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Headwaters Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Cold Spring at Clackamas Lake, Miller Trail (bobcat)
Bead lilies (Clintonia uniflora), Headwaters Trail (bobcat)
Office, Historic Clackamas Ranger Station (bobcat)
Rhododendrons, Miller Trail (bobcat)
View to Timothy Lake from the Pacific Crest Trail junction (bobcat)
The loop hike near the headwaters of the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Pacific Crest Skyline Road TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Timothy Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 330 feet
  • High Point: 3,485 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Mid-spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



This easy loop takes the hiker through old-growth forest (and small patches of regenerating clearcuts as well) to encounter lush meadows and the pristine spring-fed pools at Clackamas Lake. You’ll also cross the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River at Timothy Lake, a PGE-owned recreational reservoir created in 1956. 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.

A shorter option, only 2.5 miles, skips the extension to Timothy Lake: From the Clackamas Lake Ranger Station, keep walking north along Skyline Road to the Pacific Crest Skyline Road Trailhead.

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 before passing through a broken wooden gate to resume the trail on the left. Ascend to a recovering clearcut, and wind 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 before finding 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 big 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 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, make a 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 to 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 walk 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 (If you are doing the short loop option, keep walking along Skyline Road to cross marshy Clackamas Meadows and return to the Pacific Crest Skyline Road Trailhead).

For the longer hike to Timothy Lake and back, return to the Miller Trail where it crosses Skyline. Pass a trail leading right into the ranger station complex. The trail 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 (If you want to get to the shoreline of Timothy Lake, proceed a short distance along the Southshore Trail towards the Oak Fork Campground). Make three switchbacks up a boulder field with two huge Douglas-firs. Arrive at the Pacific Crest-Timothy Lake Trail South Junction, and get a view of Timothy Lake.

To return to the trailhead, go right on the Pacific Crest Trail, and gradually descend with the alder-shaded Oak Grove Fork running to your right. Pass through a vine maple corridor, after which the trail climbs a little. Veer away from the Oak Grove Fork, and then descend to Skyline Road and the Pacific Crest Skyline Road Trailhead.

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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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