Waldo Lake Oregon – Water Doesn’t Get Any Purer Than This!

26 09 2014
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Paddling over the indigo waters on a calm morning.


There are a lot of breathtaking places to paddle in Oregon. Many places with jaw dropping views. But only one, Waldo Lake Oregon, has such pure water and easy back country kayak camping – with no power boats to interfere with the serene experience!

Waldo Lake is unique in Oregon. It’s 22-miles around, making it the 2nd largest natural freshwater lake in the state. It’s natural – not a reservoir. It’s high elevation – 5,414ft. No power boats. Just human powered craft, like canoes, kayaks, or row boats, and when the wind picks up – you’ll see sailboats plying its waters. The water is so pure Waldo Lake set the world’s deepest visibility record – you can see down 157-ft! It is almost as pure as distilled water.

I organized a group of 12 friends (and Cameron, a 3-year old happy camper) who convened at Waldo this past weekend. Waldo is renowned for its primitive camp spots on the west side of the lake. But this weekend, dry conditions caused the Forest Service to issue a ban on campfires outside established campgrounds.


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Katie, Christian and Cameron

We needed a fire to cook a salmon for six – because my friend Daniel Fox, who was paddling from Victoria BC to San Francisco, had stopped in Astoria, Oregon and just caught a nice Chinook salmon on the way! It had to be cooked on the fire. So, we settled on camping at North Waldo Campground. It was almost full when we showed up – only three campsites – and we needed all three! It was totally last minute. We all had packed compactly for wilderness camping. Once the car camping decision was made I pulled out everything. The barbeque, the tiki torches, the tablecloth!

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Happy hour watching sunset!

The salmon turned out delicious and there was plenty for all. Simple – cooked in olive oil wrapped in tin foil and some dill added. On the side were veggies cooked in tin foil. Really yummy!







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Folks at site #32! Waldo Lake awaits.

Morning all awoke at a different pace. At campsite we were up by 7:00 and ready go to by 9:00 – but a visit over to George & Kristi’s site revealed they’d just awakened when I got there at 9:30.

My breakfast was just oats, berries and yogurt…Kristi’s was more like home! Either way breakfast in the woods is better than at home!north waldo campground,waldo lake camping For me, anyway.





View west with kayaksIt was time to set out on the lake. There is much to explore. There is “the burn” on the north side, full of coves and warmer water.On the west side there are primitive camping sites for miles. There is a trail to a lookout, up 2,000ft, where views of Central Oregon can be glimpsed. And halfway down the west side of Waldo Lake, Rhododendron Island. It’s a good spot to land your craft for a picnic!

The water of Waldo Lake is “dramatically ultra oligotrophic” meaning crazy clear with little organic matter. Chemically speaking, it’s more pure than distilled water. At an elevation of 5,414 feet, it’s so high it has no incoming streams. The water comes from snowmelt or springs. As such it’s so pure that a food chain is not supported. We saw only four seagulls and certainly no ospreys.

Words cannot really describe the clarity or color of Waldo Lake’s waters!

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Shadow, some 60 feet down. In deeper water the blue darkens.

Out in the middle of the lake, the water can appear purple-indigo. Look up ultramarine blue.

I took a photo of myself from under the water.Rod from underwater - Copy

We experimented with taking underwater photos from all sorts of angles.





kayaking waldo lake,paddling oregon,camping oregonOne such photo was taken by Bill Baxter from underneath his kayak! It makes the surface kind of look like blue mercury!

It was a glorious day! Our group split up. Some, led by April, set out to kayak to a trailhead and climb some 2,000 feet to an abandoned fire lookout. From there you can see the lake plus all of the Central Cascades Region of Oregon including Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters Wilderness, and Bend.

The rest of us paddled south to have a picnic at Rhododendron Island. On the wind protected side of the island it was HOT!


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Bill shows Cameron a frog!

After lunch we dared the chilly waters. Bill seemed less concerned than most and was out there with mask and camera quickly.

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You can see across as well as down


It took me forever to finally get all the way in the water. I should have just dove in!

Julie’s thermometer said it was 66 degrees. That is not terribly cold!Half Underwater

We all got together for a Mexican “bar” meal back at the campsite. It was a make-your-own burrito affair.

We set out the ingredients, then one would wrap up in aluminum foil & melt/heat over the fire!

