Waldo Lake is truly the gem of Oregon's high Cascade Lakes. Its clear, cold water and gorgeous sub-alpine surroundings make it an ideal late summer mountain vacation spot. Local preservationists recently fought off a challenge from float-plane owners and local timber family money to open the lake to combustion motors and float-plane landings. It is fortunate that we still are able to enjoy this high mountain jewel free of their attendant noise and pollution.
One way that many people choose to enjoy Waldo Lake is by riding the Jim Weaver Loop National Recreation Trail, commonly known as Waldo Lake Trail. Although the lake is bounded on three side by wilderness, this classic trail is open to mountain bikers and is considered a must-do trail for visitors to the area. This fact, combined with the short window of opportunity between the end of mosquito season in late August and the first snow (usually late October), means that there are often hordes of riders to contend with on weekends. The preferred direction for the loop is counter-clockwise, starting at North Waldo Campground. This gets you through the shadeless burned area right away and sets up a nice gentle downhill finish to the ride. If you decide to go clockwise, be prepared to deal with passing all the other riders coming the opposite direction.
The trail itself is mostly intermediate, with a few technically challenging rocky sections on the southwestern end of the lake. It is long and strenuous, however, with quite a bit of climbing, almost all of it in short sections. Keep in mind that there is no road access for the roughly 14 miles between North Waldo Campground and Shadow Bay.
For the most part, the lake stays out of view as the trail winds its way through subalpine pine forest. This beautiful monotony is spectacularly broken at a rocky promontory on the northwestern edge of the lake, a gorgeous beach at the southwestern end, and in the stark burned area to the north of the lake, where a light carpet of green is starting to return below thousands of blackened sentinels that stand testament to the fury of the 1996 Charlton Fire.
Waldo Lake Trail is truly a classic Cascade ride, and is worth the trip and the crowds. Stay for a few days and sample some of the other excellent rides in the area such as The Twins, Shadow Bay to Bobby Lake, and Gold Lake Trail, among others. You will be surprised and delighted to have them all to yourself.