Sterling Creek, Sterling Mine Trail, Jacksonville, best hikes in Medford, things to do, outdoor adventure


Modern settlement in Medford and the Rogue valley owes its origin to a Gold Rush centered around Jackson Creek and the Applegate Valley during the 1850s. While the glory days of gold have long since gone, the miners have left remnants of their work scattered throughout the valley - and there’s no better place to experience a little of their history than the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail. The trail offers 18 miles of exploration from three main trailheads as it weaves through the contours of the Siskiyou Mountains, passing through varying plant communities which are, perhaps, the finest example in Southern Oregon untouched by human hand or fire. For the majority of its length, the trail follows the Historic Sterling Mine Ditch, which brought water from the little Applegate River to a hydraulic mining operation at Sterling Creek. Today the ditch is dry but now it’s the perfect graded trail for hiking or biking. If big climbs turn you away from hiking, this trail is for you!

The first step to exploring Sterling Mine Ditch involves choosing a trailhead since, while it is one contiguous route, the whole trail is far too long to experience in one day (unless you’re on a mountain bike) At each entry point you’ll find similar views but Armstrong Gulch and Tunnel Ridge each have some unique feature that make them a good choice to start. 

At Grub Gulch a short access trail brings you to the ditch in about a half-mile. The trail is steep to start, but once you reach the top it becomes entirely flat. At the junction with the ditch, take a right and head east to wind along the contours of the hillside. You’ll cross through several distinct forests before eventually getting to an open White Oak Savannah with views across the Applegate valley. A sign marks one of the best views on the entire Sterling Mine Ditch trail - a direct view over the valley to Mt. Baldy. The view makes a good turn around point for a shorter day.

Tunnel Ridge brings you to a spot where the miners dug under a hill to continue the ditch through a difficult to build section. If the dark of the underground doesn’t phase you, Tunnel ridge is an exciting spot, complete with both the signature forests and views characteristic of the whole Sterling Mine Ditch trail.

Sterling Ditch Mine Trail

Difficulty: Easy - Moderate

Average Distance: 30.7 mile out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 3,572 feet

Parking: Free, follow to the trailheads or stop at a turnout

Restrooms: None, plan accordingly

Optimal Season: Year round - minimal snow cover in winter

The Sterling Mine Ditch trail offers a vast network of hiking opportunities in the Little Applegate Valley, a short drive from Medford city-center. It features great examples of Southern Oregon environments, remnants of pioneer mining activity, and fantastic views across the valley and of the surrounding mountains.

From Medford, take Hwy 238 through Jacksonville, OR towards Applegate/Ruch. At the junction in Ruch, take a left onto Upper Applegate Road. Just past the signs for Cantrall Buckley, take a left onto Little Applegate Road. The route diverges at the historical marker for the ghost town Buncom, which housed the Miners in pioneer days. 

To get to Armstrong Gulch, continue straight onto paved Sterling Creek Rd. In a mile turn right at the Brown Forest Service sign marking the Sterling Mine Ditch trail. At the junction, the road turns to gravel and you can make a left at the large sign to Deming Gulch Trailhead, or right to Armstrong Gulch. The latter’s trailhead is marked by a small informational kiosk.

To get to Tunnel Ridge, take a right at Buncom onto Little Applegate Rd, where it turns to gravel. Follow the road for 8 miles until you reach an inside bend with an informational sign marking the trailhead.

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