Katie gets Cameron ready for the water

Katie gets Cameron ready for the water

It was a good reward after the hikes, paddling and picture taking!

We all agreed we will come back next year.

NOTE!! Waldo Lake is full of biting bugs/mosquitoes until mid August.

Plan your trip for late August or September. We think the best way to experience Waldo Lake is to camp outside the established campgrounds on the west side of the lake. There are plenty of gorgeous sites. But if your preference is for car camping, we recommend making a reservation – we managed to get the last three sites! Waldo Lake is unusual in that it gets more busy after Labor Day – and that’s because everybody’s avoiding the mosquitoes.

Waldo Lake 2010 Saturday

12 09 2010

We awoke to a glorious day at Waldo Lake. I didn’t use my tent fly so I had a sky view all night – except for the fact that I wore a sleeping mask and used ear plugs. So, when I awoke it seemed dark, until I pulled off the mask to reveal a bright, gorgeous morning! The light shone some of the gorgeous early fall leaves and the colors of the moss on the rocks.

The day’s breakfast called for granola, yogurt and fruit. So we laid out blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, banana and the granola on the kitchen counter…and went at it. Now that was a satisfying meal!

Joe had a good area map and an idea about where to paddle. The plan, which I never heard about, turned out to be that we’d paddle north to a rust-colored beach where a trail comes down to the lake. Then, lunch, and hike up the trail to check out a higher lake and harvest some huckleberries! I never packed any hiking shoes, so my fate was sealed. Nevertheless, the others were to embark on a hike and get it all in.

We packed up the boats and took off from our little beach behind the campsite.

Nearing the destination, we checked out the beautiful water and the unusual rust colored rocks that seemed to be in this cove, but nowhere else on Waldo Lake.

They provided a real show of how clear Waldo Lake is!

Lunch was not an entirely primitive affair. Oh, no…Michael had a wheel of brie cheese with artisan bread…

And Joe added some wine to the lunch! Now that was some lunch.

Soon after the group headed up and out to the hiking trail and then the lake. They’d gather many berries for Sunday’s pancakes!

Not to quit early, after the hike they embarked an another kayak trip up to the far reaches of the lake where it empties to start the middle fork of the Willamette River!

Back at camp, Tim, Francis and I started preparing the burrito bar, which was our main course for dinner! The bar consisted of bell peppers, onion, chicken, refried beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, olives, and salsa…

We ate HEARTILY, and enjoyed hanging around the fire!

Then just when we thought we were stuffed, Joe brought out the dessert. Which was warmed peaches with cream topped with Cointreau. YUM!

The dreaded dishwashing ensued…guess it couldn’t be avoided…! Anyway the stars twinkled above – it was a glorious evening. We looked forward to another eventful day Sunday.

Waldo Lake Friday! Paddling in a Sea of Stars

10 09 2010

What better place to hold an end of summer Labor Day weekend kayak camping trip than Waldo Lake! It is one place guaranteed to provide a crowd-free experience! I scheduled three days for my PaddleNW Meetup group and 10 guests participated.

We weren’t disappointed. Friday Laura, myself, and Tim banged out an early departure from Portland to secure the group’s spot. I knew of a pretty peninsula with an easy landing beach that had another campsite one-minute walk away. If we could score that spot, all 10 of us could easily camp and share a single kitchen.

The drive went 100% smoothly for once! No traffic jams nor accidents. The three of us arrived about 2:00. That left plenty of time to pack the kayaks and enjoy a nice day on Waldo Lake.

The forecast was for Friday to be the warmest day followed by a sunny chillier day Saturday and then cloudy/even more cold Sunday. We were motivated to enjoy all we could Friday.

The waters at Waldo are a blue, sometimes purple blue I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s one of the four most pure lakes in the world. Those lakes are Baikal (Russia), Crater Lake (Oregon), Tahoe (California) and Waldo. Waldo doesn’t have any incoming streams. The water comes from snowmelt and underground springs.

We packed up the boats at the Shadow Bay boat launch, and then headed out onto the lake. This was to become the best Waldo Lake weekend ever!

The campsite I had in mind is on a peninsula just south of Rhododendron Island, with a beach landing. Plus it’s got a 2nd site steps away. As the leader of this trip I was a bit concerned that one of my sites would already be taken – and then we’d need to occupy separate sites where paddling between them would be required for shared meals.

