The Southern Blue Mountains of Oregon are actually two ranges - the Elkhorn and Greenhorn Mountains – and some of my favorite remote trails are in the Elkhorn half. If you want to check out a spectacular alpine lake, wander across scenic granite outcroppings, and ramble through beautiful larch forests, check out the Killamacue Lake Trail in that area. It’s sure to impress.
The trail is well-built, runs about 6.5 miles total, and scales a neat 2,000 feet in elevation gain. You’ll start off at an unsigned trailhead right off of Road 5520, and soon after cross Killamacue Creek. There’s no footbridge to help with the crossing, so practice your jumping or wading skills, and then the trail skips over a marshy ditch before starting a long ascension northwest up a slope. You’ll be hiking amid groves of ponderosa pines with nice views at your back of Rock Creek.
Right around the half-mile mark is another water crossing, this time with the assist of a footbridge, and then the path turns to climb up the south side of the canyon. This is the toughest stretch of the trail, as you ascend past a box canyon below. Once you top the canyon, the trail grade relaxes but continues at a slope another mile to a third stream crossing.
You’ll then enter an area of rocky granite benches, thick forests of fir and larch, and scrubby understory. Around the two-mile mark is yet another footbridge spanning a creek. Then at last the trail flattens, skirting marshy meadows visible through the trees. Walk softly and watch for elk resting in these woods.
There’s another stream crossing ahead that leads into a final ascension up to Killamacue Lake. You’ll ramble alongside a stream that flows year-round through the forest, filled with watery weeds and plump trout. The last 100 yards up is a rocky scramble that leads out to a spectacular blue-green lake, hemmed in by whitebark pine and larch. The speckled granite walls of Chloride Ridge serve as the backdrop, and wide, flat rocks by the shore serve as perfect picnic benches. Rest here, and return as you came.
Directions from Haines: Take Highway 30 and tern west across a set of train tracks onto Rock Creek Road. Drive 7.7 miles as the road turns from pavement to gravel, then dirt road. The road becomes rocky and rutted here, and turns into Road 5520 at the Forest Service boundary. Another 2 miles down you hit the unmarked trailhead.
Please note that the last stretch of the road to the trailhead is not accessible by most vehicles. It’s advised that you only attempt the route with a 4-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle driven with care. Otherwise, park where the gravel ends and hike the last two miles to the trailhead.
(Photos courtesy of Brian Sather)