The Old Santiam Wagon Road passes by here, and it was a major highway in its day despite its rough, often steep, sometimes muddy dirt surface. Settlers traveled on horseback and in wagons, and cattlemen drove their herds over the Cascades. Lying right beside the old roadway, the Fish Lake meadow offered rest and grazing for tired horses and cattle. Entrepreneurs recognized the potential of this area and were happy to supply travelers' needs. In the early 1900s, the US Forest Service set up an outpost here, and not only are many of the old cabins still standing, they can actually be rented for public use during the winter months.
|The Santiam Wagon Road
But...where's the lake?
Fish Lake is one of those Cascade oddities: porous volcanic soil makes for disappearing water features, and this one does a major vanishing act. Come here soon enough after snow melt and you will find the meadow brimful of sparkling water. Hand launch a small boat and you can enjoy a long afternoon of paddling or rowing. The lake quickly shrinks, though, and soon carrying your boat to the water is a bit of a slog. By midsummer of most years, Fish Lake is simply a broad, grassy meadow. As for the fish of Fish Lake, we are told that they retreat up a small creek for the summer and return with the lake the next year.
Coldwater Cove beside Clear Lake. The developed campgrounds here are simple, offering few amenities, but there is room for medium-sized trailers and the settings are beautiful. There are also dispersed camping spots here and there, as well as access to the McKenzie River Trail, well-known to mountain bikers. Clear Lake Resort offers rustic cabins, a few tent sites, and a gravel boat launch.
Next time you're passing through the Cascades, enjoy a rest stop at Fish Lake. 150 years' worth of travelers can't be wrong.
|We leave you with one last example of Fish Lake's little magic trick. Here is a picture of a forest service cabin with a brimming lake behind...
|... and this is the view from that same cabin just a few months later.