Island Lake, Dee Lake and the Waldo Tree are all located in the Sky Lakes Wilderness on the Rogue River National Forest in the Cascade Mountains of South Central Oregon. The general area is known as the Blue Canyon Basin. I hiked in with the Klamath Basin Outdoor Group from the eastside of the Cascades through the Winema National Forest. The trailhead is accessed by traveling about 28 miles northwest from Klamath Falls, Oregon on Highway 140, then 8.5 miles north on the Cold Springs Road to Forest Road 3659, then about a mile west to the unmarked trailhead. The Cold Springs Road intersects Highway 140 just east of the hill that begins the climb to Lake of the Woods. The trailhead is about 0.4 miles from the Wilderness Boundary. The above map shows the trail we hiked. Click the map for a larger version.
The portion our our journey north of Dee Lake and Island Lake were were not on a trail although the forest is fairly open and not too difficult to pass through. The actual trails were all maintained and in good condition except for the short spur to the Waldo Tree on the southeast corner of Island Lake. That piece of trail has not been maintained in many years and is crisscrossed with large, down trees. Nonetheless, it’s obviously a trail, a short walk and not too difficult to get over or around the trees.
Upon leaving the trailhead, the Bert Lake trail crosses Lost Creek. It was dry when we visited in early August. The trail makes a gradual climb past Center Lake (also dry) to Red Lake Trail. We continued northwesterly on Red Lake Trail and across the Pacific Crest Trail. From the crest, the Red Lake Trail makes a gradual drop to the Blue Canyon Trail that leads past Island Lake. It’s around 1.5 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail, a quarter mile from there to the Blue Canyon Trail and another quarter mile to Island Lake for a total of about 2 miles.
To explore Dee Lake, we continued past Island Lake on the Blue Canyon Trail to a point above the north end of Dee Lake. There we bushwhacked down the hill to the shore of Dee Lake and around the north end of Dee Lake, generally on the shore. Next we crossed over a low ridge, without a trail, to reach the north shore of Island Lake. We bushwhacked around Island Lake until we reached the Red Lake Trail and began our return trip. The loop around the lakes added two or three miles before we got back to the intersection of the Red Lake and Blue Canyon trails.
I calculated the total round trip distance at about 7.5 miles although I did a bit of off-trail exploring that added to my mileage. If you stick to the route shown on the above map, your mileage will be less.
Island Lake is a nice-sized subalpine lake named for the islands located in it. The largest is about one-acre in size. Another tiny island, pictured here, is south of the main island. The Lake is believed to have been named by Judge John Waldo on a tour through the area in 1888. There are trails around the shore of the lake created by anglers trying to catch the elusive brook trout that are occasionally planted there by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
If you happen to be backpacking, there are a few nice camping spots on the banks well above the lake.
Dee Lake is believed to have been named for Dee Wright, a Forest Service packer and crew foreman. The Dee Wright observatory at McKenzie Pass west of Sisters, Oregon is also named for him, since he helped build it as a crew foreman and died, in 1935, the year before it was completed. Wright packed the lumber to the top of Mt McLaughlin for the lookout that was once there. He was also a lookout on Rustler Peak, northwest of here, in 1917.
This lake is also sometimes stocked with brook trout. At the time of our visit, the water was low with a large expanse of rocky beach on the north and northeast side of the lake although there was evidence that the water had been considerably higher earlier in the year.
In 1888 Judge John Waldo and four companions traveled the crest of the Cascades from Waldo Lake near Willamette Pass to Mt. Shasta by horseback. They reached the peak of Mt Shasta on September 26. The trip was a precursor of Waldo’s efforts to create a forest reserve along the length of the Cascades. He was mostly successful when President Grover Cleveland proclaimed the Cascade Forest Reserve in 1893.
While on his journey, Waldo camped on the southeast corner of Island Lake on September 13, 1888. One of his party carved the names of all five party members and the date into a shasta red fir tree near their campsite. The photo below shows the inscription, with a little digital enhancement, so you can try to read it. To see a larger version, just click on the photo. The tree is known as The Waldo Tree and sometimes as The Congressional Tree in reference to Waldo’s efforts to induce Congress to buy into his vision for the Cascade Crest.
My interpretation of the inscription has the first line as “Judge JB Waldo.” The second line starts “Will”, perhaps William Waldo, the Judge’s older brother. The bottom line is “Sept 13, 1888”, but that’s decipherable only based upon an entry in his diary – it looks like it could be “13”, “16” or even “18.” It looks to me that there are three more lines, above the date that I am unable to decipher. They should be the names of the other three members of the party. If you know the names of those men or have a solid interpretation of the inscription, please tell us in a comment below.
For more on Waldo check out this short biography.
This video offers a brief look at Island and Dee Lakes as well as the Waldo Tree. You can see a larger version of the video on our YouTube channel.
The slideshow below offers a look at some of the things seen along the trail.
The text, photos and video were created by Jerry Haugen, Pathfinder, and ©2015 Global Creations LLC. The music on the video is “Free Time” by Digital Juice.