22 Oct Waldo Lake Trail
The ultimate fall season bike ride
Lake time doesn’t have to end once summer is over. September and October are the best months for mountain biking, and the Waldo Lake Trail is a perfect destination. By then, the ferocious summer mosquitos have subsided and the trail has been cleared of downed trees from the previous winter. It’s the perfect place to spend a sunny fall day.
Located at 5,414 feet elevation in the Willamette National Forest, Waldo Lake is one of the largest natural lakes in Oregon. At almost 10 square miles and a maximum depth of 427 feet, it is also one of the purest lakes in the state, with no gas-motorized watercraft allowed, and no permanent inlet to add nutrients that might lead to prolific plant growth. The result is amazingly crystal clear, Caribbean-like water, with visibility up to 100 feet. Unlike the tropics, though, prepare for a chill if you jump in. The water is pure snowmelt and is very cold!
The Waldo Lake Trail, officially named the Jim Weaver Loop Trail, circumnavigates the lake for a total of 20.2 miles. It’s recommended for the intermediate to advanced mountain biker—it is technical, twisty, rooty and rocky. It’s also remote, so be prepared and bring adequate first aid and bike repair supplies.
Roughly three quarters of the trail winds between the waterline and the Waldo Lake Wilderness. All designated wilderness areas are closed to bikes, so be sure to stay on the main trail if you’re on wheels.
Begin your trip at the North Waldo boat ramp and day use area, and travel in a counterclockwise direction. The first three miles takes you through a section altered by an old forest fire that scorched the north end of the lake in 1996, providing an interesting landscape with some great lake views. As you round the north end of the lake, you’ll leave the open burn and enter back into a dark forest.
In about 5 miles, you’ll traverse a scree slope to find a perfect overlook for a view of the lake. This side of the lake is dotted with tiny beaches, bays and rocky points for snack breaks, swimming and photo-ops. This is also the most challenging section of the trail. Steep ups and downs, peppered with roots and rocks, make for strenuous biking.
At 12.5 miles, at the very southern tip of the lake, the South Waldo Shelter offers a reprieve from any inclement weather. Continuing on to the east side of the lake, you’ll approach Shadow Bay boat ramp and campground. From here, say goodbye to the lake as the trail weaves away from the water through rolling terrain. Continue on to Islet Campground then back to the starting point at North Waldo.
Most mountain bikers complete this loop in about 4 to 5 hours. Plan on a full day at Waldo Lake to enjoy what remains of fall before winter arrives.
Getting There: Waldo Lake is about a 1.5-hour drive from Bend. Take Highway 97 south to the Crescent cut-off road (Road 61), in Crescent. Head west on 61 then turn right to go northwest on OR Highway 58. About 3 miles past Willamette Pass Ski Area, turn right on paved Forest Road 5897. Follow this road 13 miles until you reach the North Waldo area.
When to go: Late August, September and October. Check with a local bike shop to see if the trail has been cleared.
For more information
Willamette National Forest website: fs.usda.gov/willamette
Bend, Oregon Trail Map: adventuremaps.net
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics while on the trail and in the backcountry. lnt.org