Blue Lake is a forgotten recreational destination
Last updated 8/2/2011 at Noon
It may come as a surprise to some that nearby Blue Lake offers a pleasant little hike. For most locals, Blue Lake has faded into a peculiar esoteric status. Twenty years ago, this local miniature Crater Lake was a frequent destination for fishing, hiking, or just a scenic day outing. The curtain was drawn quietly but suddenly.
While many such forest resort destinations are operated under Forest Service use permits, Blue Lake Resort had always been sited on private land. As such, access was conditional - and that access came to an end one day. When the gates between the Suttle Lake road and Blue Lake were closed, people tended to cross Blue Lake off their list of activities and forget about it.
On the plus side of the ledger, the closure of public access to the east end of the lake was a step on the way to the eventual creation of the unique Caldera organization that is centered there today.
Blue Lake, of course, never went away; nor did public access. I've heard people proclaim that Blue Lake is a private lake now; but that's not exactly true. And, therein lies the story behind my column this week.
As it happens, only the lands at the east end of the lake are private. A combination of Forest Service and state land provides public access at the west end. Reaching Blue Lake from those public lands is a relatively easy matter. In fact, it is possible to drive to within a football field's length of the shore. However, from that spot, it's a tough scramble up a very steep slope of loose volcanic cinders.
That's the route we chose after we parked the truck at a small turnaround at the end of a rather poor road that winds its way down from the entrance to Elliot R. Corbett II Memorial State Park. Corbett was a 22-year-old Oregonian who died on November 19, 1944, in the European Theatre of World War II. A monument at Riverview Cemetery in Portland states that the fallen soldier is buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands. He is one of 107 Oregon casualties listed as having been buried there.
At the top of the steep cinder slope, we were rewarded with a superb view of the little-seen lake; and, right away, it's easy to see that the lake definitely lives up to its name. There we found a well-worn trail along the ridge line surrounding the lake. Later, we also discovered that the trail can also be accessed from more moderate trails that lead both north and south from the spot where we parked.
High above the southwest corner of the lake, there are some views that quickly bring to mind Blue Lake's much larger and more well-known sibling, Crater Lake. Like Crater Lake, Blue Lake is formed in a volcanic caldera, which is distinguished from a true crater in that it is formed from a volcanic implosion, or internal collapse. Unlike Crater Lake, however, Blue Lake is directly fed by underground springs.
These springs overflow through Link Creek into Suttle Lake, forming the headwaters for Lake Creek, which flows into the Metolius River. This system is the home of historic sockeye salmon runs that ended when the Deschutes River was dammed by the Pelton-Round Butte Complex in the 1960s. Efforts to restore anadromous fish runs to this part of the Metolius Basin are currently underway.
Although the trail appears to continue around the lake, it should be stressed that the lands bordering the east end of the lake are entirely on private property. Hikers and other outdoor recreationalists should never presume to enter private landholdings without landowner permission.
With that in mind, hikers should enjoy the lake from the State Park and the Forest Service lands. Although possible, access to the lake shore itself is very difficult from the western portion of the lake due to the steep interior walls of the caldera. However, the public portion of the trail provides many fine views of the lake and the surrounding area.
Sadly, most of the State Park and Forest Service lands have been badly burned by forest fires. Signs in the park warn of the danger of hazard trees, and the area should definitely be avoided on windy days. Still this is an interesting ecological and geologic site for the curious adventurer, where the effects of volcanism and forest regeneration can be observed first hand.
A round-trip on the public lands portion of the trail will produce an interesting hike of a little over two miles without encroaching on private property. To avoid the steep scramble at the end of the forest road, an inconspicuous trail leads south toward a marshy meadow that provides access to a lower point on the caldera rim. Similarly, another connector trail leads north to a trail junction where the hiker can follow the marked trail south to the high point on the west rim or east along the north side of the lake.
In order to reach the public lands bordering the west end of Blue Lake, take Highway 20 west from Sisters for about 17 miles, and turn left into the access for Corbett State Park, which is clearly marked by a highway road sign.
Across the parking lot on the south side of the highway, take Forest Road 2076 for about 0.7 mile, and turn left onto Forest Road 200.
The road down is steep and in poor condition.
Follow that road as it winds downhill for a mile until it makes a right-angle turn.
Do not turn, but go straight onto Forest Road 250 for another half-mile to where it ends.
The cinder slope that rises above the road's end at the bottom of the hill is the west end of the caldera that contains Blue Lake.