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The Matthieu Lakes Trail is one of Oregon's most scenic day hikes. Located in the Three Sisters Wilderness, North Matthieu Lake and South Matthieu Lake have been delighting hikers seeking splendid scenery for many years. The Three Sisters refer to three volcanic peaks in the Cascades: North Sister, Middle Sister, and South Sister. The trail's six-mile round trip is considered one of the easiest in the High Cascades of Central Oregon, although there are some steep slopes involved. The Matthieu Lakes Trail is one of the best ways to view North Sister Peak without serious climbing and enjoy a short hike through varied terrain. For more dedicated outdoor adventurers, the lakes can be seen from the Pacific Crest Trail, and a short spur will lead down to the Matthieu Lakes. The lowest elevation on the trail is 5,280 feet, and the highest point is 6,007 feet.
The trail leading to the first lake is wooded, a mixed forest of hemlock and fir draped in hanging mosses. Thick ground cover, including low bush huckleberries, covers the forest floor and makes it look more like the forests on the west side of the crest. Several ponds lie alongside the trail, and wildflowers are common in season. Although close together, the two lakes are quite different in character. North Matthieu Lake, the first one along the trail, is relatively shallow and irregularly-shaped with about six acres of surface. The lakeshore is heavily wooded, with rainbow trout regularly stocked by the State of Oregon. Anglers usually stop here because South Matthieu Lake is no longer stocked. There is an area near the shore designated for primitive camping. No services are provided. From North Matthieu Lake, the summit of North Sister Peak can be seen over a ridge to the south.
A mile farther along the trail, South Matthieu Lake sits in the saddle of Scott Pass and is less than half the size of North Matthieu Lake. Windswept and not as heavily wooded as the north lake shoreline, the few campsites here reward visitors with spectacular views of North Sister Peak. The climb from the trailhead gains less than 800 feet in elevation. Day hikers often perch above the steep rocky shore of South Matthieu Lake to eat lunch before heading back toward the trailhead. Both day hikers and backpack campers must obtain a permit, available at the trailhead, during the summer months.
The Matthieu Lakes Trail is part of the famed Pacific Crest Trail system. Only about 14 miles from the town of Sisters, Oregon, there is no sign at the roadside on the McKenzie Highway. Instead, those wishing to visit Matthieu Lakes take the Lava Camp Lake/Pacific Crest Trail exit. Past the Dee Wright Observatory, there is a parking area at the trailhead. The Lava Camp Lake small rustic campground is just beyond the trailhead and allows horse camping. Horses are allowed on the trails; mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are not. The trail begins at the parking area. After the first quarter-mile, the Pacific Crest Trial (PTC) is joined at a wall of lava rock. Following the PCT south for half a mile, the trail splits off to the right to North Matthieu Lake and beyond. The trail rejoins the PTC again before reaching South Matthieu Lake, and many hikers continue on the PTC for many miles. Those who want to take a different route back to the trailhead can follow the PTC along the high ridge that passes above North Matthieu Lake, providing a lovely view of the lake from above.
Hikers who make the trip often stop at the Dee Wright Observatory on their way back to the highway. Built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps and named for the camp foreman, the lava rock structure has been a favorite of visitors since 1935. Focused on the lava flows surrounding it, the Observatory features interpretive panels along the path that tell about the geology of the area and past human interaction. The viewing windows inside the observatory look out upon several of the Cascade peaks which can be identified using a bronze 'peak finder'. Outside, a half-mile paved path through lava rock allows visitors to get a close-up view of a lava flow.
The town of Sisters is prepared for visitors with services and lodgings to complement an active outdoor vacation. Several resort lodges and camps are located near Sisters. Some are quite luxurious and include golf courses, excellent dining and spa services. Many local guest cabin rentals, RV resorts and campgrounds join motels and hotels to suit every need. Outfitters arrange fly fishing and whitewater rafting excursions. National forest campgrounds are numerous in the area, although most are rustic. Sisters provides some shopping opportunities, and the larger town of Bend is only 25 miles to the south. Nearly every month in Sisters a festival or public event is showcased, from rodeos to concerts to art festivals, golf tournaments, fairs and 5k runs. It is no wonder real estate in the area is in demand. Over 260 miles of trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness assure that adventurous visitors never run out of new trails to explore.
Matthieu Lakes were named after Francis Xavier Matthieu, one of the early French pioneers to Oregon Territory who met in 1843 at Champoeg to establish Oregon's first provisional government. He voted with the Americans to align with the United States instead of Britain. Matthieu remained in Oregon the rest of his life, dying in 1919 at age 100. The lakes were named in his honor in 1924. Much of the history of early Oregon centers around the mountain passes in the area that allowed Oregon to become settled. The names of these early explorers are often attached to passes, mountains and streams in the area and are known by most Oregon school children. The names roll easily off the tongue of hikers and wilderness explorers in the ever-popular Three Sisters area. A few sunrises with these spectacular peaks in view and you too will want to find a permanent place in Central Oregon.
* Statistics are for North Matthieu Lake only.
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