With winter snows gathering on the Oregon mountaintops, trails closing, and passes shutting down for the cold season, it can be tricky to find great hikes. But they do exist – and the Clear Lake Trail is a great example of this.
To hike the Clear Lake Trail, start at the trailhead by the Clear Lake Resort. It’s a privately-owned resort, but parking spaces for hikers are usually available, especially after peak season. From here is a straightforward walk counter-clockwise around the lake. The trail is mostly level, which makes it a great option for those less included to scramble up switchbacks.
There’s a thick forest of Douglas fir and cedar to enjoy during the hike, as well as a population of osprey and bald eagle who call the lake home. Lift your eyes to spot some geographic wonders, including the Sand Mountain Lava Flow, Three-Fingered Jack, the McKenzie River Headwaters and the Three Sisters. In the wintertime, the blanket of snow makes the landscape even more arresting.
The most attractive feature, however, is Clear Lake itself. Nicknamed “Lake Born of Fire,” it was created some 3,000 years ago when a lava flow from Sand Mountain reached the McKenzie River and backed the water up, forming the lake.
While the waters of Clear Lake are a beautiful, clear-sapphire blue, they’re not suitable for swimming. The high elevation guarantees that the lake is often close or at freezing temperatures. Watercrafts are allowed, however. And sharp-eyed hikers will spot ghostly, underwater figures of a forest long submerged still standing on the lake’s bottom. Some of these trees stand around 120 feet, and can be seen from the shores.
Those looking for a nearby campsite can head to Coldwater Cove, which is adjacent to the trail. Note that the trail is sometimes crowded with mountain bikers in the more balmy months. Access to the trail is free and open to the public year-round.