A common misconception people have is that the Whitewater Trail’s (#3429) sole purpose is for access to Jefferson Park. While that is, of course, the most popular final destination, this trail has ample beauty to justify being worth the trip on its own.
Your journey starts off with the signing of your free wilderness permit at the trailhead. This is an important detail to aid potential rescuers in the event of an emergency. Follow the rules, sign one of these, be as detailed about your trip plans as possible.
The trail begins to gain elevation quickly from the parking area, and much of your 1,800 feet of climbing is completed in the first three miles of trail. This will feel like a blessing to some and a curse to others. Several switchbacks keep the grade manageable as you climb through old-growth forest. At 1.5 miles from the trailhead, turn right at the junction with Triangulation Trail (#3373), which leads to Triangulation Peak.
Around 2 miles from the trailhead you will emerge on the ridge and be delighted with your first views of Mount Jefferson. As you continue to climb, the forest gives way to a more rocky terrain. Exposure can be severe in places, so mind your step and your pets (this trail is a favorite of hikers with dogs).
At four miles from the trailhead you will reach an unaided crossing of Whitewater Creek. Summer and fall water levels are typically low enough to allow you to scramble across boulders without issue. Depending on the time of year the water may appear to be milky from the glacier melt taking place.
The trail joins the Pacific Crest Trail just 0.3 miles later, and from there an easy final mile puts you in the middle of Jefferson Park. Keep left at the PCT, which crosses one or two small creeks and a couple of small meadows. Soon you'll break out of the forest and the trail will level as you enter Jefferson Park.
Backcountry camping within 250 feet of Jefferson Park’s lakes is only permitted at signed, designated campsites. Thirty sites around five lakes are available, and reservations are required between Memorial Day and October 1; these can be made at recreation.gov starting May 1. You may camp in a pre-existing campsite outside of the 250-foot designated area if all campsites are reserved. These sites are almost all located to the east of the PCT as it runs through Jefferson Park and the standard fee is still required.