McKee Lake (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 14-Oct-2019

The 117 square mile Sky Lakes Wilderness extends north and south along the Cascades between Crater Lake National Park and Highway 140. Within this wilderness are over 200 lakes both scattered across the area and gathered in three major (Seven Lakes Basin, Sky Lakes Area, Blue Canyon Group) and two smaller (McKee, Dwarf Lakes) lake basins. Established trails provide access to the three main lake basins and human use can be heavy in those. Hence my interest has been drawn to outlying lakes (like Lake Ivern at the northern end of the Seven Lakes Basin) and those in the smaller, trailess basins (like the Dwarf Lakes). Today was McKee Basin’s turn for a visit. Sans The LovedOne, who had to attend a library board meeting instead. 😦

The lake and basin were named (about 1907) for Silas McKee, an early-day Forest Service ranger who regularly hunted in this area. They are located just north of the Blue Lakes Group and various maps show no established trail accessing them. But Oregon Fish & Wildlife stocks McKee Lake with brook trout so I figured it could probably be reached via a use trail. The closest road is Forest Road (FR) 3770, which is the access road for the Blue Canyon Trailhead. Two miles south of the junction of FR 37 and FR 3770, there is a not too obvious junction with a now long abandoned logging road (FR 3770-400).

The remains of FR 3770-400

I followed old FR 400 (which still shows on some maps, is now long gone as a road, but remains very good as trail). October is popular month in Oregon’s big game hunting season and the woods were swarming with hunters. It was they who were keeping this old road alive as a trail. It was also why I was festooned with pieces of fluorescent orange clothing [the few hikers who have criticized my “too bright” clothing have obviously never hiked during a hunting season πŸ™„ ]. After a half-mile on FR 400, I came to another old and unmapped road going due east. Since it was heading toward the lake, I turned and followed it.

The old road going east from FR 400

A little under a half-mile up this road, which got progressively more bedraggled, I came to what I would later learn was a key junction. I went left, which took me on a circular, cross-country journey past an unnamed pond.

The little pond on the way to McKee Lake
The little pond

Eventually, I circled back around to the east side of McKee Lake. There are a lot of very pretty little lakes in the Sky Lakes Wilderness and 3-acre McKee has to rank high among them. My first impression was probably enhanced by the fact that it was also a mild, sunny, clear Fall day.

McKee Lake from its eastern shore
McKee Lake

I began testing my theory of a large campsite connected to a use trail by circling the lake counter-clockwise. A small site appeared at the south end of the lake, but with no obvious use trail, so I pressed on.

McKee Lake
Clouds over McKee
From McKee’s south side
From McKee’s south side
Looking north
From the small camp on McKee’s south side
McKee’s western shore

I eventually worked my way completely around the lake to (yeah!) a large campsite on its northern shore, with a view of Smith Rock to the south.

The large campsite (arrow) with Smith Rock in the distance

Smith Rock protrudes from the ridge that extends northeast from Blue Rock, site of the former Blue Canyon fire lookout. The first lookout tower was constructed there in 1934 and an Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) cabin was added in 1942. The tower was replaced in 1963 and then moved to Robinson Butte in 1973. Today only some scattered bits of foundation remain on Blue Rock.

The 1934 Blue Canyon Lookout, with the 1942 AWS cabin
The 1963 lookout tower, now on Robinson Butte near Mount McLoughlin

From the campsite at the north side of McKee, an obvious – but sketchy in spots – use trail took me back to that key junction I’d missed on the way in (should have gone right instead of left). In my defense, let me say that this key junction, and several other turns along the use trail, were not all that obvious. Despite this navigation faux pas, it was a short (3.2 miles round-trip; 700 feet of gain), but good, hike to a wonderful little lake. It’s a good memory to have with me as I go off-trail for 2 to 3 weeks (if all goes well) to deal with a medical issue that has made hiking increasingly difficult. 😦 Hopefully I’ll be back on my feet in time for the start of the snowshoe season. πŸ™‚

Track was edited to show the shortest way to McKee Lake. (1) Turn from FR 400 to old road. (2) Key junction where the use trail goes southeast.

4 thoughts on “McKee Lake (Sky Lakes Wilderness) 14-Oct-2019

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the good words. πŸ™‚ This issue appeared several weeks ago and, since it isn’t one that will solve itself, I have to take some hiking down time to fix it. 😦 But I’m confident that the two of us will be “back on the trail” before the snow flies and the snowshoes get lonely. πŸ™‚


  2. Yes, it was a perfect day to visit this little lake. Clear skies with just a wisp of clouds for contrast and no breeze to ruffle the lake’s surface. πŸ™‚


  3. Lots of beautiful gems around here, just off the beaten path. Hope all goes well with the medical issue as I always look forward to seeing where the two of you go and seeing the great pictures you take. Take care!


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