written and photographed by Stephanie Olson
Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Waldo Lake is a gem of Oregon’s alpine lakes. While the lake is popular among mountain bikers because of its single track mountain biking loop, there are also plenty of hiking trails nearby for all levels of adventure.
For easy access to the mountain biking loop trailhead, camp at Shadow Bay. There are a handful of reservable sites if you plan ahead, but the best time to camp is midweek, when you can score the campsites along the water. (Pro tip: Pack insect repellent. Waldo Lake is inundated with mosquitoes in the summer.)
The mountain bike trailhead, Waldo Lake Loop or Jim Weaver Loop Trail, starts at the boat ramp of Waldo Lake and rolls through idyllic meadows of wildflowers with mountain views along the way. The 21.2-mile trail leads you up a series of short, steep climbs through the forest, past bogs and up to a cliff’s edge with views of the lake and its neighboring peaks.
The smells change with the substance of the trail. At times damp and mossy in low lying muddy areas, to the pungent fragrance of cedar and pine and the sweet scent of sun ripened blueberries as you alternate pedaling over roots, boulders, sand and pumice stone.
The single track is paradise for the easily bored. The technical sections can challenge even the most advanced riders but offer plenty of hike a bike and photo opportunities for less experienced mountain bikers.
At the north end of the lake the trail crosses a gurgling fork of the Willamette River and heads into an area that burned in a wildfire, but has been left with a skeletal but striking landscape of bleached white trees, small ponds and bursts of fireweed, the towering edible fuchsia wildflower that earns its name from being one of the first plants to pop up after a wildfire.
Pedal through the sandy regenerating forest to reencounter civilization at the North Campground before the last and final stretch of climbing and dipping along the wooded trail back to Shadow Bay. Reward yourself with a baptismal dip in the lake before a relaxing evening star gazing.
There are also plenty of hiking opportunities in the area. The Twin Peaks Trail is a 3.25-mile climb to the summit of Twin Peaks. The trail is a steady but manageable climb through high alpine forest until the trail opens into an exposed pumice field, where wildflowers cling to the lava rock and junipers worn down by wind and weather twist their bodies along the trail that weaves around to the summit.
From the top breathe in and admire the splendor of the Sisters, Diamond Peak, and the rest of the Cascade Lakes landscape before Waldo’s blue basin summons you back down for a paddle.
Paddling in Waldo’s crystalline waters is pure bliss. Cut through the turquoise and azure waters to the middle of the lake where you can see to the bottom, or choose to hug the shore and explore the magical white sand beaches for what feels like a Mediterranean swim.
Remote, relaxing, and resplendent with wonder, Waldo Lake is a perfect destination for as much or as little adventure as you choose to fit in.