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Kinzel Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Kinzel Lake (bobcat)
The Salmon River, Salmon River Trail (bobcat)
The Salmon River valley from a viewpoint (bobcat)
Northern star flower (Trientalis borealis), Kinzel Lake (bobcat)
Trail route to Kinzel Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Salmon River West TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Kinzel Lake
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 17.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3455 feet
  • High Point: 4315 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Only on the Salmon River Trail


Hike Description

Even though, it is close to the rough Sherar Burn Road and the Devils Peak Trailhead, little Kinzel Lake is a good destination for a longer day hike or backpack when approached from the Salmon River West Trailhead. Since it also guarantees a sure source of water, it may be a better overnight site than Devils Peak in the late summer or early fall, when the spring near the latter often runs dry. Kinzel Lake itself is botanically unusual and this hike also allows you to experience a ruggedly beautiful section of the Salmon River as it runs through wilderness.

The trail parallels the pristine, shaded Salmon River and cuts across a bend in deep woods. Then it swings out to the river again and cuts off another bend. After a small boardwalk, you'll note some large Douglas-firs and cross a plank bridge over a gully. Hike under a maple-cloaked cliff at another bend in the river, and pass a large cedar on the left. The route continues through lush woods of cedar, Douglas-fir and hemlock. Oxalis and sword fern are the main ingredients in the forest carpet. After crossing a bigger creek on a log bridge, you'll pass a wilderness permit box and map board and then the wilderness sign. From now on, spurs to the right lead to numerous campsites as you hike close to the river. Old-growth Douglas-firs dominate a stretch where you cross three small creeks and pass by a small boulder field.

Now you're high above the river, and you'll come to a split in the trail. The right track crosses an exposed meadow below the Salmon River Viewpoint and then switchbacks up to rejoin the main trail. On the return, you can take the "inland" trail, which prefers the shady woods with some detours to rocky viewpoints. After the trails come together, a spur right leads to a grassy viewpoint, and then you pass by a few seeps. Another spur trail leads down to a campsite as you come close to the Salmon River again. The trail turns into a drainage to cross another creek. After this, pass by a steep grassy meadow and promontory and look for a scramble trail that leads down to the canyon bottom for a view of Frustration Falls. From the meadow, the trail descends into the Goat Creek drainage and crosses Goat Creek in hemlock and Douglas-fir forest. There are trails down to several campsites on the right. After a level section of trail, a spur trail right leads to a view of Little Niagara Falls far below. Then the trail crosses another creek and passes a few campsites on the left. Cross one more creek and walk in shady forest to reach the Salmon River-Kinzel Lake Trail Junction and go left.

The Kinzel Lake Trail is at first level and thickly vegetated with salal, rhododendron, and vine maple. Then, switchback up three times, make a long ascent, and switchback again. Keep ascending in a forest of forest of western hemlock, vine maple and Douglas-fir. Switchback twice on a hot, exposed trail in a former burn sporadically shaded with young Douglas-fir, mountain hemlock, chinquapin and rhododendron. Kinzel Creek is rushing down to the right as you pass a wilderness sign. Cross an old, cleared path through the woods, the route of the old communications line up to the lookout.

In silver fir and rhododendron forest, reach an unmarked junction on the right. Take the incredibly steep, short and sliding use trail down to Kinzel Lake. The trail parts about halfway down. Left goes to a campsite, which is where you would head initially if you are spending the night. You can also go right; this fork leads steeply down to an alder/willow marsh and, past the thicket, a bog of northern star flower, sundew, marsh cinquefoil and false asphodel. Enjoy the tranquillity of this unusual little body of water; if you camping here, then a day trip to Devils Peak and its lookout is in order. That's a short hike of about 1 1/2 miles from Kinzel Lake.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Government Camp, OR #461 and High Rock, OR #493
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood Wilderness
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Self-issued wilderness permit

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland and Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain

More Links


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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