The Mountain Lakes Trail (USFS #3721) to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (How many times can you say “mountain lakes?”) was the last of the three major trails into this wilderness that we had yet to explore. It was on the to do list but not a priority until heavy smoke from various wildfires in Oregon and California started blanketing our area. Being somewhat south and east of these fires, the Mountain Lakes Wilderness was being spared most of this smoke yesterday. So the opportunity to explore a “new” trail and not breathe smoke for awhile is what finally got us going on this one.
You can start this trail at Rainbow Bay on Lake of the Woods but the preferred trailhead is on Forest Road (FR) 3662. To reach it, we turned south off of Highway 140 on to Dead Indian Memorial Road and then, almost immediately, turned east on to FR 3610 and just kept going straight past where FR 3610 becomes FR 3662 to the trailhead. Unlike the more popular Varney Creek and Clover Creek Trailheads, this one is just a wide spot in the road, with a sign.
But the trail itself is well maintained and climbs gently, but consistently, up to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail at around 7,300 feet. This is not a big views kind of trail, traveling as it does though forest most of the time.
Early on (within the first mile or so), we found some huge old-growth trees that seem to have survived a fire way in the past and are now prominent in comparison to the “new” (only 40-50 years old) growth around them.
There is one moderate sized meadow about two miles in,
and then about 3.5 miles in we came to delightful little Lake Waban – which was alive with tadpoles in the water and tiny, tiny toads along the shore.
Lake Waban is just off the trail, but other little lakes – Weston and Avalanche – can be reached from here via easy cross-country travel. Past the lake, we followed the trail as it rose easily into more open, gravelly ground,
before arriving at its junction with the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail on a saddle just southwest of Whiteface Peak.
A short walk from this junction gave us the only big view on this hike – of Mount McLoughlin to the northwest. For a bigger view, it’s pretty easy to go cross-country from the trail junction on the saddle up to the summit of Whiteface Peak.
After lunch at the saddle – and a nice chat with a hiker and a runner coming in from Clover Creek – we retraced our steps to the trailhead, thus ending our explorations of the three major trails into this wilderness. An easy trail (10.5 miles round-trip; 2,000 feet of elevation gain) with water and camping at the lake and opportunities for even greater solitude at the off-trail lakes. A fun and smoke-free day (at least above 6,000 feet). 🙂