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Twin Lakes from Elk Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Upper Twin Lake (bobcat)
Tarn meadow below Battle Ax, Bagby Hot Springs Trail (bobcat)
Mt. Jefferson and Battle Creek, Bagby Hot Springs Trail (bobcat)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), Battle Ax (bobcat)
Lookout site and Mt. Hood, Battle Ax (bobcat)
The hike to Twin Lakes from Elk Lake Junction (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Elk Lake Junction TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Lower (East) Twin Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out/loop option
  • Distance: 15.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3295 feet
  • High Point: 5,558 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

Twin Lakes are about as remote a destination as you can get from a trailhead in the Bull of the Woods and there are various ways to access this valley. The route using the Bagby Hot Springs Trail is less traveled because the road into Elk Lake is in such poor condition that it disqualifies many passenger cars. You will pass a series of lush tarns, which harbor mosquitoes late into the summer, before hiking along the ridge between the remote valleys of Battle Ax Creek and Battle Creek. From there, drop down to the two Twin Lakes and visit or camp over. On the return, be sure to make the ascent to the summit of Battle Ax to enjoy incredible views, from Mount Rainier to the Three Sisters. Coming down Battle Ax's north ridge, you’ll get a glimpse of the formations on the mountain’s rugged west face as well as across to Mount Beachie’s spectacular northeast ridge.

Walk up the road in shady Douglas-fir, mountain hemlock, noble fir, and silver fir woods. In just over one-third of a mile, reach the Bagby Trailhead for Trail #544 and head up this trail. There’s a wilderness permit box here, but as of 2014 it was broken and out of use. Cross a small steam and switchback twice in a vine maple thicket. Traverse up the slope and switchback again to get a glimpse of Elk Lake below. Pass through a Sitka alder slide area, head up in a huckleberry/bear-grass understory, and switchback at another window in the forest, this view extending to Olallie Butte and Mount Jefferson. The trail levels at a tarn studded with bright yellow water lilies in the summer. Alaska yellow-cedar, noble fir, mountain boykinia, Sitka alder, and willow rim this quiet pond. Keep rising and spot a tarn meadow down to the right surrounded by large noble firs. The trail here is lined with sickle-top lousewort. Pass below a talus slope in a lush old growth noble fir/silver fir forest riddled with mountain beaver burrows. Wade through an extensive salmonberry thicket below a series of springs and cross a talus slope colonized by pikas. Soon cross another small talus slope, and reach the ridge crest in silver fir/noble fir woods. Wind down and cross a footbridge between two tarns. Pass a tarn meadow below the east slope of Battle Ax and make an extensive traverse on a talus slope, getting views of Mount Jefferson and Three-fingered Jack before rising to the four-way Bagby Hot Springs-Battle Ax Mountain Trail Junction. There’s a campsite and view to Mount Jefferson to the right.

To continue to Twin Lakes, keep straight on the Bagby Hot Springs Trail #544 and drop to the trickling brook which is the water source for the campsite at the junction (Note that this water source could run dry by late August). Hike along the ridge in silver fir/mountain hemlock woods with an understory of huckleberry – good picking here in mid-August! Note the large cones of a few sugar pines along this trail, one of the northernmost places you can see this conifer. A spur to the right leads to an expansive viewpoint over the Battle Creek drainage and vistas from Olallie Butte to the Three Sisters. Undulate along the ridge from here and traverse a slope of chinquapin and pinemat manzanita. Get a view of Mount Jefferson and then drop along the ridge crest before rising to a ridgetop clearing and viewpoint, probably a helispot, with clumps of common juniper and white Gormann’s aster, a plant endemic to the central Oregon Cascades. Make two short switchbacks and wind down before rising to the Bagby Hot Springs-Twin Lakes Trail Junction in a clearing.

