Oregon’s Waldo Lake: Clear Water, EPIC Biking, Mosquitoes

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).

Tip: Check out Globo Surf for more recreation ideas.

Clear Waters of Waldo Lake

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.

View of Waldo Lake from the Islet Campground

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’re lichen nature. Except the mosquitos.

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.

Waldo Lake before mosquito hell at sunset.

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!

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.

2 Comments on "Oregon’s Waldo Lake: Clear Water, EPIC Biking, Mosquitoes"

  1. What time of the summer did you go?

  2. Best to avoid camping here until September (after a frost).

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