Monday, July 25, 2016

A Case-Style Family Outing: The Daly Lake Area

Everyone who has driven the North Santiam Pass through the Cascades has seen 3500-acre Detroit Lake alongside Highway 22. When water levels permit, this is a favored destination for powerboats and parties. Summertime finds adjacent campgrounds filled to capacity and boat ramps lined with trailer-toting trucks. When water levels drop in this dam-controlled reservoir, docks are left scattered forlornly over the mudflats and boat ramps are often closed.

This lake is heavily stocked with trout, pretty, and popular. It is not the subject of this post.

Three generations of our family have happily driven past Detroit Lake and turned off of Highway 22 to find a scattering of small mountain lakes and hiking trails. There is no boat ramp here, no running water, no fancy facility. Instead you will find a barrier-free trail to a mountain lake, hungry brook trout, a view-packed, family-friendly hike, and even a fish hatchery.

Heading down Highway 22, turn right on Forest Road 2266 (Parish Lake Road) south of Marion Forks. Alternatively, take Highway 20 to Highway 22 and watch on your left after 7.5 miles. After 4.8 miles on Road 2266, turn right on Road 450 and go about one-half mile to a parking area with a vault toilet. This is Daly Lake. A day-use fee or Northwest Forest Pass is required here, but it is well worth a stop. Look for the barrier-free trail next to the restroom; a short hike leads to a viewpoint over the lake, which is stocked with trout by ODFW. A dirt path leads to a few dispersed camp sites. This lake is a popular spot due to its easy accessibility, but when we last camped here we were only disturbed by a tirelessly inquisitive least weasel.

Returning to Road 2266, go a little further and watch on your left for a small parking area. This is the trailhead for Parish Lake. No fee is required to visit this peaceful lake. The trail is about three quarters of a mile and in decent shape; it would be easy to pack in an inflatable raft, but this author does not recommend hauling in a full-sized hard shell kayak (don't ask). There are a couple of small camping spots next to the lake, which harbors numerous brookies.

Continue on 2266 for about 1.5 miles more and watch on your right for the trail to Riggs and Don Lakes. This casually-maintained trail leads through the forest for about a quarter of a mile to modest Riggs Lake, which has some bank access for anglers and camping spots nearby. For even more solitude, push on toward tiny Don Lake on an unmaintained trail. There is limited bank access but few anglers to compete with at this peaceful pond.

Back on Highway 22, take the kids to the Marion Forks Fish Hatchery to see the ponds where trout and salmon are raised. There is also a lovely campground beside Marion Creek; those who prefer more civilized camping can find a peaceful spot here (limited RV spots).

Turn just north of the Marion Forks Bridge onto Forest Road 2255 for a fun family hike. The Independence Rock trail quickly appears on your left; park on the shoulder of the road and head uphill about a mile to a rugged rock outcropping with great views. Watch for wildflowers in the lush forest, as well as large anthills. The trail is steep at times, but the footing is good. Keep an eye on the kids at the summit.

If busy boat ramps and outboard motors aren't your idea of a mountain lake experience, go where our family goes. Enjoy the tranquility. Try to tempt the brookies with a fly or two. Say hello to the weasel for us.

Daly Lake at sunset
Parish Lake
Trail on Independence Rock
The least weasel is the world's smallest carnivore, with some only measuring five inches long from snout to tail. They are often known to take down mammals ten times their size. In ancient mythology they are known as the only creatures who can kill the dreaded Basilisk and Wendigo. For all their ferocity, the least weasel is a studious beast, known to delight in observing the common animal known as the Human. We recommend zipping your tent up well, though, lest you become the next victim of this unbelievably cute psychopathic killer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Scott Lake: A String of Jewels

Highway 242, the Old Mckenzie Pass, has reopened for another summer, and we have made our yearly phone call to the McKenzie Ranger District: "Is the road to Scott Lake open yet?"

