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Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Steens Mountain Trip report

Steens Mountain Summit – 08/18/2021

On Tuesday a change in the weather had pushed much of the smoke away from Steens Mountain which is what we had hopped would happen in anticipation for our drive up the Steens Mountain Loop Road on Wednesday. The shift in weather also brought cooler temperatures which had made the previous days hike at Big Indian Gorge one of the more comfortable (temperature wise) of the year thus far. We once again got an early start hoping to reach the first of four planned stops around 6am and immediately realized that it was a lot cooler than it had been Monday or Tuesday. In fact the car was showing 39 degrees when we set off. Since the Steens Mountain Resort where we were staying was located along the Steens Mountain Loop Road we simply left the resort and turned right driving past the entrance to the Page Springs Campground and gradually climbing up the fault block Steens Mountain. By the time we arrived at the left turn for our first stop the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint 19.1 miles beyond the Page Springs Campground the temperature was down to 30 degrees. Luckily we try and come prepared so we had jackets, Buffs, and gloves although in hindsight we could have been a little more prepared. There was a decent breeze which made it feel a lot colder than 30 degrees.
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The Kiger Gorge is one of 5 glacier carved valleys on Steens Mountain and is the largest and most scenic. We were fortunate to arrive just before some clouds moved in.
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IMG_2689Still some smoke to the east as shown by the red Sun.

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IMG_2699Here come the clouds.

With the clouds moving in we hustled back to the car and continued on the loop road another 2.7 miles to a four-way junction where we turned left at a pointer for the East Rim Viewpoint where the clouds had not yet reached.
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IMG_2717Between the Sun and haze it was hard to see much of the ragged eastern side of Steens Mountain or the Alvord Desert (post) below.

IMG_2713Frozen thistle

IMG_2718The Alvord Desert through the haze.

IMG_2716A look back at the parking area.

After checking out this view we returned to the 4-way junction and turned left at a pointer for Wildhorse Lake following this road for almost two miles to a parking area below the 9741′ summit of Steens Mountain. A gated road led uphill the final half mile to some towers on the summit.
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IMG_2731Wildhorse Lake below the summit.

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IMG_2734The rocks here provided a little protection from the freezing wind.

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IMG_2743Big Indian Gorge (post) from the summit.

IMG_2747Heather getting a closer look at Wildhorse Lake.

IMG_2752Not much snow left up here.

After checking out the summit we walked back down past the gate and turned left at a post on a trail heading downhill to a registration box.
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The trail split here with the left hand fork heading downhill for a mile to Wildhorse Lake. The tread was a little dicey near the top but soon became better as it switchbacked down to a small bench before steepening quite a bit along a small stream.
IMG_2772Typical tread near the top.

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IMG_2782The bench.

IMG_2786The small stream.

IMG_2788A wren.

IMG_2791Wildhorse Lake from near the end of the bench.

IMG_2792We were a little disappointed to see just how late we were for most all of the wildflowers. I don’t know how much the drought this year affected the timing or if it blooms that much earlier in SE Oregon but the remains of what looked to have been an excellent display were all we were left with.

IMG_2793A few stone steps began the steep descent along the stream.

IMG_2796A few of these little yellow flowers were still in bloom.

IMG_2799This was a mass of pink monkeyflower a few weeks ago.

IMG_2801A look up at the summit.

IMG_2803The trail descending less steeply to the lake.

IMG_2815A lone lupine blooming near the lake.

IMG_2821A pair of paintbrush and the remainder of some aster or fleabane.

IMG_2822A ground squirrel near the lake.

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We rested for a bit by the lake where there was thankfully not much of a breeze and then explored along the shore.
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DSCN0790The only pink monkeyflower blossom we spotted.

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IMG_2853Ranger buttons

IMG_2854Mountain coyote mint

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IMG_2831Cascade grass-of-parnassus

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IMG_2868Gentians

IMG_2870Wildhorse Creek

IMG_2873Looking down along Wildhorse Creek.

20210818_084407Wildhorse Lake and Steens Summit.

After checking out the lake we started back up the trail as a few more clouds began to move in.
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IMG_2933Raptors soaring above Steens Mountain.

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When we had both reached the registration box we took the other trail fork downhill. Sullivan shows this unofficial trail leading to a pass above Little Wildhorse Lake after in a mile but mentions having to use your hands in an update on his website Oregonhiking.com but that “adventurous hikers should have no trouble”.

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IMG_2959Big Indian Gorge

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IMG_2965The summit from the unofficial trail.

IMG_2966The trail on the ridge.

IMG_2967Looking ahead at the ridge the rocky outcrop looked a bit intimidating.

