Hiking the Clear Lake Trail is an incredible way to experience this unique Cascade lake. Leaving from the Clear Lake Resort trailhead, a counter-clockwise walk around the lake provides views of Three-Fingered Jack, the McKenzie River Headwaters, the Sand Mountain Lava Flow that created the lake, the springs that feed the river, and a surreally perfect image of the Three Sisters perfectly framed in the lake’s waist. Add to this the constant presence of clear, sapphire water and the ghostly, underwater figures of a forest long submerged, and you’ve found one of the best walks in the Cascade foothills.
The trail itself is mostly level and easy. The loop’s west side winds through a thick forest of Douglas fir and cedar, while the east side makes its way through an exposed lava field that gets quite warm in the summer. The entire loop is longer than it looks due in part to the lake’s narrow waist; moving counter-clockwise, you may have the sense that you are returning to the trailhead only find that the trail swerves away to circumvent the remaining portion of the lake. This northern portion is remarkable as well, however, for this is where the springs enter the lake and where you can find the best view of the Three Sisters.
If you visit when the trail is clear, you may be sharing the trail with mountain bikers, most of whom seem to prefer riding clockwise. This isn’t an issue, of course, so long as everyone remains courteous and alert.
Coldwater Cove is an excellent campground that is right on the trail. This trail also connects to the McKenzie River Trail, which leads downstream to Sahalie and Koosah Falls and Tamolich Pool; alternately hike north to Fish Lake for an introduction to some of the human history in the area.
And keep in mind that this trail is also beautiful in the winter!