Waldo Lake is ten square miles, making it the second-largest natural non-alkali lake in Oregon. It has a max depth of 420 ft. The deep blue-indigo color of the lake is so clear, you may see the bottom of the lake at its deepest point. Waldo Lake is 20 miles east of Oakridge just off of Highway 58. Take Waldo Lake road just before Willamette Ski Pass. Parking is $5 or free with a Northwest Forest Pass. Mosquitoes can be pretty bad just after the snowmelt in late June/early July. Middle August to late September is generally the best time to visit. October can offer fall foliage as long as the trails are clear of snow.
The 20.75-mile loop is well marked with a modest 1800′ of ascent. Besides the lake, there are views of Diamond Peak, Mt David Douglas, Maiden Peak, The Twins, Gerdine Butte, Charlton Butte, and Rigdon Butte.
Starting at Shadow Bay Trailhead, take the 1/2 mile entrance trail to Jim Weaver Loop Trail #3590 and go left to travel the lake counter-clockwise. There are parking spots on the Forest Service Road 5896 next to the trail to eliminate the extra mile to enter and exit the loop.
The first five miles are smooth trails through the forest with no lake views. Follow trail signs to North Waldo campground, where several campsites are within view. At the campground, look for the Shoreline Trail sign and follow the trail around the lake. This goes parallel to the Jim Weaver trail, but the extra mile of Waldo Lake views are worth heading off the trail for a bit.
Once back on the Jim Weaver Loop Trail, the trail enters the Taylor Burn area for just over a mile to the Rigdon Trail Loop junction. Add this loop to see the upper and lower Rigdon Lake and a view of Rigdon Butte. This adds an extra 3.3 miles to the run. Continue through the burn area to stay around Waldo Lake.
Both trails end up at the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. In August, there are plenty of huckleberry bushes here to snack on. The trail continues on the west side of the lake. The trail has several loose rocks in this section from rock slides over the years. This is the only technical part of the loop.
At Elbow Lake, the trail heads back into the woods for 3.5 miles. The shade can be a nice respite in the heat of the summer. Once out of the woods, Shadow Bay comes into view across the lake and works as a reminder of how far the run has been and how much running is needed to finish.
The rest of the trail is pretty flat and mostly through lichen-draped mountain hemlock woodland. Stay on the trail to the South Waldo Shelter, a little wooden shack and picnic area that marks just over a mile from Shadow Bay and the finish. The mosquitoes seem to be more intense in the southern part of the loop due to more still water and the smaller surrounding lakes. Finish back at the Shadow Bay campground. Head to the dock to jump in for a cool swim and relax with a cold recovery beverage.
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