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Waldo Lake-Black Meadows Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking to Fuji Mt. from Black Meadows, Mt. Ray Trail, in the Waldo Lake Wilderness (bobcat)
Island on the south shore of Waldo Lake (bobcat)
South Waldo Shelter on the Waldo Lake Trail (bobcat)
Old sign for High Divide Trail, Black Meadows (bobcat)
Two bears in a meadow, High Divide Trail (bobcat)
Bingo Lake, just off the High Divide Trail (bobcat)
The loop through the Waldo Lake Wilderness from Waldo Lake to Black Meadows (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Shadow Bay TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Black Meadows
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 9.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1280 feet
  • High Point: 6,065 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

Waldo Lake is one of Oregon’s largest natural lakes and is also considered one of the purest lakes in the world. This is because few streams enter the lake to add nutrients that encourage plant growth. The lakeshore itself is not wilderness as the Waldo Lake Trail, also known as the Jim Weaver Loop Trail, is open to mountain bikers. However, on the south, west, and north shores of the lake, the trail itself forms the boundary with the wilderness. This loop takes you into the Waldo Lake Wilderness south of Waldo Lake to visit old-growth montane woods, a couple of lakes, lush mountain meadows, a view of Fuji Mountain, and bountiful huckleberry patches.

Note that the wilderness sections of the both the Mt. Ray Trail and the High Divide Trail are unmaintained and, at times, difficult to follow or trace through meadows. Berry bushes obscure the trail in many sections, there are several years of blowdown – none too difficult, though – to negotiate. Also, the meadows and lakes are home to active, persistent, and ravenous hordes of mosquitoes until about the end of July. If you’re uncomfortable with following unmaintained trails, try the Island Lakes Hike instead. For a shorter, level, introductory hike along the shores of Waldo Lake, do the out-and-back South Waldo Shelter Hike (3.3 miles round-trip).

Find the Waldo Shoreline Trail heading into a lichen-draped mountain hemlock woodland at the east end of the parking area. Blue diamonds on trees denote this is a cross-country ski route. Engelmann spruce, silver fir, noble fir, and western white pine also form the forest canopy here as you hike through huckleberry, grouseberry, and bear-grass. Cross a footbridge, and keep right at the Waldo Lake-Waldo Shoreline Trail Junction to join the Waldo Lake Trail #3590, which is also a mountain biking loop. Pass a wilderness kiosk, and drop to pass over a footbridge and cross a boggy seep of skunk-cabbage and wood fern. After a couple more footbridges, you’ll see a spur to the right that leads to a beach and views to a small forested island just offshore. A second spur a little later takes you to a campsite and a closer view of the island. The trail now veers away from the lakeshore to circle around a lush meadow at the lake’s southern end. Cross a footbridge, and note the large hemlocks and spruces. At a trail junction, go right to take a look at the three-sided South Waldo Shelter, with its shake roof, wood stove, picnic table, and sleeping platform. The shelter is maintained by Lewis & Clark College Outdoors.

From the shelter, cross a footbridge over a creek, and arrive at the Waldo Lake-South Waldo Trail Junction. This is the beginning of the loop, so make a left here to fill out a form at the wilderness permit box. Cross a marsh-marigold bog, and start ascending a slope in shady forest with a huckleberry understory. This is prime berry-picking territory in late August/early September! You can see the outline of Mount Ray looming ahead through the trees. Pass a meadow on your left before the trail levels to cross another boggy expanse. The trail rises more steeply on an eroded tread, but eventually passes over a saddle. Exit the wilderness, and drop down a lupine-lined tread to pass an unnamed lake. Reach the four-way South Waldo-Mt. Ray Trail Junction. To continue the loop, you need to take the obscure, unmaintained Mt. Ray Trail to your immediate right.

This debris-strewn trail ascends the slope through overhanging huckleberries, which are ripe for the plucking in late summer. Hike steeply up to a crest, and reenter the Waldo Lake Wilderness. Descend past a couple of small tarn meadows, and then rise gradually, passing over and around some downed trees. The trails ascends steeply to a crest, and then drops through mountain hemlock woods past a boulder slope. Descend off a rim, and switchback down on a slipping tread. The path drops steeply through huckleberries, and then makes a descending traverse above the wide lush expanse of Black Meadows. You’ll reach this upper meadow at a pond, where you can look south to Fuji Mountain looming above. The trail crosses the tip of the meadow, which blooms with lousewort, lupine, aster, and sedge as Black Creek runs to your left. Reach the creek: the old tread crossed the creek here, but it’s simpler to follow the east bank of the creek to parallel a false-hellebore-rimmed meadow. At the very end of the meadow, you’ll pass signs for the High Divide Trail #3372 at the de facto High Divide-Mt. Ray Trail Junction and head into the woods on your right, where you’ll see another sign.

The High Divide Trail ascends gently up a boulder slope of huckleberries. You’ll enter a linear meadow, where you bear right to follow the tread, if you can find it, to the meadow’s end. Blowdown obscures the path just before a second meadow. Cross this meadow to head up through stand of conifers to the meadow’s upper segment. Here, the tread is completely lost: Angle across the meadow slightly to your left (NOT straight across): The path is lost at the tree line because of blowdown, so you may have to explore a little before you pick up the alignment. Enter an old burn regenerating with young noble fir, silver fir, and western white pine. This is another prime huckleberry gathering area. Drop below a slope of large boulders, and pass a lush meadow below the trail. Cross a dry creek bed, and enter a remnant grove of Alaska yellow-cedar. The trail heads up into another recovering burn, with dried snags standing like a field of flagpoles. The slopes of Peak 6496 rise to your right. Soon, you’ll descend again, and see Bingo Lake sparkling to your left. To reach the lake, follow the High Divide Trail to where it enters unburned forest on a slope: 15 yards before this, a partially obscured spur trail drops to the lake shore.

The High Divide Trail ascends again (Waldo Lake is 50 feet higher than Bingo Lake), and then traverses up through another section of the burn. Finally, descend a slope of silver firs to arrive at the Waldo Lake-High Divide Trail Junction. Go right to follow the Waldo Lake Trail south above the shore (The Shadow Bay Trailhead is 2.3 miles away). You can see The Twins across Waldo Lake as you pass through patches of bog blueberries on an elevated trail. Cross two footbridges, and swing away from Waldo Lake to hike along a lush meadow. Cross a marsh-marigold/cinquefoil/rainiera bog to come to the Waldo Lake-South Waldo Trail Junction. Turn left here to pass the South Waldo Shelter and return to the trailhead.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Restrooms, picnic area, campground nearby
  • Share non-wilderness trails with mountain bikers
  • Lots of mosquitoes until August

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Waldo Lake Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Middle Fork Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades
  • Adventure Maps: Oakridge, Oregon Trail Map

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • 50 Old-Growth Hikes in the Willamette National Forest by John & Diane Cissel (illustrated map)

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.

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