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Camp Lake from Pole Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

South Sister above Camp Lake (Jerry Adams)
Lower down you get glimpses of the mountains through trees (Jerry Adams)
As you get higher, the views open up (Jerry Adams)
  • Start point: Pole Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • Ending Point: Pole Creek Trailhead
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Distance: 14.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2000 feet
  • High Point: 6980 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer and early fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: at some places


Contents

Description

This hike takes you to a scenic (and relentlessly windy) alpine lake between South Sister and Middle Sister. The lake is a popular destination, so don't expect solitude. Save this one for a period of good weather as the high elevation and exposure make it a poor place to camp in bad weather. Also be aware that the first 3.7 miles of the hike are through burned forest with no shade. Campfires are not allowed at the lake.

The Pole Creek Trail takes off south from the trailhead, climbing uphill through the burn area from the 2012 Pole Creek Fire, which burned 26,000 acres. The trail gets pretty dusty by late summer. On your return trip to the trailhead you'll get views through the snags of Mt. Washington, Black Crater, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood on a clear day.

At 1.4 miles reach the junction with the Green Lakes Trail and turn left. Losing a bit of elevation, the trail heads north and crosses Soap Creek at 2.1 miles. On the other side of the creek is the trail junction with Camp Lake Trail #4074 and a campsite on the right.

Turn right on the Camp Lake Trail, which gradually climbs through the burnt snags. 3.7 miles from the trailhead reach the edge of the burn and enter the cool shady forest.

At 4.7 miles the trail crosses the North Fork Whychus Creek. There is no formal bridge here, but as of 2020 there was a sturdy fallen tree just upstream from the trail that served as a good crossing. Shortly after crossing the creek reach the junction with the Demaris Lake Trail. If you wish to make a detour to see this lake, it's about a mile one-way.

The trail climbs up some steep rocky switchbacks. The trail makes a switchback uphill to the left where there is a fine view of North Sister. Beyond this point the trail is quite scenic and as you hike you'll get views of Broken Top and all three of the Sisters at various spots. Paintbrush, heather, and other alpine wildflowers bloom in August.

At 7.1 miles the official trail ends at the northeast end of Camp Lake. South Sister towers over the other side of the lake.

You will find a few campsites to the right, but most of the campsites are in the trees above the lake to the left. Remember to camp at least 200 feet from the shore. Campfires are not allowed anywhere in this area.

EXTENDING YOUR HIKE

You can follow an unofficial user trail to explore the Chambers Lakes on the other side of the ridge. The trail follows the north shore of Camp Lake, crosses a meadow, and climbs steeply up a rocky slope before continuing over the ridge. The two lakes have very large moraines at the far end. There is no outlet stream from the two lakes, the outlet flow is underground.

When the "trail" gets to the lower of the two lakes, it peters out to nothing. Just go down to the lake and walk along the left (south) shore. At the end of the lake, go to the left (southwest), possibly on a faint trail or possibly on a snowfield. There's about a mile of "trail" that is very faint or non-existent.

About 1/4 mile past the lower lake, the trail becomes more visible again. It follows along the bottom of a valley. There are some fairly steep downhill spots. It would be difficult if you weren't on the trail.

About 1/2 mile past the lower lake, the trail gets down to a gradually sloping meadow area. The trail follows a small stream (Separation Creek). This stream is somewhat silty and can dry up in September.

At mile 9.9 (from Pole Creek Trailhead) 6430 feet elevation is the Pacific Crest-Camp Lake Trail Junction. The junction is between Separation Creek and Reese Lake which is east of the PCT. There are some campsites around Reese Lake and the best drinking water is from the lake. The lake is big enough to provide good water, even at the end of the summer.

If you're going up to the Chambers Lakes from the PCT, it's a little difficult to find the trail. The trail is obvious, but unmarked. If you can't find the trail, just go along Separation Creek a short distance and then you will easily be able to find the trail, which starts out on the north side of the creek, then follows the creek for about a mile on the south side. Or, if you can find Reese Lake, the trail goes just South of it.

To return to the Pole Creek Trailhead, you could go back the way you came, or you could make a loop by going either direction on the PCT - see the Trail around Three Sisters Hike. Either way, it's about 22 miles back to the Pole Creek Trail and another 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.

There are also a couple other major lakes in the Chambers Lakes chain to the south of Camp Lake within about a mile and 1000 feet of elevation gain.


Maps

Map of Camp Lake Trail

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for overnight stays required ($6 reservation fee: Friday prior to Memorial Day through last Friday in September)

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes / Travel Guide Central Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking Bend & Central Oregon by Brittany Manwill


More Links


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.