As Tim, Laura and I grew closer to my preferred site, I witnessed paddlers approaching on the other side of the peninsula so I sprinted to go ashore before they did! My concerns were unfounded – these were merely day paddlers! That meant we were to get both sites – perfect!

The peninsula site is spread out with a “kitchen” consisting of a flat log suspended above

two “couch” logs – so cooking equipment can be spread out all along its length.

With the spot secured we set about making it our weekend base camp and then waited for the rest of our party. Jessie, April, and Joel made it without incident. Francis and Michael went off to the further south end of the lake and took quite a while to find us…

Joe Yuska arrived much later at night. It was so clear and still he told us we really should paddle by starlight…we did, and it was so dark and still, the lake reflected the sky – and you’d think you were paddling in a sea of stars!

Lower Columbia River Water Trail: Lark Island Day 1

20 07 2010

We took a couple of days to explore the lower Columbia. We saw eagles dog fighting with ospreys, a sea lion, many fishermen and ships, Caspian terns, and best of all more fireworks!

I strongly believe this is one of the top places near Portland, Oregon to paddle. Yet, it’s very under appreciated!

This weekend I scheduled a Lower Columbia River Water Trail kayak camping trip for my Paddle NW Meetup group. The idea was to leave Cathlamet, paddle out to Lark Island, set up camp, and then spend the afternoon playing around in the frequently challenging conditions in and around Skamokawa, WA, on the Columbia River. Then the following day play around the islands on the Oregon side, paddle west with the outgoing side, and then take out at Skamokawa.

Paddlers were myself, Monte, Jessie, Francis, and Heather. A great group! Everyone experienced with primitive camping.

We met down at Skamakowa Paddle Center and I filed a float plan with Ginnie Callahan. Tanned, healthy looking and fresh from her southern experiences in Baja Mexico and Tasmania, she took down our float plan. She took great interest in Paddle NW, as she is having some challenges putting together Meetups for her Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup, August 19-22. I gave her my business card and said I’d promote it on the Meetup site.

We met back at Cathlamet’s Elochoman Marina, which was the put-in.

The usual stuffing and cramming of gear into kayaks ensued.

We were all with good spirits! Monte was very accommodating, his Hyundai parked to take anything we needed to keep ashore.

Jessie had the compass on board and I had the charts. We did the pre-launch briefing…oriented ourselves to the charts, and then we were off. We had a marine layer of clouds but it was forecasted to burn off.

Which way?

I didn’t know prior to scheduling this paddle, but today was “Eagle Day” at Cathlamet! Eagle Day brings plenty of wooden boats and then in the evening fireworks! Hee hee.

We took off paddling with the outgoing tide down a slough behind Ryan Island. This conveniently allowed us protected passage and wildlife viewing!

Here is Jessie checking out a wily raccoon. This guy was determined to finger the mud for food – I imagine it was clams or insects hiding in the mud. I love watching raccoons using their fingers. 

One day they will be texting each other!

Soon we emerged into the Columbia River for a crossing of the shipping channel. To our port lay the tip of Puget Island. This is a blind corner, and Ginnie Callahan warned us to hail over VHS before crossing, because ships headed west can emerge there without warning. We needed to gather into a tight group and head across.

After hailing, we ferried across, but the current kept trying to sweep us below our target, and we had to keep correcting our angle to “crab” across the current to make our end target on the other side – which was Lark Island.

Caspian terns were our constant companions

Once over, we beached and checked out the situation. Ginnie had suggested a camping spot, but it was already occupied. Then a friendly fisherman told us his spot would become available once they took off. So we decided to paddle around the island and come back when the fisherman was gone.

The chart said 1-ft of water was available behind the island. So I said give it a go, we’d be able to circumnavigate no problem. But nope. Things have changed since the chart was made! We grounded about 100 yards from the end.

This was the easy part.

Time to use the handles on the boats for their intended purpose!  That would be towing by hand.

Grounding?  No problem. Excellent time to have lunch and fly the kite!

If I could only find my peanut butter. It was stuffed somewhere…but I did not find it until dinner…freaking annoying.

We also witnessed lots of eagles, ospreys, terns, seagulls and some white pelicans. A giant car carrier passed us by.

And we saw some interesting creatures in the mud.

Later this day everything turned out wonderful! Sun, warmth, all the good things. We set up tents, gathered lots of fire wood, shared stories, made munchies, cooked sausages on sticks, and more.

