Discover Waldo Lake

Hidden in the Oregon Cascades, this glacier-carved lake is clearly a beauty
Tim Buckley

Waldo Lake is among the clearest in the world, even more so than Tahoe, and right up there with Crater Lake. Its hue on a sunny day―whether best described as indigo, sapphire, cerulean, or teal―is a testament to its purity.

Ironically, it's the lake's lack of life that's largely responsible for its clarity. Whereas nutrient-rich streams feed most lakes, snow runoff and rain are the principal sources replenishing this glacier-carved lake. Water this free of matter reflects only the shortest wavelengths―namely, blue and violet―hence the brilliant blue color.

But clarity isn't the lake's only claim to fame: At 10 square miles, Waldo is the second-largest natural lake in Oregon, plunging down to 400 feet in some places. What's more, its great location alongside the Pacific Crest Trail, more than a mile high in the Cascades, makes it a recreational bonanza. Nearly two hours' driving time from Bend or Eugene, the lake is beloved by campers, mountain bikers, hikers, and boaters.

Boating is one of the best ways to take in a view of surrounding volcanic peaks. Launch your craft from the lake's southernmost campground, Shadow Bay, and the Three Sisters mountains march into view (six sisters if you count the reflections). From North Waldo Campground, explore little islands and see picturesque Diamond Peak, southwest of the lake.

Mountain bikers can circumnavigate part of the lake along a 21-mile trail. The same shoreline trail is pleasant for walking, too, from any of the lake's three campgrounds. Other hikes include a 5-mile (round trip) trek from Shadow Bay Campground to Betty Lake, and another 5-miler from North Waldo Campground to Rigdon Lakes through a section of forest burned in 1996.

The best variety of fall color is found on the Black Creek trail. From Waldo Lake's west side, where Congress designated a 39,200-acre wilderness area in 1984, the trail winds past gentle Lithan Falls before descending 2,000 feet to the valley floor. While on the west side, also check out Klovdahl Bay, the site of a 1908 diversion project for watering crops in the Willamette Valley. It never materialized; all that remains is a sealed concrete control gate over the tunnel.

TRAVEL PLANNER

WHERE: From Bend, drive south to Crescent on U.S. 97 (about 45 miles) and turn right onto Forest Road (F.R.) 61. At about 7 miles, turn left at the junction and drive another 4 miles. Turn right at State 58, continue over Willamette Pass (about 10 miles), and turn right at F.R. 5897 (3 miles past the summit) to Waldo Lake. For Shadow Bay Campground, drive about 7 miles on F.R. 5897 to F.R. 5896; for North Waldo and Islet Campgrounds, continue another 4 miles to F.R. 5898.

CONTACT: Willamette National Forest: (541) 782-2283.