This large loop is a highlight of the Applegate Lake area in southern Oregon. The route ascends over 3,500 feet from the lakeshore to a network of high ridges that offer spectacular views of the surrounding area. Along the way, you will ride through a number of distinct habitats, including oak savannah, open ponderosa pine forest, stands of madrone and manzanita, ridgetop meadows, and chapparal. There is an amazing abundance of birds in the fall, with flocks of hundreds of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) in the brushy meadows, large groups of varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) in the pine forests, and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) constantly circling overhead.
After a brutal 2-mile, 1,200-foot climb on a dirt road, you continue to climb on the Little Grayback Trail, which gently ascends the southern flank of Little Grayback Mountain. The trail is mostly smooth and offers a great mix of forest scenery and extensive views. From the upper trailhead of Little Grayback Trail there are a few miles on a dirt road to connect to Baldy Peak Trail.
Baldy Creek Trail traverses a connecting ridgeline above Mule Creek. It is narrower and much more technical than Little Grayback, but it has some of the best views of the ride. Watch out for the chapparal, which is dense, stiff, and will draw blood from unexposed arms and legs. Baldy Peak Trail reaches a high point at the junction with Mule Mountain Trail. Hike up to the lone ponderosa pine here for a great rest stop before the final descent.
Mule Mountain Trail starts out with sections of straight, fast, and exposed descent through wide open meadows before gaining the forested ridge. Eventually the trail drops off the ridge and passes through a number of distinct forest habitats on its final descent to the trailhead on Upper Applegate Road. A few miles on this paved road will bring you back up to Applegate Lake, providing a nice cool down after this physically demanding ride.
If you are staying in the area and have the energy, Applegate Lake Loop is a great option for riding on day two.