IMG_2968The view out over Big Indian Gorge.

IMG_2970Wildhorse Lake

After a small saddle the trail came to the final rock fin along the ridge and I followed some clear tread along the left side of the outcrop.
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In hindsight the correct route was probably up onto the top of the ridge and the right hand side was a very steep loose rocky slope because the path I was following just ended at a small slide.
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IMG_2975I turned back here, I’m not that adventurous.

I retraced my steps and met Heather at the small saddle. She was not liking this little trail and at that point neither was I. Between the cold, incoming clouds, and steady breeze we decided we’d seen enough and retreated back to the trailhead.
IMG_2990Darker clouds over the summit from the trailhead.

IMG_2991A little better view of the Alvord Desert.

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51394274589_2328a93b39_c.jpg&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_2994">Here comes the cloud.

IMG_2995The view as we prepared to drive off.

Our hike here came to a little over 6 miles with approximately 1400′ of elevation gain.

Track for Steens Summit

We drove back the way we’d come instead of completing the loop. Two reasons, the final downhill stretch to South Steens Campground was reportedly rough and recommended for 4×4 high clearance vehicles (In fact the folks at the resort recommended going counter-clockwise and driving up from that side if we were going to drive the loop) and we had a low tire pressure light on. It had come on when we’d driven over a cattle guard that morning which we were hoping was simply due to the cold temperatures but we didn’t want to try driving a rougher road in case. Going back the way we’d come would also gave us an opportunity to stop at the viewpoints again if the conditions looked better. The East Rim Viewpoint was in the middle of the clouds though so we drove on by but did detour to the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint again.
IMG_2996We did stop along the way to take a couple of photos.

IMG_2997Our planned hike for the next day was up this gorge.

The view was a little better and a little warmer at Kiger Gorge.
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We made one final stop on the way back to the resort by pulling into Fish Lake (5.7 miles from the turn for the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint). There is no hike here but we wanted to see the lake.
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The tire pressure light was still on when we got back to the resort so after showering we made the hour plus drive north into Burns to visit Les Schwab. Ironically we had had to stop in this same Les Schwab the last time we were in the Steens area due to a low tire pressure light in our Rav 4. That turned out to be a nail stuck in the tire but this time it was simply a low reading in the right rear tire. They made sure there was nothing stuck in it and that it wasn’t leaking and they had us back on our way in no time. We really appreciate the service we get from every Les Schwab we visit. It was a nice evening at the resort and the clouds made for a dramatic setting Sun.
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DSCN0804The historic Frenchglen Hotel zoomed in on from the resort.

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This was our final night here and we’d be leaving early the next morning to hike along the Little Blitzen River before driving on to Fields (and getting milkshakes). Happy Trail!

Flickr: Steens Summit

Categories
Hiking McKenzie River Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Hackleman Grove, Echo Basin and Fish Lake – 6/19/2020

Our vacation week had a theme going, multiple stop days, and we continued that on Friday with a three stop day to check off another of Sullivan’s featured hikes – Echo Basin. Actually the hike was no longer one of Sullivan’s 100 featured hikes in the most recent edition of his Central Oregon Cascades guidebook, but it was a featured hike in the 4th edition which is the one that we are using in our attempt to hike all of his featured hikes (post).

We began our day by stopping at the Hackleman Old Growth Grove Trail for a short 1 mile loop. The convenient trailhead is right off of Highway 20 near milepost 67. There is also a loop option that is marked as wheelchair friendly although on our visit there were a number of downed trees that said otherwise.
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The wide trail led into the forest and quickly split.
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We stayed right here and soon encountered our first downed trees.
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The trail descended a bit toward Hackleman Creek to a junction where two trails joined from the left. The first was the wheelchair accessible continuation and the second was not.
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IMG_6580The wheelchair friendly path.

IMG_6581The hiker path.

It was at this point that we realized that we probably shouldn’t have stayed right at the first junction. As we turned onto the hiker path we began seeing numbered posts for an interpretive trail. (There were no brochures or anything to tell us what the numbers represented.)
IMG_6582The hiker trail.

A short side path took us to the bank of Hackleman Creek.
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IMG_6606Mushrooms on a log.

We met back up with the middle trail at another signpost and could see more numbered posts down that trail which reinforced the idea that we should have taken the middle trail and returned on the hiker trail (based on the numbers of the posts we passed).
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In any event it was a nice little hike and a good leg stretcher/warm up for our next stop at Echo Basin.

