Trailgrams: Trail blazin' around Sisters

Patjens Lake Loop Trail


Last updated 8/1/2023 at 10:11am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Patjens Lake trail is a mostly easy loop hike.

This is a new, regular feature The Nugget will run periodically. If you have a favorite hike or trail, send it along in about 500 words to [email protected] using the following format, including a photo.

Patjens Lake Loop Trail is in all its floral splendor, at least for the next week or two. The bear grass (Indian basket grass) is especially abundant standing as high as six feet. Likewise lupine, scarlet gilia, and Washington lily is in full glory.

Why go? It's an easy, mostly flat 6.9-mile loop with abundant flora and fauna from late June to early August. The trail starts and passes by Big Lake and works around the smaller Patjens Lake, both scenic and pastoral.

When to go? Like most trails in the peak of summer, the earlier the better to beat the heat. If you're a photographer you'll want to adjust your time to capture the best light. Also, earlier outings encounter fewer trail users.

What to expect? Nice views of Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters, Husband, Sand, and Scott mountains. It takes less than three hours with frequent stops to take in the beauty. Total elevation gain is around 632 feet, but it's gradual, nothing steep, on a soft path with few rocks. The highest elevation is 4,830 feet; the lowest is 4,350.

Due to unusually strong winds and deeper snow last winter, there will be a number of downed trees over which you will need to navigate, adding to the sense of accomplishment.

Bring mosquito repellent but you're not apt to need it depending on the amount of sun or wind. About half the hike is shaded.

Dogs may be off leash and the trail is shared with horses, however they are infrequent users say. It is open to campers. On a July 14, 8 a.m. start we had the trail to ourselves. Weekends are bound to encounter more traffic.

Directions: There is no right or wrong way but if you make an early start, going clockwise will keep the sun mostly to your back. About three-fourths of the hike is within the Mt. Washington Wilderness, adding to its tranquility.

Getting there: From Sisters drive west on Highway 20 to the Hoodoo exit at the summit. Follow the signs to the ski area and then turn left onto Big Lake Road. Follow it four miles to its end and the start of the trail. Parking in the summer is tight given the popularity of camping and boating at Big Lake.

What you'll need: A Northwest Forest Pass for parking and a free day-use wilderness permit for the trail. Overnight campers will need a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit between June 15 and October 15.

The trail and lake is inside the Willamette National Forest. Another great time to go is late September and early October when all of the colors start to change. There will be few ponderosa pines. Most of the area is proliferated by douglas fir, but as many as 15 other conifers are possible on the hike, many old-growth.

This is definitely a trail to add to your list.


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