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Clackamas Lake-Timothy Lake Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Cold Spring at Clackamas Lake, Miller Trail (bobcat)
District Ranger's Residence, Historic Clackamas Ranger Station (bobcat)
Rhododendrons, Miller Trail (bobcat)
Old growth on the Pacific Crest Trail, Timothy Lake (bobcat)
View to the dam wall from the Pacific Crest Trail, Timothy Lake (bobcat)
Little Crater Lake in the fall (bobcat)
The loop hike that includes Clackamas Lake, Timothy Lake, and Little Crater Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Pacific Crest Skyline Road TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Little Crater Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop with spur
  • Distance: 13.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 935 feet
  • High Point: 3,575 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-spring into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

This gently graded loop takes the hiker through varied terrain with several notable attractions. You will cross several roads, pass campgrounds, negotiate stands of regenerating forest, and yet also encounter lush meadows and the pristine spring-fed pools at Clackamas Lake and Little Crater Lake. The big lake here, of course, is Timothy Lake, a PGE-owned recreational reservoir created in 1956. While you will pass through some regenerating clearcuts, you’ll also be shaded by some massive old-growth trees in a forest that is composed of several species of conifers. Also included in this hike is a side visit to the Clackamas Lake Ranger Station, a Civilian Conservation Corps project that is now a historic district.

Take the Headwaters Trail #522, which begins to the left of the large gateway arch for the Pacific Crest Trail (The Headwaters Trail doubles here as the Timothy Lake Bike Trail #257). The hike begins under shady old-growth Douglas-firs and western hemlocks. Rise gently in a carpet of Clintonia and twin flower. To your right is a rocky draw, the initial course of the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River, which rises below Abbot Pass and mostly runs underground in this area. Pass a campsite on the left where the trail runs close to Skyline Road. Reach a gravel road, and go right for 75 yards. Cross the Oak Grove Fork, and pass through a broken wooden gate to resume the trail on the left. Ascend to a recovering clearcut before winding through a variety of conifers, including western white pine, western larch, and lodgepole pine. Where bracken overhangs the trail, enter unlogged forest again. The trail turns right at the spiraea-choked course of the Oak Grove Fork. Hike under some massive Douglas-firs, and cross an old logging road. The trail drops in younger forest and then finds old growth again at the Pacific Crest-Miller-Headwaters Trail Junction.

Go straight here on the Miller Trail #534. Keep dropping under some large trees, and take a rough spur leading right down to Cold Spring, where a series of large springs pours forth to feed the Oak Grove Fork at the shallow swamp that is formed around Clackamas Lake. You’ll notice some signs of past beaver activity here and get a good view over the wetland. Back on the Miller Trail, undulate along and come to a fork. Go right down to the Clackamas Lake Campground. Head to the right along the paved campground road, and reach a pullout for the Lake Trail opposite Campsite #27. A plaque here marks the site of the historic Miller Cabin, constructed in 1907 and removed in 1963. The cabin belonged to Herbert Miller, a dentist, who built a road in to access the site. At the same time, the Forest Service decided the area was a suitable site for a ranger station and, using Miller’s road, began construction on a ranger’s cabin for what was then the Cascade Forest Reserve. The trail leads on a two-plank boardwalk through spiraea, bog willow, and sedge to a view over Clackamas Lake. You may see newts drifting lazily in the clear water and ducks and ducklings scudding for cover. The most fascinating inhabitants of this cold spring, however, are the globules of mare’s eggs (Nostoc pruniforme), a cosmopolitan but relatively rare cyanobacterium that fixes nitrogen and is related to the organisms that, billions of years ago, created the oxygen-rich atmosphere we take for granted. Look for the gelatinous egg-sized colonies on the bed of the lake.

From the Lake Trailhead, go right and head up past a restroom building. At the road junction with the horse camp, keep left and then stay right at the next junction. Keep left again, and walk past the campground entrance kiosk, cross a cattle grid and, 30 yards later, pick up the Miller Trail where it continues on the right. The trail passes through a huckleberry patch under Engelmann spruce, mountain hemlock, and silver fir. Reach Skyline Road, and go right for 200 yards if you want to visit the historic Clackamas Lake Ranger Station. Of the buildings here, 11 are on the National Register of Historic Places and were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933-1935 (The ranger station was first established in 1905). On the east side of the road is the District Ranger’s residence, which can be rented for short-term stays; across the meadow you can see the small pumphouse shack. On the west side are an office cabin, some old restrooms, and the chimney of the assistant ranger’s house, which burned down in 2003. Other buildings, including the mess hall, blacksmith shop, and warehouse are farther back.

