With a depth of 420 feet and an area of almost ten square miles, Waldo Lake is the second largest natural alpine lake in Oregon after Crater Lake. Waldo Lake is classified as non-alkaline and does not support plant growth due to a lack of inlets that provide nutrients to support plant life. This means the water is incredibly clear – signs say you can see an average depth of 100 feet, an experience that is both breathtaking and a little worrying. Motor boats are no longer permitted on Lake Waldo and the DNR has not filled the water with fish for several years (this is not the place for sport fishing, but canoeing, kayaking, swimming, diving and paddling are spectacular and worth planning a road trip around).
Families who want to camp near Lake Waldo have five different options (six if you include the nearby Harralson Horsecamp). I recently made a reservation at Islet Campground on the north side of the lake. The kids secured a spot near the water and braved the cold (but manageable) shoals as I watched their fun from one of the many benches along the Shore Line Trail.
Now the bad news.
Finding a first-class, last-minute camping reserve in the middle of a global pandemic should be the first clue that Lake Waldo might be a little “too good to be true”. When I announced my happiness on social media, my friends offered insect tents, mosquito nets, and suggested that we be in front of the DEET before we arrived. True to my upbringing in the Midwest and beyond accepting help, I mistakenly assumed that our mosquito tolerance in Minnesota had prepared us for the worst that Oregon had to offer.
I was wrong.
It took eight hours before we demolished the camp in record time and drove back to the Willamette Valley. In our defense, our neighbors at the campsite had the same tolerance to being eaten alive while standing in a cloud of smoke around the campfire and carrying a Citronella candle to the annex. We also had a shortage of fresh water available from the campsite gas stations (the water from the lake should be clean enough to drink, but I would still bring filters and / or iodine tablets); the last straw in our decision to leave the camp.
After visiting Lake Waldo in August, it should be noted that the region is easier to manage at the beginning of the forest fire season (and / or in the cooler spring and autumn). Many people come to ride them during this time IMBA EPIC mountain bike trail. When you go, consider mosquito repellants and / or other precautions and be prepared to enjoy one of the most pristine and pure nature experiences in the state of Oregon.
Happy trails until we see each other again!
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