The Sky Lakes Wilderness (not to be confused with the Mountain Lakes Wilderness further south) stretches from Crater Lake National Park south to Highway 140. The numerous lakes in this wilderness divide somewhat in to three sections – the Seven Lakes Basin northwest of Devils Peak, the Dwarf Lakes Area accessible from the Nannie Creek and Cold Springs Trailheads, and the Blue Lake Basin just north of Fourmile Lake. Owing to all of this open water, this wilderness is infamous for hoards of mosquitos in July and August. Still, I’d wanted to check out the Blue Lake Basin for some time and it was hot enough in the valley (100+º F for days) to make desanguination by flying syringes seem acceptable. Note: This is a loop for folks who like lakes – lots of lakes – because 95% of it is through forest (the famous Oregon “green tunnel”) and views are minimal at best.
The Blue Lake Basin can be accessed directly from the west (see Hike #46 in Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (3rd Edition)) but the trailhead at Fourmile Lake, while it requires more hiking, also requires a lot less driving on forest roads (just six miles of gravel road in from Highway 140). I got a very early start to take advantage of what morning cool there was and headed out on the Twin Ponds Trail (USFS #993) toward Squaw Lake.
Shortly after leaving the TH, I passed Orris Pond,
and then Squaw Lake.
Just past Squaw Lake, I reached a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and went north on it. While there were definitely mosquitos around, they weren’t out in clouds and a little judiciously applied DEET kept them at bay. The PCT climbs a little here, which provided one of the day’s few views – of Fourmile Lake.
About a mile or so north along the PCT, I came to its junction with the Cat Hill Way Trail (USFS #992)and followed that northwest up the hill. This way trail crests at about 6,300 feet and provides another of those elusive views – this time of the north side of Mount McLoughlin (which doesn’t look as cool as it’s west side – the view you get from Interstate-5).
Near where the Cat Hill Way Trail crests, there is an unsigned junction (the way trail continues north from here to the Blue Canyon Trailhead) with a trail that drops northeast into Blue Canyon. This is where some of the navigation fun starts. This the Meadows Lakes Trail (USFS #976). Some maps give it the same number (#976) as the Blue Canyon Trail (USFS #982) coming from the Blue Canyon Trailhead. OK then. 🙄 I took this rocky and worn “whatever number” trail down into the basin to its junction with the Blue Canyon Trail (#982) and then took that the Blue Canyon Trail east past Horseshoe Lake,
and past delightful Island Lake,
which has a large island in its middle (the trees in the center of the photo) and excellent camp sites,
to a junction with the Red Lake Trail (USFS #987). Not having done enough navigation homework, I missed visiting the Judge Waldo Tree at Island Lake. I’d find it on a later hike but not this time. I was starting to feel the heat and began looking forward to a cool (alcohol-free) beverage at the trailhead. So a short stretch on the Red Lake Trail brought me to its junction with the PCT and the Badger Lake Trail (#3759; formerly the Long Lake trail #3758 – it’s the same trail but the numbers and name change when you go from the Fremont-Winema to the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest). I took the Badger Lake Trail – without further navigational confusion – all the way back to Fourmile Lake, passing several lakes in the process.
This trail comes out on the shore of Fourmile Lake and there provides the only BIG VIEW of the day – of the east side of Mount McLoughlin. I think if you were shown west and east profiles of this peak, you’d think they were different mountains.
The trail system at the lake is a bit confusing but you have the option of taking the campground back to the trailhead. This was a great, long ramble (17 mile loop; 1,500 feet of elevation) on good trails (despite the numbering issue), with surprisingly manageable levels of bugs. This is clearly one for lake-lovers, particularly those who’d like a moderate backpack to a nice campsite near a lake (with fish!). This is not really the hike for those wanting views or summits or who don’t like trees! 😉 And, although the drive-in campground was ready full, I saw no one along the trail or at any of the lakes! 😀