A day on Bohemian Saddle

In researching local outdoor adventures in my area, I came across an article on ghost towns in Oregon. Much to my excitement, the article listed a ghost town nearby named Bohemia Saddle. Bohemia Saddle was once the largest mining area in the southern Willamette Valley. Oregon’s mining industry ended in the 1940’s due to federal regulations. Today, the mining district and the remnants of the town, Bohemia City, are a Lane County Parks project; a popular destination for off-road enthusiasts and hikers alike. It’s proximity to I-5 and Eugene made it a must-see. Directions were easy to find online, so a weekend was planned.

The road to Bohemia Saddle is an unpaved and unmaintained road that winds its way up into the Cascade Mountains. The road is rough and high clearance vehicles are recommended. However, it is not uncommon to see a compact car, such as a Subaru, making this trek. It is not recommended. The drive and the scenery is some of the most beautiful you will experience in Oregon. As you near Bohemia Saddle, you will start to see old mines carved into the mountainside. I can only assume the name was derived from the saddle-like appearance of the terrain, as it is nestled between Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak. There is a sign welcoming you to the Bohemia Saddle County Park, near an open area where one can park, and look downhill at the south slope of the saddle. It is the south slope that contains the majority of the mines.

The Bohemia Saddle is an intersection for multiple forest roads, creating a wide open dirt parking lot-like area. One of these roads is the road up to Fairview Peak. At the top of Fairview Peak, is the Fairview Lookout. It’s an old fire watchtower that, until a recent failed inspection, was rented out as a weekend getaway for hikers and campers. While not being able to ascend the tower, the peak itself offers stunning 360-degree views of the Cascade Mountain Range and the surrounding area. On clear days it is possible to spot certain mountains on Oregon’s southern and northern borders. But, what really stands out is the amazingly beautiful view of Bohemia Mountain’s eastern face. To keep people off the tower, a forest ranger is stationed on top of the peak. In talking with the ranger, I learned about the trailhead leading to the top of Bohemia Mountain. He also told me of the camping area down at Bohemia Saddle County Park and about the areas he enjoyed exploring. After enjoying my time on Fairview, it was time to explore that camping area.

The camping area is located at the base of Bohemia Mountain. While no facilities exist, multiple campsites have been formed by campers over the years. Due to the rocky nature of the mountain, tent camping here may present certain challenges for some. Branching off from the camping area is a series of small trails. Many head downhill, towards the old mines and the remnants of Bohemia City. Some lead up the eastern face of Bohemia Mountain. The face of Bohemia Mountain is a beautiful network of rocky cliffs and steep slopes. Those who enjoy steep rocky climbs recommend ascending the mountain this way, as opposed to the trail. The trails leading down the slope of Bohemia Saddle offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Along the trails, you pass dozens of mines, in various stages of past progress. From the camping area, I decided to take the ranger’s advice–hike the Bohemia Mountain Trail and enjoy the views from there.

The trail starts off on the north slope of the mountain, offering shade and a softer walk. The ascent is mild and gives you a chance to warm up for the hike ahead. I’m thankful for these little blessings. Soon, the trail wraps around to the western face of the mountain, and you are treated to new views of the west. While still forested, the western face alternates between rockier surfaces, limiting the tree density. The benefit is to the hiker, who now gets to see the hike ahead and the mountain face. Certain points offer an almost 180 degree view to the horizon. The rugged mountains and lush forests of the Cascade Mountain Range and the Coastal Range hide any and all traces of human civilization so one has the impression of seeing Oregon for the first time. You are sharing the same view with miners and explorers from almost 180 years ago. It is here where you will first see the spires that help make this hike such an exciting discovery. The trail alternates between mild and steep grades. This makes the mountain available for most people, as the altering grades gives you plenty of time to recover from the last steep grade. Soon you will pass by the spires; the three columnar peaks that make up the western face. But, the summit of Bohemia Mountain is where you will fall in love with this area.

The summit of Bohemia Mountain offers hikers a 360-degree view for as far as weather conditions allow. It is the easterly view that offers the most stunning landscape. Looking east is Fairview Peak and the Bohemia Saddle. The Three Sisters mountain range captures the beauty off in the distance. The sheer cliffs of the eastern face of Bohemia Mountain gives hikers a commanding view of the entire Bohemian Saddle, and the Musick Mining Claim, the largest mining operation to have operated in the mining era. From the summit, you are able to see where the remaining structures stand and get a better idea of where the trails lead. You can also find the roads that lead to different parts of the valley. Due to the lack of noise, you can hear every person and vehicle down below in the saddle. This ascent to the summit takes about an hour. The descent is even easier as the grade is never steep for long. As with all forested mountain trails, the trail going  down is a different trail than the trail coming up. The hike down offers different views and perspectives. Returning to the base of the trailhead, I decided to walk down to the Musick Mine and get a closer look at the structures seen from the summit.

Very little of what used to make up the town and mining district of Bohemia City remain today. At the base of Fairview Peak is the Musick Mine Guard Station. Signs inform you the guard station is occupied. The building has been renovated sometime in the recent past, but looks as if original materials were used. Further downhill you will come to some more buildings, mine cart rails, and larger mines. Peeking into the mines certainly gives you an appreciation for the courage of the men who worked these mines. Some of the old roads still exist and are frequented by ATV’s and motorcycles. I was told that metal debris is abundant and claims many a car tire. While Bohemia Saddle did not meet my expectation of what I thought a ghost town would be, the history behind everything I found was more amazing than anything I had imagined. Bohemia Saddle County Park isn’t a park in the sense of being maintained and having facilities like a city park. Rather, it’s an area dedicated to the county and open to the public and public use. As long as we take care of this historical area, we will get to enjoy continued use. What that means is, solitary camping. Throughout the area are perfect little places to set up a wonderful campsite if one is willing to explore. No matter what you’re looking for, Bohemia Saddle offers a variety of adventures for everyone.

Other camping options are available as the way up to Bohemia Saddle is full of various types of campgrounds for all kinds of campers. Several rivers and creeks surround the area as well. The way to Bohemia Mountain is pretty straightforward. From I-5, take exit 174, in Cottage Grove, and follow Row River Road for approximately 20 miles. On the right, you will turn onto Sharps Creek Road. After 8 miles you will turn left onto Noonday Road. It is marked with signage pointing you towards Fairview Peak and Bohemia Saddle. This is the rugged dirt road that creates the concern. Drive carefully and be safe. I hope you visit this area and enjoy it as much as I did!

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