Return to the Miller Trail where it crosses Skyline Road. A trail leads right into the ranger station complex. The tread is wider here and skirts a plantation of western white pine. Cross FR 57: the trail resumes 50 yards to your left, and enters old growth woods that bloom with rhododendrons in June. Rise to FR 57 at a pullout, and then quickly reenter the forest to reach the Timothy Lake-Miller Trail Junction. Turn right here on the Timothy Lake Trail #528 to drop down and switchback at a pair of big Douglas-firs. Come to the Timothy Lake-Southshore Trail Junction, and bear right to cross the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River on a footbridge. Make three switchbacks up a boulder field with two huge Douglas-firs. Arrive at the Pacific Crest-Timothy Lake Trail South Junction, and take a left to get a view of Timothy Lake.

The Pacific Crest Trail here undulates along in Douglas-fir/hemlock forest carpeted with bear-grass. Descend gradually and rise to where a spur leads to a viewpoint over Timothy Lake. From here, make a slow descent in old growth woods to within a few yards of the lake shore. The trail undulates along again and is crossed in several places by paths leading to both designated and unofficial campsites. Pass through thickets of chinquapin and rhododendron before the trail swings up and away from the shore. Descend gradually past more designated campsites, and join an old road track to arrive at the narrow boggy inlet fed by Crater Creek. The snowcapped top of Mount Hood can be seen above the trees that line the marsh. Pass a couple of gushing springs, and reach the Pacific Crest-Old 1916 Trail Junction (The Old 1916 Trail is now labeled as the Timothy Lake Bike Trail).

If you plan to visit Little Crater Lake, keep straight here, and take a boardwalk to the substantial footbridge across Crater Creek. Another boardwalk leads you to the Pacific Crest-Timothy Lake Trail North Junction, where you turn right. Walk on the level under tall Douglas-firs to reach the Pacific Crest-Little Crater Lake Trail Junction. Make a right here to pass through a livestock barrier; then reach a boardwalk at a skunk-cabbage swamp. Emerge onto Little Crater Meadow, with its copses of Engelmann spruce. After passing over a low stile, you reach the clear, deep artesian spring of Little Crater Lake, where there is an interpretive sign and a small viewing platform. Lupine, false hellebore, and arrow-leaf groundsel bloom in the lush surroundings, and you can expect to meet visitors coming in the short way from Little Crater Lake Campground.

Return to the Pacific Crest-Old 1916 Trail Junction, and turn left. This is a designated mountain bike trail, so be prepared to step off the path when cyclists arrive. The trail, which is well-signposted as the Timothy Lake Bike Trail #537, begins in old growth Douglas-fir/western hemlock forest but soon arrives at a regenerating clearcut (The Bike Trail is a detour for cyclists so they can avoid the Pacific Crest Trail section at Timothy Lake). Rise gradually as you are walled in by young conifers. Cross a gravel track, and hike through a mix of conifers before undulating along through shady old growth again. Cross gravel FR 4280 before continuing up on the FR 4280-220 spur road, which is bordered by young mountain hemlocks and rhododendrons. Reach a crest and begin to descend. At a fork in the road, keep right to continue downhill to a flat area forested by lodgepole pine. Pass a campsite on the right, and come to the Old 1916 Trail-250 Road Junction. Here, the trail leaves the road to your left and heads up along a slope. Pass through a plantation, drop a little, and then rise again into shady forest with a bear-grass carpet. Enter unlogged forest before crossing the corner of a clearcut. Hike on the level in old growth forest before dropping in a 50-year-old cut where boxwood, chinquapin, and twin flower border the trail. Enter Douglas-fir/hemlock old growth again to traverse down a slope. Cross gravel FR 4280 again in shady forest, and then reach an old road track. Go right here; right after leaving the old growth woods, the trail leaves the road bed on your left. Walk along the edge of a partial cut to reenter old growth forest. Switchback down the slope to make two more looping turns before arriving at Skyline Road. Walk back to the Pacific Crest Skyline Road Trailhead on your right.


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Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Mountain Biking Oregon: Northwest and Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan (partial)

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Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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