At 4800', snowmelt comes late to this part of the Cascades, but it's worth the wait. Scott Lake is actually three crystal-clear mountain pools connected by channels, like beads on a string. Peaceful and shallow, it's a perfect lake for all human-powered craft and for boaters of all skill levels. It's also a delightful swimming spot. Due to the shallow water, this is one mountain lake that warms up in the summer; no numb toes here! Consider swimming from your boat, though, as the bottom consists of soft, deep silt.

Daytrippers often stop to photograph the sparkling lower pool and abundant wildflowers. Only the well-informed drive to the end of dusty, potholed Scott Lake Road and follow the path that leads east from the parking lot. Those who do find a stunning view of the lake with the Three Sisters in the background. Due to the beautiful backdrop, this end of the lake is the most popular for camping, and the trail leading toward Hand Lake accesses more sites along the middle pool. Other campsites are scattered along the west side of the lower pool, near the road. All of the sites at the lake are walk-in, with the very first site being the most easily accessible. This is primitive camping, with no water and few vault toilets, but your day-use parking pass (or Northwest Forest Pass) is all you need to stay the night. A word to the wise: leave your big camping trailer at home; check out our previous post on the Belknap Craters for a description of Highway 242.

Boats can be launched from your camp, or at a small put-in just past the first campsite. Songbirds flit among the bushes and the air is pungent with the scent of a high Cascade forest baking in the summer sun. Watch the depths for an occasional wily fish; we have seen many people fish here, but we have never witnessed a catch. When you have finished exploring the first pool, look for a small, rocky channel at the northwest corner. If lake levels are low, a short portage may be in order, but the water quickly opens into the middle pool. This one seems particularly popular with tadpoles. The next channel is deeper and more obvious, leading into the last, and most shallow, pool. All three pools offer amazing views; the Three Sisters rise to the south, Scott Mountain stands to the northwest, and flowers and wetland plants fringe the lake's forested edges.

One of the Tenas Lakes
It's tempting to spend your whole time here lazing beside the tranquil lake, observing frogs and dragonflies and watching the clouds drift by. If you're looking for a hike, though, you're in the right place. There are two trailheads at the end of Scott Lake Road. Take the path to your left (Benson Lake Trail) and climb through the woods for about a mile and a half to beautiful Benson Lake. This is a good turnaround point for families with small children, as well as a notable brookie-fishing destination (bring in a float tube or pack raft if you can for easier access). For a longer hike, continue about a mile further and watch on your left for a spur trail to Tenas Lakes, a scattering of small, deep-blue mountain lakes. This is a good destination for a first backpacking trip; there are several excellent tent sites near the pools, and the rugged country makes privacy possible in this popular area. For an even longer hike, continue on the main trail to climb Scott Mountain, bypassing the cutoff for The Knobs and the trail toward Hand Lake. On this last mile and a half, the trail gradually steepens as the views grow ever more spectacular. Take some time to rest and savor the panorama from the grassy summit, then return the way you came.

Be aware that this trail is often under snow early in the season. It is easy to lose the trail under snow fields (this writer speaks from personal experience), and half-melted drifts can offer very unstable footing. For a lower-elevation, kid-friendly hike, take the second trail from the parking lot toward Hand Lake. This path skirts Scott Lake, then heads off through the trees. It's a mostly-level mile-and-a-half walk to a broad,  grassy mountain meadow. Hand Lake varies greatly in size depending on snowpack and the time of year, but there is usually some water lying in the verdant field. You will find a rustic three-sided shelter here, complete with wooden bunks and a fire pit. The other side of the lake offers dispersed camping among the trees; Hand Lake Trail #3513 also leads to this part of the meadow, with parking and a trailhead on Highway 242. Note the wall of lava at the lake's far end, the edge of a huge lava flow.

To find Scott Lake, head over the Old Mackenzie Pass from either Mackenzie Bridge or the town of Sisters. Look for Forest Road 260 between mileposts 71 and 72. Follow the lumpy but passable track for one mile to the lake. For the trailheads, continue to where the road ends at an old quarry and a small parking area.

This lake is one of the jewels of the Central Cascades. Take your mosquito repellent. Take your camera. Take something that floats and maybe your hiking boots. The snow has melted. The road is open. It's time to go to Scott Lake.