Our year of rearranging hikes continued with what was to have been our final overnight trip of the year. Similar to our last planned vacation a cold, moist weather system coming in from British Columbia caused us to rethink the backpacking plans. The forecast for the first day was for rain showers off and on all day and night with temperature dropping to near freezing then turning to snow and rain showers the next day.
In “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide” long distance hiker Andrew Skurka writes “Raining and 35 degrees Fahrenheit is the most challenging combination of conditions that most backpackers ever experience.” We have yet to have the privilege of experiencing those conditions first hand and weren’t about to put that statement to the test now so we decided to do a couple of day hikes instead so we could dry off and warm up each day after hiking.
Since our original plans had included a visit with our Son in Bend after the overnighter we simply headed to Bend a day early where we could stay at Heather’s parents house. On our way over to Bend we stopped at the Winopee Lake Trailhead near Cultus Lake Campground.
With much of the Three Sisters Wilderness still closed due to this year’s wildfires this trail had remained open and offered a chance for us to visit several different lakes which is one of our favorite destinations in the Fall and on rainy days. We didn’t exactly have a plan going into this hike, we knew it was a 10 mile round trip to Muskrat Lake based on an abbreviated description in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” but more lakes lay a little further from the trailhead and the trail ended at the Pacific Crest Trail which made a lollipop loop possible. We weren’t certain how far that lollipop would be so we decided to set a turn around time if we had not yet reached the PCT. It was 8am when we arrived at the trailhead so we set a turn around time of Noon and off we went.
Not far from the trailhead we came to Cultus Lake where we could see everything but the top of Cultus Mountain across the water.
The trail then passed along Cultus Lake but back in the trees away from the lake shore. After almost a mile a side trail led down to a nice beach at the Little Cove Campground, one of three boat-in (or hike-in) sites along the north side of the lake.
Beyond the camp site the trail again veered just a bit away from the lake. Near the far end of the lake the trail climbed slightly to a junction at approximately the 2.5 mile mark.
We stayed to the left on the Winopee Lake Trail and came to a second junction in another quarter of a mile.
Again we followed the pointer for the Winopee Lakes trail, this time forking to the right past a wilderness signboard and permit box and into the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Less than 3/4 mile after entering the wilderness we passed the short side trail to Teddy Lake.
We skipped this half mile side trail and continued on the relatively flat Winopee Trail for another mile to Muskrat Lake.
A unique feature at this lake is an old cabin ruin. The cabin was reportedly built in the 1920’s by a man who attempted to raise muskrats there. The last few years have not been kind to the cabin which as recently as 2012 still looked relatively intact.
The trail followed an unnamed creek beyond Muskrat Lake. This creek flows from Winopee Lake to Muskrat Lake.
Soon we came to another body of water with a bunch of snags.
According to the map on the GPS we were still hiking along the creek but this seemed more like a lake or pond and may have been attached to the irregularly shaped Winopee Lake.
The trail left the water for a bit then passed a small pond that was clearly not part of Winopee Lake.
At the 7 mile mark we arrived at a trail junction with the Snowshoe Lake Trail having never really gotten a look at Winopee Lake.
It was just before 10:30 so we had another hour and a half before our turn around time. We turned up the Snowshoe Lake Trail in case we had to turn back prior to reaching the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail passed several lakes before ending at the PCT while the Winopee Lake Trail was lake-less for the remainer of its length.
In just a quarter of a mile we arrived at the first of these lakes, the trails namesake, Snowshoe Lake.
This was a nice little lake with a couple of campsites. We sat on some rocks above the lake and took a short break before continuing on. Another half mile through the forest brought us to Upper Snowshoe Lake on the left.
The trail spent about half a mile making its way by this lake then passed by the mostly hidden Long Lake. We kept expecting to see a side trail down to that lake but never did. The forest was open enough that it looked like it would have been a fairly straight forward cross country jaunt to the lake if one really wanted to visit it.
Just under a mile beyond Upper Snowshoe Lake we came to Puppy Lake.
This time the trail was close enough to the lake to get some good looks of this pretty little lake.
A quick time checked showed it was still before 11:30 so we kept going arriving at the Pacific Crest Trail, a half mile from Puppy Lake, at 11:40.
Despite off and on drizzle we had stayed relatively dry up to this point. That all changed on the PCT. After turning left on the PCT it took less than 10 minutes for our feet to become soaked. It wasn’t because it started raining harder but rather the presence of huckleberry bushes lining the trail. The colorful leaves made for some great fall color but they were also loaded with moisture.
We traveled south on the PCT for just over a mile to a four-way junction. Here the Elk Creek Trail headed west into the Willamette National Forest. That portion of the Three Sisters Wilderness was still closed due to fire.
We turned west (left) back onto the Winopee Lake Trail.
This section of trail through a drier, more open forest as it gradually descended back to Winopee Lake.
Our first and only real view of the marshy Winopee Lake came after approximately 1.75 miles.
Another quarter of a mile brought us back to the junction with the Snowshoe Lake Trail completing our little loop. We returned the way we’d come that morning. As we passed by Muskrat Lake we spotted a lone paintbrush standing defiantly against the changing seasons.
The cool weather and lack of any significant elevation changes had allowed us to hike at a quicker pace than normal allowing us to complete what wound up being a 20 mile hike in 7 hours and 15 minutes. For a day hike that’s a bit long for many but with the various lakes and access to the Pacific Crest Trail this would be a good backpacking option after mosquito season.
It wound up being a fun day despite the drizzle but we were thankful to get to Heather’s parents house to warm up and dry off before our next outing. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Winopee Lake Trail