10.4 miles round-trip
2200 feet elevation gain
Open mid-June to mid-November
Left: Mt. Ashland and Mt. Shasta from Wagner Butte.
The best view of the Ashland area isn’t from Mt. Ashland, but rather from this lesser-known 7140-foot peak nearby. With binoculars, hikers atop Wagner Butte can pick out most of the individual buildings in Ashland, a vertical mile below. The demanding trail to the top offers other rewards as well—old-growth firs, an interesting landslide regrowing with wildflowers, a cold spring, sagebrush meadows, and an unusual quaking aspen grove.
The butte’s name recalls Jacob Wagner, an early Talent settler who served in the 1853 Indian War and ran the flour mill at Ashland’s Plaza. After a 1910 forest fire burned much of Ashland Creek’s canyon and threatened Ashland, the Forest Service agreed to set up a fire lookout atop the butte. Staff made do with an open-air observation post until a cupola-style building could be built in 1923. Winter storms blew parts of the structure off the mountain. The building was finally replaced in 1961, but by then airplanes were taking over fire surveillance. Abandoned after just a few summers, the tower was intentionally burned by smokejumpers in 1972, leaving only foundation piers, melted glass, an iron railing, and the extraordinary view.
From Interstate 5 ...
... Then the path ambles along for the final 1.9 miles, passing wind-gnarled mountain mahogany, white-barked quaking aspen, and a cold, piped spring before clambering up a stack of car-sized granite boulders to the summit. From here, the strip of urban development between Medford and Ashland looks like white confetti strewn along Interstate 5, with the dark squares of orchards on either hand. To the right stretch the forests of the Ashland’s watershed valley, topped by Mt. Ashland and its white Doppler radar dome. Farther to the right look for snowy Mt. Shasta, the distant Marble Mountains, Red Buttes, flat-topped Preston Peak, and broad Grayback Mountain.
This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon.