The first whispers of spring have me thinking of all the Oregon outdoorsy fun waiting right behind this season’s door. As I clean off my hiking boots and leaf through trail maps, there’s one trail that keeps rising to the top of my need-to-hike list: Mud Lake via the Anthill Trail
It doesn’t sound glamorous, but it’s a peaceful and beautiful place, nestled between the geological trifecta of Tomlike Mountain, Waucoma Ridge, and Green Point Mountain. The hike rates high for solitude and intensity of wilderness elements. Expect an in-and-out trail that requires some stream-crossing and offers nice views of the surrounding hillsides.
The hike starts at the Wahtum Lake Parking Lot and heads north via the Anthill Trail (a sign numbers it trail 406B). Lace up your hiking shoes, because it’s a steady walk uphill all the way to the top of Waucoma Ridge. Take the time to enjoy the scenery at the numerous beautiful viewpoints of Wahtum Lake along the way. In the spring and summer the landscape will be peppered with wildflowers to keep you cheerful as you sweat your way to the summit.
The elevation gain isn’t over yet, and you’ll keep walking up-trail, granting you view of familiar Oregon peaks like Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and Tanner Butte. Keep your eye out for Mount Adams as you pass through a clearing, because this signals the start of the decent into the valley. You’ll hit a junction soon after - the Anthill-Rainy Wahtum Trail Junction on the old Wahtum Lake Road – but keep going straight.
As the trail loses elevation you’ll walk through the rich foliage of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, so keep your guidebook handy to identify noble fir, huckleberry, silver fir, thimbleberry, and an assortment of forest understory plants. My favorite are the avalanche lilies that bloom in abundance mid-summer.
At the junction with the Herman Creek Trail take a right and head down this path. You’ll hit switchbacks and have to cross three small creeks. The forest will soon break open to reveal a talus slope inhabited by a population of wild pikas, which are wildly distracting in their cuteness, and absolutely worth stopping to adore. But eventually you’ll have to keep walking until you reach the Herman Creek-Mud Lake Trail Junction.
A right turn here will take you across slopes rich with bear-grass, then take you to your destination, Mud Lake. It’s a shallow and vegetation-heavy body of water, full of floating newts, hovering dragonflies, and waterbugs. Sedge lines the borders, noble fir and western red-cedar rim the lake, and yellow water lilies bloom on the placid surface. It’s a beautiful spot to kick of your shoes and take in the beauty of the Oregon wilds.
Note that there are multiple intersecting trails in this area, so be sure to bring a reliable map and a compass. Insect repellent is advisable in high summer, especially when the lake gets a little buggy.
A valid Recreation Pass is required at the trailhead between May 15 and Oct. 15. There's a self-issue station at the Wahtum Lake Parking Lot.