Head down to the right for Twin Lakes. Make a level traverse with views right to the Battle Ax ridge. The trail begins to drop with glimpses of Silver King Mountain. Then wind down to where a slide scar on the slopes of Silver King is clearly visible. The trail swings left and descends. The sparkling waters of Upper (West) Twin Lake become visible through the trees. The trail reaches lake level and crosses a creek, passing through a campsite. The path follows the north side of the lake under some big trees. There are copses of large yellow-cedars by the shoreline as well as some big western hemlocks. Cross a dry creek bed and then rise up a low ridge with a great view of the lake to the right. Descend and note through the trees a small lake to the left dotted with yellow water lilies. The trail splits at the unmarked Twin Lakes-Lower Twin Lake Trail Junction in a grove of large trees.

Go right on this spur trail for Lower (East) Twin Lake among large cedars, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, silver fir and noble fir. The trail heads across a wet area with clumps of alder and spiny wood fern. Pass a tarn on the left and switchback down (The trail may be overgrown here). The trail passes along the length of a log at a huge hemlock. Reach a small burned area and the north end of Lower (East) Twin Lake. Follow the left side of this burn over a series of downed trees to a campsite below big trees at the lakeshore. East of here, the north shore of the lake was scorched by the 2011 Mother Lode Fire. You can also scramble through brush and over windfall along the west shore to a couple of good campsites. Watch the dragonflies flitting about and enjoy the tranquility.

On the return, take the Twin Lakes Trail and then the Bagby Hot Springs Trail back to the Bagby Hot Springs-Battle Ax Mountain Trail Junction. It's recommended that you complete the loop to the top of Battle Ax from here: this adds only about a mile and a half and 760 feet of elevation gain versus simply heading back along the Bagby Hot Springs Trail to the Bagby Trailhead. To ascend to the summit of Battle Ax, go left on the Battle Ax Mountain Trail #3340. Recross the big talus slope that you took at the beginning of your hike, taking in the views once again, and head up through the huckleberries. Cross a smaller talus slope and make a level traverse above a bowl cluttered with andesite boulders. The trail rises from here among stunted mountain hemlock and noble fir to a many-faced rock outcrop. Mount Hood peers above the Big Slide Mountain ridge. Traverse the steep slopes of Battle Ax and make four switchbacks up before traversing again among mountain hemlocks, boxwood, and huckleberry. You are now getting more expansive views all the way to the Washington Cascades. Two more switchbacks take you to the summit ridge. Hike along the ridge to the old lookout site, where a few concrete foundation pillars are all that remain. A spur trail just past the lookout site takes you down a ridge of platy andesite to a stunning viewpoint over Elk Lake. From the summit of Battle Ax, you can see all the way from Mount Rainier to the Three Sisters and west to the Coast Range.

From the summit, switchback down six times on an open slope of platy andesite dotted with mountain hemlock, Alaska yellow-cedar, and the odd whitebark pine. Common juniper and pinemat manzanita form clumps on the rocky slope. As you descend, the forest cover becomes denser although there are still open views to the south. Traverse down to a saddle of fused cinders, switchback, and get a full-on view of Mount Jefferson. Switchback again in a thicket of Alaska yellow-cedar and Sitka alder. Make a descending traverse, getting views of Mount Beachie’s rugged northeast ridge. Switchback twice below a rocky face and traverse below large overhanging boulders. Make two more switchbacks and descend on a brushy slope of boxwood, snow brush, chinquapin, and Scouler’s willow. Switchback at a viewpoint to a remarkable column on Battle Ax’s east face and get a vista over upper Battle Ax Creek. Traverse and switchback before making a long traverse down in shady woods and across a pile of boulders to the Beachie Saddle Junction.

Go left on the old road bed. The rubbly tread narrows as Sitka alders encroach on the trail. Soon you’re descending in a shady forest dominated by Douglas-fir. Part of the road bed is now an eroded ditch. Pass a dripping spring overhung by maidenhair fern on your left. The gullied track keeps dropping and then levels to cross a washed out culvert and reaches a small turnaround. Descend this section of the road, which is still usable for some vehicles, to pass the Bagby Trailhead and reach your car.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued Wilderness Permit

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Bagby Trail #544 (USFS)
  • Twin Lakes Trail #573 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Battle Ax, OR #524
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • Geo-Graphics: Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

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Page Contributors

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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.