Stark evidence of the 2011 Shadow Lake wildfire is apparent from the outset of the Patjens Lakes loop Trail near Big Lake in the Mount Washington Wilderness. Perhaps this rugged greeting is the explanation for why the trail receives such little attention. Regardless of the reason, those in search of a more isolated Central Oregon wilderness experience and who appreciate the beauty in the forest life cycle might particularly enjoy this day hike.
The Patjens Lakes Trailhead is located on the west side of Big Lake and traverses a loop to the southwest with Mount Washington always looming large to the east. The loop can be hiked in either direction, but counterclockwise would be recommended. For the first 2 miles the trail winds through burned forest before cresting a small ridge. At approximately 2.4 miles, during the descent on the other side of the ridge, the burn scar quickly disappears, giving way to lush green forest. From here to Patjens Lakes the trail will intermittently pass through areas that were clearly ravaged by the blaze, while others remarkably seem completely untouched.
Just a little over 3 miles into the hike the first of Patjens Lakes, which is really more of a small pond, will appear on the right of the trail. In another half mile, a second, larger lake is located on the left, albeit a bit off the trail. The third and fourth lakes, considered by some to be the most scenic, are less than another half mile farther along the trail. None of the lakes are particularly deep, but they can provide a relaxing spot for a break and enough water too cool off.
The trail returning from Patjens Lakes to the south shore of Big Lake covers mostly burned forest in what was once the Hidden Valley. Hikers will arrive at Big Lake in just under 6 miles of total distance. A small beach can be accessed from the trail here, providing a good spot to swim in Big Lake. From this south shore vantage point, Hoodoo Butte and Hayrick Butte rise across the lake.
The remaining mile of the trail traverses the southwest shoreline of Big Lake before passing several campsites and returning to the trailhead. Several terrific views of Mount Washington towering over the lake can be had during this portion of the hike.