With a depth of 420 feet and a surface area of nearly ten square miles, Waldo Lake is the second largest natural alpine lake in Oregon after Crater Lake. Classified as non-alkali, Waldo Lake does not support plant growth due to a lack of inlets that bring nutrients to support plant life. This means the water is incredibly clear—signs say you can see an average depth of 100-feet, an experience that is both breathtaking and somewhat disconcerting. Motorized boats are no longer permitted on Waldo Lake and the DNR has not stocked the waters with fish for several years (this is not the place for sport fishing, but canoeing, kayaking, swimming, scuba diving, and paddleboarding are spectacular and worth planning a road trip around).
Families looking to camp near the shores of Waldo Lake have five different options (six if you include the nearby Harralson Horsecamp). I recently made a reservation at the Islet Campground on the North side of the lake. Securing a site near the water, the kids braved the cold (but manageable) shallows while I monitored their fun from one of the many benches along the Shore Line Trail.
Now the bad news.
Finding a last-minute, prime camping reservation during the middle of a global pandemic should have been the first clue Waldo Lake might be a bit “too good to be true.” Upon announcing my good fortune on social media, fiends of mine offered bug tents, mosquito face nets, and suggested pre-DEETing prior to our arrival. True to my Midwest upbringing, and above accepting help, I falsely assumed our Minnesota mosquito tolerance prepared us for the worst Oregon had to offer.
I was wrong.
We lasted eight hours before tearing down camp in record-time and heading back to the Willamette Valley. In our defense, our campground neighbors had the same tolerance for being eaten alive while standing in a cloud of campfire smoke while carrying a citronella candle to the outhouse. We also experienced a shortage of available fresh water from the campground filling stations (the water from the lake is reputed to be pure enough to drink, but I would still bring filters and/or iodine tablets); the final straw in our decision to abandon camp.
Having previously visited Waldo Lake in August, it’s worth noting the region is more manageable during the start of forest fire season (and/or the cooler spring and fall). Many folks come during this time to ride the IMBA EPIC mountain bike trail. If you go, consider mosquito repellent and/or other precautions and be prepared to enjoy one of the most pristine and pure natural experiences in the state of Oregon.
Happy Trails, until we meet again!