Drive along the Cascade Lakes Highway and you’re bound to recognize the names: Sparks, Elk, Hosmer. You’ve heard those names for a reason. They’re among the most beautiful and most popular lakes the region has to offer. With such easy access from the road, however, it’s not really a place you go for solitude.
Fortunately, the region has plenty of other mountain lakes to offer. And if you’re more interested in scenery than paddling a canoe or kayak, you can avoid the crowds by heading to some of the lesser-known lakes in the region.
On Monday afternoon, my wife, Kateryna, and I headed for Doris Lake, an easy, less than 3-mile hike from the road. That’s close enough for a half-day trip, but far enough to keep the crowds at bay. And it’s a pretty nice trail to hike, making the journey just as pleasant as the destination.
We started out from the Six Lakes Trailhead, just past the Elk Lake Resort turnoff on the Cascade Lakes Highway when coming from Bend. (How they decided there were only six lakes along that trail is beyond me.)
The trail has a very mild incline, climbing initially through a thin forest of lodgepole pines. There seemed to be more downed trees than standing ones as the first mile involved crawling over and around trees that had fallen across the trail.
“This is like walking through a giant game of pick-up sticks,” my wife said.
But what you can’t step over can be easily passed off-trail. The trail crosses various streams with well-built footbridges. After a mile, we came to Blow Lake. A number of side trails lead to its shores.
But here’s the real downside of all those mountain lakes: Where there’s plenty of water, there are plenty of mosquitoes. Luckily, my wife had reminded me to bring along some “bug juice.” It took three separate applications to ward off the voracious skeeters. Don’t even think of heading there unprotected.
Blow Lake, although scenic, was not our destination, so we hiked on. The trail continues through thicker, greener forest, with a lot fewer downed trees. It’s another mile and a half to Doris Lake over easy terrain.
Once you see the blue-green waters of the lake through the trees, you can find any number of side trails to the shore. The area is reserved for day-use only, but there are a number of lovely spots for a lunch or just taking in the scenery.
Head out onto some of the finger-like promontories that are surrounded by water on three sides. A big rocky butte on the far shore dominates the view.
The water here is crystal clear, inviting a swim. My wife, an avid canoer, longed for a boat. (She suggested later that perhaps I could portage our canoe in next time.)
If you have more time and energy, you can visit plenty more lakes from there. Senoj Lake is a mile and a half farther, while Cliff Lake, at the 7-mile mark, makes for a more strenuous day trip. You can head farther to Porky Lake or Mink Lake (8.5 miles), but they are probably better options for an overnight backpacking trip.
After enjoying a snack and a cool drink, we snapped some pictures and reapplied the bug juice. We headed back along the trail, navigating the same downed trees on the way back.
On the return, there are great views of Mount Bachelor, South Sister and Broken Top through the trees. We read that the trail is a popular horse route. But on this afternoon, we saw nobody.
We had Doris Lake and the trail to ourselves.
If you go
Getting there: From Bend, take Cascades Lakes Highway about 34 miles, about two miles past the Elk Lake Resort turnoff; turn right at a trailhead sign; park at the end of the turnabout at the Six Lakes Trailhead.
Difficulty: Easy. Currently, downed trees provide some additional challenge.
Cost: Northwest Forest parking pass required; free wilderness permit available at trailhead.
Contact: Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, 541-383-4000