On the sun-drenched east side of Willamette Pass, Crescent Lake is home to a tremendously popular campground and is often abuzz with power boats and Jet Skis. Large lake trout (including one whopping 30-pounder) are regularly pulled from the lake. Crescent Lake is located about three miles south of Route 58 via Deschutes National Forest Road 60 from Crescent Lake junction.
Two resorts, several summer homes, and five campgrounds surround 3,582-acre Odell Lake, located 30 miles southeast of Oakridge on Route 58. Situated in a deep glacial trough, the lake probably filled with water about 11,000 years ago when a terminal moraine blocked the drainage of Odell Creek.
Due to the depth of the lake and the nearly perpetual west-to-east winds that blow through Willamette Pass, the water averages a cold 39°F. Those breezes, however, help to keep pesky mosquitoes and other obnoxious insects away and make for some of the best sailing in the Cascades.
Odell Lake Lodge is particularly charming, though somewhat on the rustic side. It has lodge rooms and cabins and is open during the winter, when it’s popular with cross-country skiers.
The Waldo Lake Wilderness is a 37,000-acre gem 70 miles southeast of Eugene via Route 58 (take Forest Service Rd. 5897 before the Willamette Pass turnoff to go 10 miles to the lake). The centerpiece of this alpine paradise is 10-square-mile Waldo Lake, the third largest in Oregon, whose waters were once rated the purest in the country in a nationwide study of 30 lakes. Peer down into the green translucent depths of this 420-foot-deep lake to see rocky reefs and fish 50–100 feet below.
No motorized craft are allowed on the lake, but canoeing, sailing, trout fishing, and windsurfing complement hiking and cross-country skiing to give you different ways to experience the lake and the surrounding region. Add wildlife-watching highlighted by the early September rutting season of Roosevelt elk, and you’ll quickly understand why Waldo Lake is a favorite with Cascades connoisseurs. The 22-mile loop trail around the lake is popular with mountain bikers and backpackers, and day hikes on the south end edify less diehard recreationists.
To best savor it all, visit the area late August–mid-October to avoid a plague of summer mosquitoes and early winter snowfall. Whenever you go, you can catch views of 8,744-foot Diamond Peak in the distance and find first-rate trails and campgrounds.
Waldo Lake’s two very nice campgrounds are Shadow Bay and North Waldo (541/822-3799, www.fs.fed.us/r6/Willamette, reservations www.recreation.gov, mid-June–early Oct., $18, drinking water).To get there, take Route 58 for 24 miles southeast of Oakridge. Take a left on Forest Service Road 5897. It is 5 miles to Forest Service Road 5896, which takes you to Shadow Bay, and 10 miles down Forest Service Road 5897 to North Waldo.
Since there are 150 campsites between the two campgrounds, this usually ensures enough views of the mile-high lake for everyone to enjoy. Boat docks and launching facilities are available, plus good sailing and fishing; gas motors are prohibited on the lake. Many trails lead to small backcountry lakes from here, so this is a good place to establish a base camp.
An ambitious hike is up to Rigdon Lakes (Trails 3590 and 3583). To get there, follow Route 58 for 24 miles southeast of Oakridge, take a left on Forest Service Road 5897, and follow it 10 miles to North Waldo Campground; the trailhead is to the right of the restrooms. This three-mile walk starts at North Waldo Lake Campground on Trail 3590. The trail is mild and scenic, paralleling the north shore of Waldo Lake for about 2 miles until the Rigdon Trail junction (Trail 3583).
Head north (turn right) at the trail intersection for 1 mile to get to the first of the three Rigdon Lakes, which has several peninsulas that are ideal for a picnic and several small islands that might tempt swimmers who don’t mind cold water. A hike afterward to the top of Rigdon Butte is highly recommended. You will have to bushwhack, as there is no clear trail, but it is not a difficult climb if you follow the saddle of the ridge.
From this vantage point you can see all three Rigdon Lakes as well as many other nearby Cascade landmarks. If you want to take a closer look at the two other Rigdon Lakes, they’re only 1 mile or so farther down Trail 3583 from the first lake.
If you want to get away from the traffic of Route 58 and don’t mind bouncing down Forest Service roads for over half an hour, you might consider Blair Lake Campground. To get to Blair Lake, head east out of Oakridge on County Route 149 for 1 mile. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 24 and go 8 miles until you hit Forest Service Road 1934. It’s another 7 miles down Forest Service Road 1934 to Blair Lake.
On the shore, at 4,800 feet in elevation, a picturesque campground (541/822-3799, www.fs.fed.us/r6/Willamette, June–mid-Oct., $8, drinking water) with seven tent sites awaits the determined explorer. Boat docks are nearby, but no motorized craft are permitted on the lake.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel