Tyrone Wilson knows he’s not your typical hiker. He’s 57 years old, black, and built like a linebacker. But that hasn’t stopped the Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor of 23 years from making Southern Oregon his playground, dedicating every Monday of the year to being outside.
Whether he’s hiking or rafting in the summer or golfing, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the winter, Wilson posts his outdoor adventure photos to Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag UnlikelyHikers, a Portland-based movement to promote diversity, inclusion and visibility among hikers like Wilson.
“I want people to see me out there and say, ‘It’s not crazy, there are other unlikely hikers out there,’” Wilson says. “To me, the only thing that matters out there is your exploration of the wilderness and being in the mountains. The mountains don’t care who you are. They don’t care that you’re black or white, fat or skinny. That’s all that matters.”
Wilson started his Monday hiking group with friends and acting company comrades a few years ago to recharge his mind and body on days off — and explore the natural wonders of Southern Oregon, which he considers one of the most beautiful and accessible places he’s been.
When he isn’t outside, the East Coast native is performing. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 season runs Feb. 24 through Oct. 29, showcasing new two world premieres, classic musicals and unique takes on ancient Greek stories shown in three theaters. The award-winning festival will also debut its renovated brick courtyard and other accessibility improvements thanks to their Access for All campaign.
Wilson’s go-to guide for hikes in the region is “100 Hikes In Southern Oregon,” by William L. Sullivan. Here are some of Wilson’s top treks, all of which are in the guide:
Epic view of the Rogue
What’s a hike in Southern Oregon without a view of the mighty Rogue River? The 15o-foot-deep rock slot known as the Takelma Gorge — at a hairpin turn of the Rogue — formed several thousand years ago where the lava eroded the canyon. Venture along the riverbank on the Upper Rogue River Trail to a cliff-top viewpoint and witness the sheer force of the churning river; other parts of the trail offer spots for more quiet reflection. The 3.2-mile round-trip is open March to mid-December.
Family-friendly loop through fir forest
This kid-friendly, easy-to-access 5.4-mile loop at Grizzly Peak (open mid-May-late November) turns into a rainbow of color in late spring and early summer — one of the coolest features being the pink wild onions blooming from the gravel at the summit. From the plateau at the top, take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the region’s landscape, including Wagner Butte, Mt. Ashland, Emigrant Lake, Pilot Rock and Mt. Shasta.
Expanded wilderness area
One of President Obama’s last acts in office was to expand the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by 48,000 acres, to further protect its unique ecology and biodiversity. Experience part of this special place with a 4.2-mile round-trip to Soda Mountain. The trail is marked by power lines overhead but blend into the background when the wildflowers make their appearance in June, and the views from the side routes are stunning.
Unmatched view of Crater Lake
A stone’s throw to the east of Crater Lake, Mt. Scott offers a vantage point found nowhere else. As the highest point in Crater Lake National Park, the old stone lookout tower at the summit is the only place hikers can fit the entire view of Crater Lake into the average camera lens. The 5-mile round-trip, with a gradual 1,250 feet of elevation gain, is do-able between mid-July and October. Bring binoculars: on a clear day you may spot Mt. Thielsen, Mt. McLoughlin and the tips of the Three Sisters and Mt. Shasta in the distance.
Wildflower enthusiasts will have a field day spotting the multitude of flowers and wildlife (such as deer and black bear) at Mt. Ashland Meadows, one of the more accessible sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Between mid-June and mid-November, wander along the grand fir trees lining parts of the 6.8-mile loop to the summit, or shuttle in halfway by car or bike to Grouse Gap, where a picnic shelters awaits. It’s a quick jaunt back to civilization, two miles from the Mt. Ashland Ski Area parking lot.
Experienced hikers only
It takes close to five hours to reach the 9,495-foot summit of Mt. McLoughlin, the tallest peak in Southern Oregon. The demanding 10.6-mile round-trip (open July-October) is quite a scramble in spots, with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain — not for the faint of heart. But the payoff is worth it: intrepid hikers get to breathe in the stunning panorama of the Sky Lakes Wilderness area, including several Cascade peaks, Fourmile Lake and the rim of Crater Lake, 50 miles to the north.