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Welcome Lakes Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Lower Welcome Lake, in better times (bobcat)
Lip of the lower falls, Elk Lake Creek (bobcat)
Mountain thistle (Cirsium callilepis), at the Geronimo Trail junction (bobcat)
Welcome Lakes and Schreiner Peak from the ridge above, post-2010 (bobcat)
Turtle head (Nothochelone nemorosa) on the Geronimo Ridge (bobcat)
Old growth Alaska yellow-cedar grove at Lower Welcome Lake, now a charred memory (bobcat)
Route to Welcome Lakes via the Elk Lake Creek Trail (bobcat)
  • Start point: Elk Lake Creek Trail Northern TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Upper Welcome Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Distance: 13.8 miles
  • High Point: 5,190 feet
  • Elevation gain: 3440 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer to mid-fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The Welcome Lakes Trail #554 is a central connecting trail in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, running from the limpid waters of Elk Lake Creek up a steep slope to Lower Welcome Lake and Upper Welcome Lake, and then steeply up to use high ridges and eventually reach the Bull of the Woods Lookout. This day hike possibility does not take you that far, but recommends a loop taking advantage of a short section of the Schreiner Peak Trail and the West Lake Way Trail. In addition to pristine creeks and mountain lakes, the ridges will afford views to major landmarks in the wilderness and the northern Oregon Cascades. Wildflowers bloom in profusion in open areas in the summer. Unfortunately, however, the View Lake Fire Complex of 2010 performed a major overhaul of the forest, including some impressive old growth, in many parts of this hike (Most of the pictures to the right show the area before the fire). The slopes on the first section of the hike using the Elk Lake Creek Trail were burned, and then the entire section of the Welcome Lakes Trail ascending the slope from Elk Lake Creek up to and including the two Welcome Lakes has become a land of blackened snags. The top section of the described loop escaped the fire. WARNING: Since much of this route was intensely burned, be prepared to negotiate deadfall across the trail. Do not camp under dead trees.

The actual trailhead is a little back down the road from the parking area. Head into secondary Douglas-fir forest with some western hemlock and silver fir. This first part of the hike is along an old logging road. Descend to cross a boykinia-lined creek, sign in at the register box for the wilderness, and traverse a steep rocky slope. Descend again into western hemlock and Douglas-fir old growth and cross a talus slope. Note that the View Lake Fire Complex burns of 2010 reached the trail in this section of the hike, so note signs of a recovering forest. There are falls below on Elk Creek and a spur trail leads left down to some rocks above these falls. From here, one can see a smaller drop just upstream. The pools and turquoise waters are very inviting, but there are miles to go. Then traverse a talus slope with large Douglas-firs and reenter woods that also contain Pacific yew and western red-cedar. Drop to cross lovely Pine Cone Creek and pass the wilderness boundary sign. The trail becomes fairly level and then descends to a camping area next to wide Elk Creek. Then, heading up from the campsites, pass a 9’ Douglas-fir and then a spring on the trail. Lose elevation again to cross Knob Rock Creek, with its little waterfall, and then Welcome Creek, with lovely pristine pools of water. After these delights, and about two miles from the trailhead, come to the Elk Lake Creek-Welcome Lakes Trail Junction, and head up to the right on Trail #554.

Head gently up in rhododendrons, salal and bear-grass. These were dry hemlock and Douglas-fir woods, now severely impacted by 2010's View Lake Fires. Switchback, make a lengthy traverse and make several more switchbacks. Chinquapin and vine maple sprout in the understory. Pipsissewa, white-vein pyrola and twin flower bloom here in the summer. The forest here was a mix of mountain hemlock, Douglas-fir, western hemlock and some noble fir. Near another switchback, get a view of Schreiner Peak and Big Slide Mountain to the right across the Welcome Creek Valley. After a long traverse up, the trail levels in silver fir/mountain hemlock woodland. Skirt a vine maple thicket below a talus slope and head into the woods at a large noble fir. Pass through a lush meadow with blooming lupine and groundsel, cross a small creek and come to another large noble fir at the Welcome Lakes-Lower Welcome Lake Trail Junction, marked by a few stones on the ground.

Go right on this trail, no longer shaded by old growth silver fir, noble fir, Douglas-fir and Alaska yellow-cedar. Stark skeletons remain. Reach the bottomland at Lower Welcome Lake in an unusual grove of old-growth Alaska yellow-cedars. The lakeshore is boggy here. Go left across the creek, passing a campsite, and find a use trail which gives some access to the western shore of the lake. Water lilies bloom on the waters and the setting is quite secluded and serene, but without the private cloak of dense forest that was here before the fire.

Back at the Welcome Lakes-Lower Welcome Lake Trail Junction, go right to wend up to a campsite and a creek at the Welcome Lakes-West Lake Way Trail Junction. Instead of crossing the creek, rise up to the left to keep on Trail #554. Pass through Sitka alder and huckleberries and then reach a lush hillside meadow with blooming cow parsnip, larkspur, groundsel, thimbleberry, lupine and coiled-beak lousewort. The trail switchbacks and recrosses the meadow and then heads up through small clearings blooming with larkspur, columbine and lupine. Six more switchbacks in silver fir/mountain hemlock forest take you to the ridge crest and the Welcome Lakes-Geronimo Trail Junction. Go right as #554 continues up the ridge and then below it under Douglas-fir, noble fir and silver fir, all scarred by the fire. A couple of switchbacks bring you closer to the ridgetop again. The ridge crest is blooms with paintbrush, subalpine daisy, and lupine. Get a view of Big Slide Mountain and the Welcome Lakes, now visible with the forest cover gone. Drop below the crest again and exit the burn, finally! An opening on the left affords a glimpse of Battle Ax. Then come to the Welcome Lakes-Schreiner Peak Trail Junction, signposted for Big Slide Lake.

Head down steeply to the right, making 16 short switchbacks and getting views of Mount Hood. There is considerable blowdown on this slope. Reach a level area of silver fir and huckleberry and then head down again. Three more switchbacks give you a view of Big Slide Mountain ahead and then you cross a small creek and come to the Dickey Creek-Schreiner Peak Trail Junction, with Trail #553 leading down to Big Slide Lake on the left. Keep straight and pass a tarn on the left. Ascend through bear-grass and huckleberry under silver fir and mountain hemlock and come to the Schreiner Peak-West Lake Way Trail Junction. Go right here to complete the loop around the Welcome Lakes.

Take the rocky trail heading down under Alaska yellow-cedar, western white pine and mountain hemlock. A view east reveals Olallie Butte and the snowy northern slopes of Mount Jefferson. At a flat, rocky area, hike off trail to the left to get a view from a rocky rim down to West Lake, a steep bushwhack down the slope. Cross a talus slope, head up to reenter the burn area, and then descend to reach Upper Welcome Lake. Just past the lake, close the loop at the Welcome Lakes-West Lake Way Trail Junction and head down to the left to return to the trailhead.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Battle Ax, OR #524
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • Geo-Graphics: Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit

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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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