Waldo Lake, Oregon was not our first choice for a honeymoon destination. Nat and I originally had our sights set for Sky Lakes, Oregon, but nearby wildfires caused us to change our plans. Waldo Lake was one of the few places without imminent danger, though we still encountered smoke.
August 26 came and went. We exchanged vows and made our promises in front of family and friends. Many relatives and friends spent countless hours prepping flowers and decorations. We could not have done it without them! I won’t lie – it was an exhausting day – but truly wonderful as well.
That night Nat and I slept at home and then took off the next morning for our honeymoon. Our plan was to backpack around Waldo Lake for 3 nights, tour the Oregon caves, and enjoy several cabins. Very outdoorsy – perfect!
Waldo Lake | Day 1 | Sunday
Total: ~ 5.9 miles
We arrived at North Waldo Campground around 10:45am on Sunday, August 27 (it was a 2.5 hour drive south from Mt. Angel). We decided to start the Jim Weaver Loop Trail at this campground and then travel counterclockwise around Waldo Lake. That way we would hike through the burned area first on the northern side of the lake.
The Jim Weaver Loop Trail travels all the way around the lake. Nat printed off a map of Waldo Lake Wilderness from Wilderness.net. (For a more detailed look click on “Topo” under “Basemaps” when viewing this map.) I highly recommend you bring along a map, whichever one you choose. A quick search will bring up many good ones.
The burned portion of the lake was still very beautiful. We saw wildflowers, stubby trees, and murky ponds that were slowly evaporating away. The sky was clear and a gorgeous blue color – something we hadn’t seen in a long time with all of the wildfire smoke.
After about 3 miles we finally hit the forest. The tall trees provided much-needed shade after our trek through the exposed burned area. (Don’t forget sunscreen!) We then hiked around a backwater and soon after came upon the headwaters of the Willamette River where we stopped for lunch.
You can see the burned area once you go around the first curve. It makes you realize how massive this fire must have been.
Nat discovered a sweet campsite on a small peninsula hidden from the trail. You have to venture off the trail a bit and hike along the lake. Look for the small peninsula just east of Elbow Lake.
The smoke started to roll in, but we didn’t notice any smell. It made for some stunning views the next morning, though.
Waldo Lake | Day 2 | Monday
Total: ~ 4.5 miles
Nat and I packed up camp and hit the trail around 10am. This part of the trail leads you a little ways up and away from the lake. I love when the path is narrow and the undergrowth brushes against your legs.
The trail will occasionally open up to meadows and small ponds about to dry up (at least in late August).
The higher points on the trail give you great views of the lake and surrounding forest.
Toward the bottom of the photo above you will notice a metal railing and gears. This was going to be a system to pump water out for irrigation, but it never came to be.
It was a bit difficult to locate a good campsite around this part of the trail since it was more hilly. So we continued on until the trail lead us back down closer to the lake. We eventually settled for a spot right off the trail at Klovdahl Bay. It was actually a spacious campsite with access to the lake for filtering water. We set up our tent and shared a Mountain House meal for lunch.
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of our campsite or of anything else that day because right after lunch I started to feel sick. We think it was due to hiking fast in the sun without stopping much for water. However, I’m slightly convinced it was also the Mountain House – Nat doesn’t think so. I spent the next 16 hours wrapped up in my sleeping bag.
Later in the evening, Nat discovered a huge western toad jumping around our campsite and snapped a picture. I was able to get a quick look before we both called it a night.
Waldo Lake | Day 3 | Tuesday
Total: ~ 3.5 miles
We woke up early and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise. The smoke sat heavy on the horizon, but still no smell. I sipped on some coffee and nibbled at my oatmeal, and I finally started to feel better. After a few hours of hanging around, we shouldered our packs and set out on the trail for our last campsite.
This part of the trail was by far my favorite. The forest was dense with green leafy plants and grandiose trees.
There were open marshy areas and backwaters that created the beautiful lush forest.
Can’t forget the mushrooms!
We discovered several campsites a little ways off the trail along the lake. The shore was wide and perfect for lounging or fishing. Nat and I talked about how it would make a great kayaking trip to land along this shore and set up camp.
At about 1 mile west of Shadow Bay Campground in the southern region of Waldo Lake, we reached South Waldo Shelter. It’s a small structure with a wood-burning stove and a few sitting logs. Cross-country skiers use it during the winter months to warm up and rest.
Eventually we came upon a split in the trail – left to Shadow Bay Campground and right to continue on Jim Weaver Loop Trail. We decided to spend our last night at the campground to enjoy the (clean!) vault toilets and running water. The campsites were spacious and private.
After we set up camp, we ventured down the trail until it opened up to a large beach area. People were swimming, paddle boarding, and lounging in the sand. We slipped on our water shoes and walked around the lake searching for frogs – my favorite backpacking activity!
The smoke created yet another stunning sunset.
Waldo Lake | Day 4 | Wednesday
Total: ~ 6 miles
We spent our last day hiking the last leg of the loop. Since we decided to go left at the split toward Shadow Bay Campground, we had to meet back up with the trail.
To find the main trail again, hike through the campground and find the main entrance. Continue along this side road until you meet up with the main road. Turn left and you should see a large sign on the left shoulder. Follow this road up and around for about a 1/2 mile – trust me, the trail is up there! Eventually you’ll see a sign on the left side for the Jim Weaver Loop Trail.
The eastern side of the lake is the only part of the trail that doesn’t hug the lake. That’s why we decided to leave this part for our last day. We definitely encountered smoke and could smell it during much of the hike out. The undergrowth is almost nonexistent in this area and the trees are thinner.
At about 1 mile from the North Waldo Campground, you’ll arrive at a three-way split in the trail. Continue left to stay on the Jim Weaver Loop Trail. Going right leads to Harralson Horse Camp and going southeast leads to Charlton Lake. We took a celebratory photo – I look so tired! – before reaching the campground. We then hiked through the campground back to the parking lot and sighed in relief as we climbed into our car.
I would consider the entire loop to be intermediate in difficulty. The trail is relatively even as you circle the lake, but is hilly in certain spots. The total mileage for the Jim Weaver Loop Trail is just over 20 miles.
We saw a lot of mountain bikers on Sunday and a few on Monday, but the entire loop is popular during the weekend. The Waldo Lake Wilderness boundary line hugs the Jim Weaver Loop Trail on the side not facing Waldo Lake. So any side trails leading into the wilderness prohibit the use of mountain bikes. The wilderness encompasses the northern, western, and southern sides of the lake.
The Jim Weaver Loop Trail makes for a fun multi-night backpacking trip or day hike from one of the campgrounds. August and September are the best times to visit since the mosquito population is low and the weather is fair.
There’s a boat dock at each campground to meet everyone’s paddling needs. Waldo Lake even allows motorized boats (electric motors only and traveling less than 10 mph). We have plans to go back one day to kayak across the lake and set up camp on one of the peninsulas. Maybe on our first anniversary!