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Twenty-seven miles long and only about six miles wide, the Sky Lakes Wilderness in Southern Oregon holds more than 200 lakes! The Wilderness, designated in 1984, encompasses 113,590 acres within the Cascade Range, with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crossing it from north to south. Motorized vehicles are not permitted in the Wilderness, except on the few forest roads entering the area. All lakes, with the exception of large Fourmile Lake at the south end, can only be reached via hiking trail. Numerous trails of varying difficulty lead to the hundreds of small lakes in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin, southern Oregon's highest peak. This perfectly conical volcanic peak is visible from many of the lakes within the Wilderness and is a major hiking destination.
The Sky Lakes Wilderness consists of three separate basins carved by glaciers and defined by volcanic action in the distant past. The northernmost basin, called the Seven Lakes Basin, is located south of the boundaries for Crater Lake National Park. Considered most scenic of the three lake basins, Seven Lakes is well-appointed with trails from both the east and west sides of the Wilderness boundaries. One of the most popular trails leads from the east side of the area, with the Sevenmile Trailhead starting at the end of Forest Road FR3334. The first lake reached is Grass Lake in about 4.5 miles. Grass Lake is grouped with several other lakes that form the headwaters of the Middle Branch Rogue River. Camping is permitted at the trailhead, but all camping here is 'dispersed' camping with no services. Alta, Grass and Middle Lakes are all about 30 acres in size, while nearby Cliff Lake is only nine acres. Cliff Lake has a reputation as the most scenic of all the lakes within the Sky Lakes Wilderness and receives many visitors during the short summer season. From the west side of the Cascades, Seven Lakes Trailhead begins near the end of FR3780. These four lakes are stocked with brook trout every other year and attract fly fishermen who enjoy the hike to their favorite fishing spot.
Sky Lakes Basin is located south of Seven Lakes Basin. Some of the lakes within the basin include Big Heavenly, Isherwood, Donna, Deep, Deer, Trapper, Margurette, Elizabeth, Sonja, Little Heavenly, Wizard and Trapper. Most of these small lakes hold brook trout and rainbow trout, with Isherwood and Big Heavenly Lakes occasionally stocked with cutthroat trout. From the west side of the Wilderness, Cherry Creek Trail begins at the end of FR 3450 and reaches Trapper Lake at about the five-mile mark. Only experienced backpackers with a solid knowledge of hiking from trail maps via compass should attempt cutting directly cross-country from FR3419 to Wizard Lake. The Cold Springs Trailhead is the easiest route to access the southernmost lakes in the group: Isherwood, Elizabeth and the Heavenly Lakes. The Sky Lakes Basin lakes are usually less-visited than Seven Lakes Basin and are often preferable on busy summer weekends, but more strenuous hiking is involved.
The most southerly of the three basins in the Sky Lakes Wilderness is the Blue Canyon Basin. Some of the lakes in this basin include Pear, Horseshoe, Island, Dee, Blue Canyon, Long, Bert, Camp, Woodpecker and Puck Lakes. The Blue Canyon Basin is quite popular but rarely as busy as the Sky Lakes Basin. Lakes on the east side of the basin can be reached via the Burt Lake Trail off from FR3659. Burt Lake Trail intersects both the Blue Canyon Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. The lakes can also be reached from the west side via Blue Canyon Trailhead, beginning at the end of FR3770. The Blue Canyon Basin is considered one of the best day hikes; the trail is a gradual downhill hike for about two miles. This trail is suitable for families with children in tow. The road leading to the trailhead is also very scenic, with beautiful vistas of Mount McLoughlin.
Fourmile Lake covers 900 acres; its southern end is outside of the Sky Lakes Wilderness but still within the Fremont-Winema National Forest. A Forest Service campground with 29 camping sites is located here, along with a boat ramp. Horse camping is accommodated, and the campground is relatively modern with hand-pumped drinking water, vault toilets, picnic tables and fire pits. The trailhead for the Long Lake Trail starts at the campground; from here, visitors must travel by horseback or on foot. Motorized boats are permitted on Fourmile Lake but not the others reached by trail.
The entire Sky Lakes Wilderness holds a wealth of wildlife, with elk herds summering in the northern third of the Wilderness. Black bears, coyotes, cougars, fishers, pine martens, golden-mantled ground squirrels, pika and other species also inhabit the Wilderness. Thousands of migrating birds pass through the area during October and November, often stopping at the lakes. Ospreys are often seen fishing here. The one drawback to summer visits is that mosquitoes also enjoy feasting on summer visitors, making early autumn one of the most pleasant times for hiking the Sky Lakes Basin. The numerous trails in the area vary in length and complexity and a good, current map from the nearby Ranger Station should always be part of the planning process for a visit to Sky Lakes Wilderness.
The cities of Klamath Falls south of the Sky Lakes Wilderness and the City of Medford west of the Wilderness on I-5 are well-appointed to provide visitors with plenty in the way of entertainment, supplies and choices of lodgings. Long a popular hiking and touring area, the area is full of hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, resorts and guest cabins. Activities are plentiful in the area, from visiting the wineries of the Rogue Valley to skiing and snowshoeing in winter. Those less inclined toward strenuous hiking and wilderness exploration will find plenty of city-style activities to keep them occupied while the outdoor fans in the family enjoy a backpacking adventure. A more perfect vacation destination in the southern Cascades will be hard to find.
*Few statistics are available for these lakes.
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