The Echo Basin Trailhead was 2 miles up Forest Road 055 which was just .3 miles east of the Hackleman Grove Trailhead. There was a fairly deep channel in the road a tenth of a mile or so from the actual trailhead that could prove difficult for lower clearance vehicles (we saw one car parked at a pullout just before it on our drive out).
IMG_6608Echo Basin Trail at FR 055.

This hike is a lollipop climbing an old logging road for a half mile then starting the loop at the .7 mile mark at a foot bridge over Echo Creek.
IMG_6618Rocky start to the trail.

IMG_6622Trillium

Just before the start of the loop we arrived at a green meadow that wasn’t very far along with most of the plants still early in their growth cycle.
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We worried that we had come too early for the wildflowers higher in the basin.
IMG_6650More trillium along the meadow.

IMG_6653Swallowtail on salmonberry blossoms.

IMG_6658Start of the loop.

We crossed the creek and spotted a rabbit hiding in the brush.
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The trail climbed and entered the start of the meadow that fills Echo Basin.
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IMG_6676Orange tip butterfly

We were starting to see a few more flowers as we began to get into the meadow.
IMG_6684Bleeding heart

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IMG_6689Fairybells

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The further into the meadow that we got the wetter the ground became. Near the first of a series of short boardwalks there was a great display of shooting stars and buttercups.
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There were also a number of elephants head beginning to bloom.
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The boardwalks helped a bit but in between the gaps the ground was muddy and wet. A perfect mixture for frogs.
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IMG_6751Paintbrush

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IMG_6766Looking back at the route through the meadow.

We left the meadow and dropped down to the footbridge to complete the loop then returned to the car. We passed a few hikers on their way up to the basin and these would be the only people we would encounter all day.

From the Echo Basin Trailhead we returned to Highway 20 and continued east 2.2 miles to Hackleman Creek Road (FR 2672) on the right for our third stop of the day along the Old Santiam Wagon Road. The wagon road crosses FR 2672 about a hundred feet from the highway and there is an unmarked trailhead down a short dirt road on the left.
IMG_6777The trailhead off of FR 2672.

There was an amazing patch of coral root at the trailhead.
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We walked past a green gate and found a post indicating that this was the Old Santiam Wagon Road.
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This was a deviation for Sullivan’s hike description as he would have you start at the Fish Lake Day Use Area but the entrance to the day use area remains gated due to COVID-19. From this trailhead we could follow the wagon road 2.2 miles to the Pioneer Grave and Fish Lake. There wasn’t a lot to see along the way, a few scattered flowers was about it. The road was in fairly good shape with a few downed trees near the beginning but as we got closer to Fish Lake it was obvious that there had been some clearing done.
IMG_6788Iris

IMG_6799Beargrass

IMG_6816Santiam Wagon Road

IMG_6811Bunchberry

Musk monkeyflowerMusk monkeyflower

We stopped at the grave site where there is a semi-obstructed view of the Three Sisters.
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Just beyond the grave site is the Fish Lake Remount Station which served as the headquarters of the Santiam National Forest in the 1910’s. Two cabins are available for reservations in Winter. We were not entirely sure of the status of the area as I mentioned before the Forest Service website mentioned that the Day Use are gate was still closed, but the Day Use Area was .4 miles from the grave site and there were no signs indicating that the remount station was off-limits. We followed the wagon road through the station but avoided using or touching any facilities.
IMG_6832Hall House

IMG_6838Commissary Cabin

IMG_6839Commissary Cabin innkeeper?

IMG_6841More from the remount station

Fish Lake dries up annually leaving a meadow but there was a good amount of water present and we spotted a couple of kayaks or paddle boards across the water.
IMG_6867Browder Ridge (post) looming above Fish Lake.

IMG_6844Interpretive signs for the remount station.

An old lava field sits between the station and the day use area which we walked through until we could see the day use area (where there was at least one car and no gate, curious.
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We returned the way we’d come for a 5.2 mile out-and-back giving us a grand total of 8.6 miles for the day (1.1 at Hackleman Grove and 2.1 at Echo Basin). Despite the hikes being very close to one another they each had a different feel making for a fun and interesting day. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Hackleman Grove, Echo Basin, and Fish Lake

Categories
High Cascades Hiking Oregon Sky Lakes/Mountain Lakes Area Trip report

Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods

Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend was the only day of the four where the forecast in the Cascade Mountains looked promising so on that morning we headed west from Klamath Falls on Highway 140 to visit a pair of lakes near Mt. McLoughlin.

The skies over Klamtah were pretty much clear as was the case for most of the drive, but as we crossed over the Cascade Crest we found ourselves in a fog bank. We turned off the highway at sign for the North Fork Campground between mileposts 28 and 29. We parked at a small trailhead parking area a half mile down this road on the left.

