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Tyson Gillard | 07.24.2014

Waldo Lake is the nation's shining example of an ultraoligotrophic high-mountain lake. Say what? Ultraoligotrophic. Essentially, Waldo Lake has extremely clear and pure waters because its watershed is so small (roughly twice the area of the lake) and clean; the healthy forest delivers relatively few organic materials or nutrients. In fact, the waters of Waldo Lake are so clear it that they set the world-record for depth of visibility at 157 feet. The unique clarity of the water has been helped by a 2010 ban on gas motored boats, helping to ensure the lake's pristine future.

At 420 feet deep, the lake also happens to be Oregon's second deepest... a distant second to Crater Lake (1,943 feet deep). The size and purity of the lake has luckily, but only narrowly, escaped development. In 1908 the Waldo Lake Irrigation and Power Company was created with the vision of turning the lake into a reservoir for agricultural needs in the Willamette Valley. A 500-foot tunnel along the lake's southwestern shore was permitted through the Forest Service and constructed with the potential to drain as much as 25 vertical feet of water out of the lake's natural basin. Fortunately, the project's financial and logistical problems closed the business in 1914. It wasn't until 1960 that the head-gates of the tunnel were finally sealed.

So, while making your visit, you won't have any problem keeping yourself busy with these epic adventures:

  1. PADDLE THE LAKE: Beyond the statistics and history, Waldo Lake is an enchanting body of water to explore by boat. Head out from North Waldo Campground to explore the lake's shallow opal waters and the numerous rocky islands that lay off its northern shore, several of which afford the opportunity for an overnight stay (sorry, campfires on the islands are prohibited). Further, if you're up for a longer paddle, head out from Shadow Bay Campground to Rhododendron Island, a popular backcountry camping spot where you might avoid the camping crowds on the lake's eastern shore.
  2. SWIM AT NORTH CAMPGROUND: With a floating dock, confined waters, and incredible views there is perhaps no better place to take a dip! Beware however, as the waters can be quite cold.
  3. WALDO + RIGDON LAKES HIKE: This 8-mile hike explores the lake's northern shore, and the Charlton fire which swept through the area in 1996. Consider camping out at Dam Camp Park or even extending your hike to the Waldo Mountain Lookout Tower.
  4. MOUNTAIN BIKE WALDO LAKE LOOP TRAIL: Mountain bike around the entire lake on this classic 21-mile loop trail.
  5. SHADOW BAY TO BOBBY LAKE: Mountain bike this relatively easy 10.2-mile out-and-back trail to explore the lake's southern area.
  6. MOUNTAIN BIKE THE GOLD LAKE TRAIL: This short 7.4-mile trail will allow you to make a slight climb so you can rip through a dense forest of fir on your way back down.
  7. SALT CREEK FALLS: With no hike necessary you can explore Oregon's third tallest waterfall at an impressive 286 feet tall.
  8. DIAMOND CREEK FALLS: Extend your adventure from Salt Creek Falls to make the easy hike down to 120-foot Diamond Creek Falls.
  9. DIAMOND PEAK HIKE: Save your energy for one of the best hikes in the state by climbing 3,200 feet to the summit of nearby Diamond Peak. From the 8,743 summit of this heavily eroded volcano you'll have 360-degree views of the rest of Oregon's cascades, including Mount Hood 130 miles to the north.
  10. CRESCENT LAKE RESORT: Bring your trip to an end by hitting up the Crescent Lake Resort and enjoy a beer and some delicious grub on their massive waterfront patio.

Finally, it must be said that Waldo Lake is nearly as famous for mosquitos as it is for its pure waters, so don't forget to bring insect repellant. It also doesn't hurt to avoid the hatches of early summer. So if you can wait until August and September for your summer visit, you'll be glad you did.

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