Camp Lake from Pole Creek Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Pole Creek Trailhead
- Ending Point: Pole Creek Trailhead
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Distance: 13.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 2250 feet
- High Point: 6980 feet
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Seasons: Summer and early fall
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: Yes
- Crowded: at some places
Camp Lake is a very scenic alpine lake between the South Sister and the Middle Sister in central Oregon. There are a few stunted trees. Great views of the South and Middle Sisters and the area around Sisters and Bend in the distance. There is a wonderful area above the lake for off trail wandering. You could go a long ways up the South Sister and all the way up the Middle Sister.
This area is popular, but not as much as some of the other areas in the Three Sisters wilderness, such as the Obsidian area or the Green Lakes area. It's a little further away from Portland than areas like the Obsidian area but somewhat closer than the Green Lakes or the south side of the mountains.
If the weather is bad, this is probably not the best option. You're so high on the mountain and there is little shelter from the wind - maybe they should call it Windy Lake. You are on the eastern side of the mountain (barely) so sometimes it's cloudy and rainy on the west side but dry here.
Camp Lake is one of the Chambers Lakes. There are two large lakes on the west side and several smaller lakes above that area reachable by easy hikes.
A possible extension to this hike is to continue to the pass between the South and Middle Sister, and then continue on the primitive trail to the Pacific Crest Trail on the other side. This adds about 3 miles. There's about a mile where the trail is very faint and requires some trail finding skills. There is snow at places until about the end of August.
Another possibilty is the shortcut between Camp Lake and the Pass above Green Lakes Camp Lake to Green Lakes Pass Off Trail.
Start the hike at the Pole Creek Trailhead at 5300 feet elevation. There is a large parking area, probably with many cars parked. There is an outhouse, picnic table, and garbage.
The trail (Pole Creek Trail #4072) takes off south from the trailhead. There is immediately a self-service registration station. In a short distance you enter the wilderness. The trail is broad and dusty and frequented by horses. The trail goes gradually up.
At mile 1.4, 5900 feet elevation, is the junction with the Green Lakes Trail. This is part of the Trail around Three Sisters Hike. We want to go left (south).
At mile 2.0, 5760 feet, is the junction with the Camp Lake Trail #4074. There is a nice stream (Soap Creek) for drinking water and a number of nice places to camp. Expect to see some other campers here. We want to go right (west) on the Camp Lake Trail.
The Camp Lake Trail is a good trail. It gradually gains elevation. It's fairly busy so expect to see some other hikers (or horses or llamas). The area is sparsely treed with many good camping places if there were too many people at the Green Lakes Trail. At mile 3.9 is a stream (a fork of Squaw Creek).
At mile 4.5, 6430 feet, is the junction with the Demaris Lake Trail. There's a stream (another fork of Squaw Creek, which is rather silty, the outflow of the Diller Glacier) just before the junction. It's about a mile down to the lake at 6300 feet. I've never been there but there's supposed to be camping there.
Above here the views to the South and Middle Sisters really open up. There are a few patches of trees with lots of rocky meadow slopes. Very nice alpine area.
Just before Camp Lake is a sign saying no fires allowed. There are so few trees in the area that if people made fires it would burn up the scraps of wood laying around that are part of the alpine feel.
At mile 6.7, 6980 feet, is Camp Lake. Again, very pretty. You can get drinking water from the lake. There are many good camp spots in all directions from the lake. Expect to see some other campers. If the weather is bad it can be very windy, so you might want to try to find a more sheltered spot.
This is the official end of this hike - go back the way you came, but there are many possible extensions from here.
The terrain isn't that steep so you can wander north, west, or south from the lake. There are a couple other major lakes (in the Chambers Lakes chain) to the south within about a mile and 1000 feet of elevation gain. Expect to see patches of snow here all summer. You could spend two nights at Camp Lake and spend the in-between day just wandering around.
The trail unofficially continues on the north side of Camp Lake and up a ridge to the west. Expect to see snow here all season. It's somewhat steep which may put off some hikers. There will probably be steps kicked in the snow which makes it easier.
At mile 7.5 (from Pole Creek Trailhead) you reach the high point at 7400 feet elevation. To the left is a faint trail going up the South Sister. There are some imposing cliffs towards the top so it would be difficult to summit. To the right is a faint trail going up the Middle Sister. This is more of a walk-up all the way to the top. The last bit may be too difficult for many people.
The trail continues over the pass to the two large Chamber Lakes. The trail goes to the left (south) of the lakes. Expect to see snow fields until the end of August, but it's not real steep.
These two lakes have very large moraines at the far end. They're about 75 feet high. There is no outlet stream from the two lakes, the outlet flow is underground. You could find somewhere to camp around here, but the area is so pristine I would be afraid to spoil it.
When the "trail" gets to the lower of the two lakes, it peters out to nothing. Just go down to the lake and walk along the left (south) shore. At the end of the lake, go to the left (southwest), possibly on a faint trail or possibly on a snowfield. There's about a mile of "trail" that is very faint or non-existent.
About 1/4 mile past the lower lake, the trail becomes more visible again. It follows along the bottom of a valley. There are some fairly steep downhill spots. It would be difficult if you weren't on the trail.
About 1/2 mile past the lower lake, the trail gets down to a gradually sloping meadow area. The trail follows a small stream (Separation Creek). This stream is somewhat silty and can dry up in September.
At mile 9.9 (from Pole Creek Trailhead) 6430 feet elevation is the Pacific Crest-Camp Lake Trail Junction. The junction is between Separation Creek and Reese Lake which is east of the PCT. There are some campsites around Reese Lake and the best drinking water is from the lake. The lake is big enough to provide good water, even at the end of the summer.
If you're going up to the Chambers Lakes from the PCT, it's a little difficult to find the trail. The trail is obvious, but unmarked. If you can't find the trail, just go along Separation Creek a short distance and then you will easily be able to find the trail, which starts out on the north side of the creek, then follows the creek for about a mile on the south side. Or, if you can find Reese Lake, the trail goes just South of it.
To return to the Pole Creek Trailhead, you could go back the way you came, or you could make a loop by going either direction on the PCT - see the Trail around Three Sisters Hike. Either way, it's about 22 miles back to the Pole Creek Trail and another 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.
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