When the snow and mosquitos still reign supreme in the higher mountain elevations of the Cascades, a trip down to Northern California and the Siskiyou Wilderness can help satiate those mountain cravings. And the highlight of the Siskiyou is Devil’s Punchbowl. Devil’s Punchbowl is probably the most amazing glacial cirque in the Klamath Mountains, where 1500 foot cliffs of granite circle the crystal clear waters of this 30 acre lake. The trail to the lake will make you work for it, but a visit, or the chance to camp at the amazing location is worth it.
Begin your hike to Devil’s Punchbowl at the Doe Flat Trailhead, located at the end of a steep and windy road off of Highway 199. The trail heads out of the east end of the parking area and begins by heading down an old, abandoned road grade for a little over half a mile. The trail will begin to transition to a single track after that but will continue the slow downhill until you are a little more than a mile from the trailhead.
As you round the base of one of the many ridges of Bear Mountain, the trail will slowly wind in and out of several draws it traverses the valley side above Doe Creek. At a little over 1.5 miles in, you will see a sign directing you to a side trail up to Buck Lake. If you would like to take a quick stop, the lake is only about a quarter mile and 100 feet climb off the main trail.
The next couple miles of trail are fairly easy as you gently head up and down small hills as you work your way down the valley. There will be a few streams you have to cross and depending on the time of year, a couple could have a decent amount of water in them, but they are all usually crossable by rock hopping if you don’t want to get your feet wet.
At just under 3.5 miles from the trailhead, you will reach the junction with the Devil’s Punchbowl Trail. There will be a sign on a tree and one on a log directing you up the trail. Locals refer to this section of trail as the elevator, and for good reason. It’s steep. Really steep. Prepare to switchback your way up this ridgeline of Bear Mountain as you climb 650 feet in less than half a mile. Some of the switchbacks are only about 30 feet long or so before you make the turn. It will get your legs burning for sure.
As you climb, you will start to get some nice views of Bear Mountain as well as Twin Peaks and Preston Peak across the valley. Once you reach the top, you will have to head downhill and lose 200 of those hard-earned feet as you head toward the creek that drains Devil’s Punchbowl. This creek can be a little tricky to rock hop across, but is easily wadable if you don’t trust your balance. Once across the stream, climb up out of the drainage and enter a granite wonderland.
The trail over the next two-thirds of a mile can be hard to follow at time, as it just passes over bare, exposed granite, but there are small rock cairns marking the way. You still have about 250 feet of climbing to go, but it is not nearly as steep as before. Hiking over the granite is not easy however, with many extremely steep, but small pitches.
A quarter mile after crossing the creek, you will come to the first lake. This is not Devil’s Punchbowl, so keep on trekking. Getting around the lake is probably one of the most difficult parts of the hike, especially if you are backpacking. There is a very steep 20 foot drop or so to get down to the lake, and the trail around it is very narrow with large steps down and then up roots and rocks. But soon you will round the southeastern end and head back up out of the basin. You only have a quarter mile more to go. A little bit more climbing and looking for the trail and Devil’s Punchbowl soon will spread out before you.
If you are backpacking, don’t expect a nice, secluded backcountry site. There are not many places to camp near Devil’s Punchbowl, where pretty much the only available spots are all located on the northern shore. It is also fairly popular, giving this more of a campground feel that a backpacking location. There is even a toilet up in the trees, because of the popularity of the site (and that it is difficult to dig a cat hole in solid rock). Fires are discouraged due to the lack of downed wood in the area but if you want to build one, you need to get a permit from a local forest service office. But the lake is stocked with trout and the fishing is good, if you want to pack a pole. And the tranquil, mirror-like surface of the lake in the early morning is truly magical.
To reach Doe Flat Trailhead and the trail to Devil’s Punchbowl, take Little Jones Creek Road off of Highway 199, 10 miles east of Gasquet or 38 miles south of Cave Junction. Follow Little Jones Creek for almost 10 miles as it climbs steeply into the mountains. This section of road is also paved which is nice. There are a few road splits along the way, but just stay on the paved road and you will be good. The pavement will end at a junction and you will want to take the left towards the Bear Basin Lookout. This section of road is no longer paved, but still in pretty good shape. After a half mile or so the road will Y and you will want to stay to the right, following the signs to Doe Flat Trailhead. The trailhead will be at the end of the road, 3 miles ahead.
Passes: No passes are required
Dogs: Dogs are allowed and must be on leash or under voice control at all times.
Bugs: Not too bad.
Open Season: The road to the trailhead is usually blocked by snow until late April into May, depending on the year.