It was a chilly morning in the fog as we set off on the Fish Lake Trail, but it wasn’t raining.
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The trail began by passing through a nice fir forest with occasional views of North Fork Little Butte Creek.
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After .6 miles we came to a signed spur trail which we followed 100 yards to the Fish Lake Dam.
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For the better part of the next mile the Fish Lake Trail veered away from the water as it curved around some private summer homes.
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When the trail did make it to the lake there wasn’t much to see due to the fog.
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The trail stuck closer to the lake shore for the next .8 miles before arriving at Doe Point and the Doe Point Campground. As we made our way around Doe Point the fog began to lift revealing some of the blue sky we had seen on our morning drive.
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A quarter mile after rounding Doe Point we arrived at the Fish Lake Campground and boat ramp where a variety of woodland animals were busy harvesting chinkapin.
IMG_4068Stellar’s jay

IMG_4069Chipmunk

IMG_4072Golden-mantled ground squirrel

Our guidebook suggested turning around at the Fish Lake Resort, but we wound up losing the trail near the picnic shelter and decided not to try and walk through the campground to find the continuation of the trail and turned around.
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It was a different hike on the way back as the fog had entirely lifted from the lake and was breaking up overhead.
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By the time we were hiking back along the creek the sky was a beautiful blue.
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Typically having a hike only clear up near the end is a bit of a bummer, but we had another hike to go and with the clear skies we knew we should have a good view of Mt. McLoughlin from Lake of the Woods.

From the Fish Lake Trailhead we drove back east on Highway 140 to a sign for Fish Lake. We turned right at the sign and followed this road for a mile and a half to the Dead Indian Memorial Highway where we turned right again. The suggested starting point for this hike in our guidebook was at the Sunset Campground which was a mile down this highway. When we arrived at the entrance road we found it was gated so we turned around and wound up parking at the Rainbow Bay Picnic Area near the Lake of the Woods Resort after obtaining a $6 parking pass.
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From the parking lot we headed SE along the lake shore around Rainbow Bay where some ducks were enjoying the wonderful weather.
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The first mountain to come into view was Brown Mountain across the lake.
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Shortly after rounding the bay we arrived at the Sunset Campground where we did indeed have a nice view of Mt. McLoughlin. The mountain was sporting a dusting of new snow at its summit.
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We could picture the route up to the summit that we’d taken a couple of years before (post).
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Satisfied with our view we turned around and headed back toward the Rainbow Bay parking area. We weren’t done hiking though and we veered behind the parking lot on the Sunset Trail toward the Aspen Point Campground.
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At a three way junction we turned right onto the Family Trail Loop.
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The Family Trail Loop crossed the paved road we’d been on earlier after a tenth of a mile.
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Just after crossing the road the Mountain Lakes Trail split off to the right while we stayed left.
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Several interpretive signs were set up along this trail.
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We stayed left ignoring a tie trail that would have looped us back to the Mountian Lakes Trail junction and arrived at the Great Meadow .6 miles from the road crossing.
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At a junction with the High Lakes Trail at the Great Meadow we turned left skirting the meadow in the forest for .7 miles to another road crossing across from the Aspen Point Campground.
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At a junction on the other side of the road we went right keeping on the High Lakes Trail which led around Lake of the Woods to the NW. This section of trail passed some golden aspen trees and a leaf covered slough where ducks, geese, and a heron were spending their Sunday.
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We followed this trail past an old Forest Service complex and planned on turning around at the guidebooks suggested location, a small canoe launch.
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The canoe launch wasn’t much, but there was a nice view of some of the peaks in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (post) across the water.
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A solitary duck was swimming around in the launch and it apparently expected us to have some food because she came right up to us.
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We did our best to explain that we don’t feed the wild animals and she waddled back to the water. At that point Heather asked about something on a plank in the water that I had originally thought was another duck but then decided it was just a rock set on the wood. She had taken it for something inanimate as well but then thought she saw it move. Upon closer inspection we discovered that it was a muskrat (initially we thought nutria but it was cuter than that invasive species).
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It wasn’t particularly concerned by us but eventually it disappeared into the water. Then a dragon fly showed up and hovered over the water just below me.
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After our unique little interaction with nature it was time to start back. We returned to the Aspen Point Campground and followed paths near the lake shore back to the Lake of The Woods Resort.
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Our hike here was 6.3 miles long while the hike at Fish Lake had been 7 miles giving us a nice 13.3 mile day. After the cold, foggy start the day had turned out beautiful. We would be heading home the next morning (with a stop along the way of course) and this was a perfect way to end our time in the Klamath Falls area. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods