many Forest Service fire roads criss-crossing the property.

I will try to lead you successfully through an 11-mile jaunt, using my wrong turns and occasional mishaps as something of a cautionary tale of what not to do. But really, people, take a detailed map along. The Friends of Boggs Mountain, a nonprofit, has a downloadable one only a few clicks away or, if you prefer, you can get an “official” map at the kiosk next to the heliport and forestry office for a $1 donation.

The first inkling that I would be geographically challenged at Boggs Mountain came shortly after I parked the car. I had been feeling a bit cocky because I’d actually found the parking area without a wrong turn, heading down little-used Highway 175 and, just past the charming town of Cobb, located the lone sign pointing the way.

Now, though, I was having difficulty just finding the right trailhead. I wanted Mac’s Trail, and my online sleuthing (as well as consultation of “Northern California’s Best 100 Mountain Biking Trails,” by Delaine Fragnoli and Robin Stuart) told me it started next to the forestry office. I saw two trailhead markers – the Gail’s/Shaker trails across the road and the Interpretative Trail south of the pit toilet.

I, naturally, failed to look 20 paces left of the Gail’s sign, where the Mac’s Trail post is obvious. Instead, I headed a few hundred feet down Forest Road 500, thinking Mac’s Trail must start there. When I got to a sign for the Shaker Trail, I whipped out the map and knew I was going the wrong way. I retraced my steps to the car and started over.

Mac’s Trail, once found, is a lush single-track that switchbacks up the hillside before intersecting with Hoberg’s Loop Trail, a relatively flat stretch where you are shaded by pine trees and find your footfalls cushioned by a carpet of needles. Neither the guidebook nor my Internet searching mentioned anything about turning off Hoberg’s to the Boggs Ridge Trail. The next junction was supposed to be Karen’s Trail, found after passing a marked “vista point.” When I reached the three-way intersection, no sign pointing toward Karen’s Trail emerged. I contemplated continuing with a right on Hoberg’s, but the Boggs Ridge Trail went straight – and it looked as if a vista point type of clearing was ahead.

I unsheathed the map, chagrined because it would slow me down. The map was correct. Boggs Ridge led to Karen’s Trail. You’ll like Karen’s Trail, by the way. It’s the first real single-track you encounter and it feels as if you’re enveloped in the forest.

The way was obvious the next few miles, as you ascend (nothing too steep) on Karen’s and then continue on the Scout Trail, a quasi-fire road, which leads to a major, confusing four-way junction, none of which points toward Jethro’s Trail, where I needed to go. Patience is what’s needed. That, and a little exploration. The sign for Jethro’s came 100 feet down Berry’s Trail. Good thing I found it, too, because Jethro’s is a highlight, a nearly mile-long descent through winding, gorgeous single-track canopied by a mix of oak and conifers. Try to enjoy the moments of solitude amid the switchbacks featuring pines and black oaks and not think ahead to the next confusing intersection.

I spent part of the time thinking that, at Boggs Mountain, all the trails named for people (Karen, Jethro, Mac) were the prettiest and most tree-lined, something to keep in mind for a return visit. The route called for the Grizzly Trail, another single-track said to be lush, but all I encountered at the junction was wide and dusty Road 300. The map told me – by this time, I really did feel the map was speaking to me, in a Siri-like voice – to go a few tenths of a mile to pick it up. And there it was!

The Grizzly Trail is a single-track trail, mostly flat, that goes for about 2 miles, except for a brief break when Road 100 intrudes. You’ll wish it were longer, studded as it is by several kinds of trees, mostly pines, that shade the way forward. Alas, Grizzly’s end begins the tricky fire road section of the trek. You make a right on Road 100, a quick right on Road 300 and then a left on Road 600, which provides the steepest climb of the day. At the crest, the single-track John’s Trail emerges on the right, just as the map shows. John’s is an entertaining single-track, undulating like an amusement park ride, that ends too soon back at Road 300.

I whipped out the map again and, though the black lines were smeared and the paper decomposing, determined I only needed to go on Road 300 for a “spell” to pick up the single-track Crew Trail.

Wrong. I needed to go left on Road 400 to reach Crew Trail. Time to retrace steps again.

Thankfully, that was my last misstep. The Crew Trail led back to Berry’s, which led to that confusing four-way intersection. This time, I had my bearings and was able to appreciate the quietude of this fork in the middle of a forest. I knew to retrace my steps a quarter-mile on Scout, make a left on the Shaker Trail (remember that name from the start?) and swerve down single-track, crossing roads 210 and 520 and briefly joining Gail’s Trail before finishing at the parking lot.

Got all that?

Like I said: Bring the map. And use it.

BOGGS MOUNTAIN DEMONSTRATION STATE FOREST

Trail length: 11 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 1,511 feet

Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take I-5 to Highway 20 West. Take a left on Highway 53 south, then a right on Highway 29 north. Turn left on Seigler Canyon Road, then continue on Loch Lomand Road. Turn left on Highway 175 East. Turn left on Forestry Road and drive to the parking lot by the heliport.

Route: Mac’s Trail to Hoberg’s Loop Trail to Boggs Ridge Trail to Karen’s Trail to Scout Trail to (briefly) Berry’s Trail to Jethro’s Trail. Go right on Road 300 to Grizzly Trail. At the end of Grizzly, go right on Road 100, right on Road 300, left on Road 600 and right on John’s Trail. Then go briefly left on Road 300 to Road 400 to the Crew Trail to Berry’s Trail to Scout Trail. Turn left on Shaker Trail and follow back to the parking lot.

Toilets: At parking lot.

Parking: Free

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