The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail is one of the most popular and publicized trails in Southern Oregon. It's open year-round, and is open to foot traffic, mountain bikes, and equestrians. This area is really lovely, featuring wildflowers in the spring and autumn colors.
The original "Ditch" was constructed by hand in 1877 to direct the Little Applegate River to a hydraulic mine that was in the upper reaches of the Sterling Creek drainage; the ditch was used for this purpose until the 1930s. The mine and the mining town Sterlingville are gone, but the ditch has now been reclaimed and is used as a valuable recreational resource.
From the Little Applegate Trailhead near the end of Little Applegate Road, the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail climbs a short distance up to the ditch itself, then follows the ditch on the level for about a mile to where the trail leaves the ditch and climbs up and around some private property. The trail levels out again and, 4.6 miles from the trailhead, passes a junction with the Tunnel Ridge Access Trail (about one mile long) coming up from the Tunnel Ridge Trail
In another 2.2 miles, it passes a junction with the Bear Gulch Access Trail (also about one mile long) which connects to the Bear Gulch Trail
. A further 1.8 miles along, after dodging more private property, it passes the Wolf Gap Access Trail
(1.5 miles long) extending down from the Wolf Gap Trailhead. These access trails and trailheads can be used to fashion shorter hikes involving the Ditch Trail.
The Wolf Gap Access Trail
is the last access to/from the Ditch Trail until you reach the Armstrong Gulch Trailhead in about 6.5 miles. This is a mostly level stretch, though there is a slight downhill grade, with views of the Little Applegate Valley. It’s another flat 1.5 miles to the Deming Trailhead on Armstrong-Deming Road. From there, the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail contours east, crossing Deming Gulch, then heads north on a level grade for 2.5 miles to its end at the bottom of the Grub Gulch Access Trail
Further progress northward from here is blocked by private property. You can either retrace your steps or hike up the Grub Gulch Access Trail
to its trailhead and hike or car shuttle from there back to the Deming Gulch Trailhead.
Watch out for poison oak, ticks, and rattlesnakes (rare) during the summer months.