High on the western slopes of the Oregon Cascades, picturesque Waldo Lake is one of the largest, purest natural lakes in the world (9.8 square miles with a maximum depth of 427 feet).
With no permanent inlet to funnel nutrients into the lake for plant growth, there are few fish and very little plant life. Waldo is fed by precipitation and by underground springs whose naturally filtered water results in a crystal-clear, nearly sterile lake. Due to the small volume of water that enters the lake each year, water is retained for an average of thirty-two years before it flows through the lake’s outlet. Due to the lack of nutrients, the lake supports few fish, and only two species of plants (both mosses) can be found on the lake’s floor. Although our friend’s legs were nibbled by a little fish he thought was a salmon, and we did see a few frogs and toads.
On a calm day visibility is amazing, a depth of 457 feet was measured which is a world record. The depth refracts only the blue color spectrum and the result is breathtaking sitting in a kayak looking down into the water.
Waldo lake is one of these special places we like to make at least one trip a year to. The campground provides water, excellent and clean propane enhanced compost toilets and is a paddler’s paradise; no motorized craft are allowed. In the morning the kayaks and canoes head out to come back early afternoon when the sail boats head out for the afternoon wind.
We prefer camping at North Waldo where the sites are larger than surrounding campgrounds and it tends to be quiet. Although taking the MOAB with an Explorer Box brings many fellow campers to ‘take a look’. Notice the chipmunk?
There are three points of interest we like to paddle to and explorer, the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.
Over at Klovdahl Bay, there is a 1914 tunnel project that ran out of money before it could siphon 25 feet of water off the lake for downstream irrigation. It is errie to paddle over and look down at the tunnel entrance underwater. Also on the west end of the lake is Rhododendron island – we’ve never seen it in bloom, but the entire island is covered with the plants.
From the south end of the lake there are views of South Sister and Mount Bachelor. From the north end of the lake there are views of Diamond peak.
Sunsets are magnificent at the lake.
It is always bittersweet to leave this place, but it closes in early October and opens for snowmobiling.
Getting There: Waldo Lake is about 31 miles east of Oakridge and 70 miles from the Eugene. It is at an elevation of 5,414 feet in the Oregon Cascades. To reach Waldo Lake from I-5, travel east on Highway 58 about 60 miles to the Waldo lake / Forest road 5897 turnoff. Proceed north, eight miles to the south end of the lake, or 14 miles to the northern reaches of the lake.