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Tanner Lakes Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as Off trail. The route or sections of the route may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
View to Swan Mountain from the Boundary Trail in the Red Buttes Wilderness (bobcat)
View across Tanner Lake (bobcat)
Old Siskiyou National Forest sign at the Tanner Lakes-Boundary Trail junction, Red Buttes Wilderness (bobcat)
Tanner Mountain, off the Boundary Trail in the Red Buttes Wilderness (bobcat)
View to Craggy Mt. and Swan Mt. from the off trail leg down Sundown Gap Meadow, Red Buttes Wilderness (bobcat)
The loop hike to the Tanner Lakes and Tanner Mountain (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Tanner Lakes Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Tanner Mountain
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1880 feet
  • High Point: 6,298 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes, to one of the lakes
  • Crowded: On summer weekends (lakes only)


Hike Description

Most of the Red Buttes Wilderness lies in California, but of the portion across the line in Oregon, this loop highlights much of the attraction of the Siskiyous: mountain lakes, expansive views, big old-growth conifers, and botanical diversity. You’ll be at the very western edge of the wilderness and need to hike a forest road and complete a short off-trail segment to finish the loop.

Note that from 1917 to 2002 the Tanner Lakes appeared on maps, trail signs, and in guidebooks as the ‘Tannen’ Lakes. This was a misprint, but it perpetuated itself for 85 years and still manifests itself on the internet (including Forest Service sites), in older guidebooks, and on the trail signage! The U.S. Board on Geographic Names corrected the error in 2002. Tanner Mountain, Tanner Creek, and the Tanner Lakes are named after Ezra Tanner, who arrived in Oregon in 1852, staked a land claim at Waldo, and mined along Tanner Creek.

There are several day hiking options here:

  • Tanner Lake out and back: 0.8 miles
  • East Tanner Lake out and back: 2.6 miles
  • Tanner Lakes loop using abandoned road: 3.0 miles
  • Tanner Lakes and Tanner Mountain loop: 8.3 miles
  • Tanner Mountain from the Boundary Trailhead out and back: 1.4 miles

The Tanner Lakes Trail begins about 80 yards back from your car. At a switchback where you enter the wilderness, a fairly new trail sign perpetuates the ‘Tannen’ Lakes error. This is an old-growth forest of Douglas-fir, white fir, and incense cedar. The path switchbacks up three more times, traverses through an understory of boxwood, tanoak, and Douglas maple, and drops to a campsite at Tanner Lake. From this glacial cirque, you can look up to the scree slopes of Tanner Mountain’s west ridge, with Sundown Gap to the right. The trail continues to your left, crossing a log footbridge over Tanner Creek and switchbacking above a massive ten-foot Douglas-fir. Then it traverses past an impressive incense cedar and reaches the open crest of the ridge between Tanner and East Tanner Creeks. You'll traverse into woods again, passing a rare Brewer’s spruce - a species found only at scattered locations in the Siskiyous. Then switchback down and swish through huckleberry bushes overhanging the trail. The trail crosses East Tanner Creek and arrives at the shore of East Tanner Lake, which offers one small campsite.

From the lake, hike up and switchback before making a lengthy, gently descending traverse among younger conifers. You'll come to a trail junction: from here, a 200-yard tie trail leads down to an abandoned section of Forest Road 041-590 (if you’re do the short lakes loop, descend this trail, turn left on the road bed, and walk one mile back along the abandoned section to your vehicle). If you’re doing the longer loop, continue on the Tanner Lakes Trail, remarking upon some massive old growth among the younger trees. The trail levels and then drops below some rocky buttresses to pass through Townsite Meadow and thickets of tanoak and Douglas maple. After crossing a talus slope, you'll get your first views of Swan Mountain (See the Swan Mountain Hike). After passing a giant Douglas-fir, cross a small stream. The trail continues along the east slope of Tanner Mountain, passing more maple thickets, large trees, and views to Swan Mountain. On an open slope, you'll encounter a gnarly cedar and come to the junction with the Fehley Gulch Trail. Then hike a short distance down to the junction with the Boundary Trail, and make a right.

The Boundary Trail rises on a slope of Shasta red fir, incense cedar, and oak shrubbery, offering views back to Swan Mountain. It switchbacks at the end of a cedar-rimmed meadow and then again below a rock outcropping. When you reach the crest of Thompson Ridge at a wide meadow, head right if you’re doing the ¼ mile off-trail excursion to Tanner Mountain. You’ll see much elk sign as you weave between clumps of sulfur buckwheat and greenleaf manzanita. Drop to a saddle, and then follow a track up along the manzanita verge to the summit of Tanner Mountain, where on a clear day, you’ll get commanding views over the entirety of the Siskiyous, including down to East Tanner Lake and the Illinois River valley in Oregon as well as Preston Peak, the upper Klamath drainage, and Mount Shasta in California.

Back on the Boundary Trail, drop through Shasta red fir forest with a huckleberry understory. A viewpoint on the right offers a vista down the forested Tanner Creek valley. The trail drops quite steeply to a campsite and empty kiosk at the Boundary Trailhead on Forest Road 041-570. From the trailhead, you need to turn right and walk about a mile long the narrow road, which rises gently in quiet woods. Then the track drops to the saddle at Sundown Gap. Look for a pullout on the right with two medium-sized rocks blocking an old road bed (there are also pullouts on either side of the road a few yards farther on).

This begins your off-trail connection back to the Tanner Lakes Trail. Walk past the boulders, and follow an obvious road track down the slope. Before a ditch-like cutting, go left along the cutting edge, and arrive above a steep linear meadow that descends to woods below. The off-trail route descends through this wet expanse, which displays blooming paintbrush, sunflower, and bistort in the summer. Look out for ankle-twisting mountain beaver burrows. When you reach the bottom of the slope, head left to continue to the end of a parallel meadow. A brightly barked incense cedar stands at the end of the meadow. head into the woods to the right of the cedar and keep descending, staying as much as possible under the forest canopy to avoid thick brush. Soon you can see the bowl of Tanner Lake to the right, and there’s a short brushy section to weave through before you reach the trail. Head left to return to the trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Wilderness regulations apply


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Red Buttes Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wild Rivers Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Siskiyou National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Southern Oregon & Northern California by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Southern Oregon by Art Bernstein & Zach Urness
  • The Siskiyou Crest: Hikes, History & Ecology by Luke Ruediger
  • Hiking Sasquatch Country by Wendy & Gary Swanson
  • Hiking the Bigfoot Country by John Hart
  • 75 Hikes in Oregon’s Coast Range and Siskiyous by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Hiking Oregon’s Southern Cascades and Siskiyous by Art Bernstein
  • 76 Day-Hikes Within 100 Miles of the Rogue Valley by Art Bernstein
  • Oregon’s Wilderness Areas: The Complete Guide by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon edited by Falcon Guides

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.