I was dog tired and lay down for a bit!

We enjoyed Heather’s raspberry/lemon squares for dessert and marshmallows over the fire.

Then, the Cathlamet fireworks began, and we were impressed! Lots of original sky art for all! Finally, maybe 10:30 p.m. we bed down for the night!

Cascadia Marine Trail Day 2: To Anderson Island

9 07 2010

Day Two on the Cascadia Marine Trail!

Woke up amazingly refreshed at Joemma Beach State Park! I didn’t use the rain fly on my REI Quarter Dome T3 tent so all the early light was surrounding me. But as I was prepared with my face mask and ear plugs, I did not arise until about 6:45. And when I did, I couldn’t believe how dark under that mask it was, and how bright once I took it off! Wow! Others told me crows had been crackling keeping them up – I didn’t hear anything!

Heading out from Joemma Beach

I also used this new REI inflatable pillow. I used it to support my still recovering shoulder, and this made my night SO much more comfortable! No more achy shoulder! No more rolling around to get it into a comfortable position.

Sunday was July 4th, so fireworks were a big part of the day’s activities! We decided to do a lazy start, wait for the late morning high tide, and then head down southward toward Anderson Island.

We got a little ambitious and made a last minute plan to head to Eagle Island State Park for “lunch,” not really taking into consideration that it was already well past eleven o’clock. Eagle Island is 7.5 miles from Joemma Beach, and we just got over ambitious. We paddled into Drayton Passage, which lies between Anderson Island and the Key Peninsula. Ahead lay McNeil Island, a Federal Penitentiary we wanted to check out.

Unexpectedly the wind picked up substantially! As we entered Drayton Passage the wind picked up from the south/southwest to maybe 18 knots with whitecaps. Fortunately tide wasn’t much of a factor. It was against us, but it wasn’t strong.

Like a mother hen, I doted over the group and especially Bibi and Michelle. Monte did a great job of sticking with Michelle. The wind and waves grew and a few breakers sent water across my foredeck. My charts were not totally water proof – so I relied on Deborah and Warren’s protected charts. Crossing Drayton Passage, we encountered lots of traffic. Deborah sent out a hail over VHS to alert the power boats we were about to cross.

Checking my watch, I notice the time kept moving on. It was already 1:45 mid way across the passage. Once across, I polled the group about Eagle Island. Michelle was going to head to our campsite with Monte no matter what – she was tiring. We all decided it was not a good idea to try to make Eagle Island and then paddle all the way back to the camp. Too many paddling miles in this 18 knot wind.

We take a breather for lunch

So after lunch we abandoned Eagle Island ambitions and began the trek for our spot on Anderson. Plunging into breaking waves was, for me, lots of fun! My Valley Aquanaut LV loved it. Without skeg deployed, it wanders in calm waters. But in conditions, it tracks true without the skeg and is also rock solid stable. But here, Michelle’s flimsy spray skirt failed her – allowing water from the plunging waves to enter. Fortunately, Warren supplied an extra spray skirt, which solved the problem!

We saw smoke in the distance. Coming closer we realized there was a wildfire on the shore! We put ashore to check it out.  The 8′ x 8′ fire was burning hot, and above it were large driftwood logs – which were catching fire.

Further downwind on the beach there was plenty of fuel. We tried to extinguish it with our water bucket, but we knew it’d probably re-ignite.

So we spent some time calling 911 on the cell phone and managed to put a call out to the marine fire department. They agreed to send out a fire boat. We then put some buckets of water on the fire, and then took off. Maybe 15 minutes later a fire boat appeared, found the fire, and used its cannon to stop it. Kinda cool!

So far, the waves were coming at us mostly from the bow. This wasn’t much of a problem for our novices. We don’t have any images because we were too busy. But as we rounded the western end of Anderson Island, they’d be mostly to our sides. We were concerned for Michelle and Bibi. I figured they’d need to use a brace more than a few times. Once there, however, it became apparent that close to shore, the wind calmed down a lot. The island has one hundred foot high headlands – and a phenomenon was occurring there which reduced the wind. Sometimes when a wind comes directly at a headland, it lifts several hundred yards offshore, leaving the space near the shore much calmer. We could see that far above our heads, the trees were swaying, yet for us, there was not nearly as much wind. We could also see that there were whitecaps further out, but not where we were.

We came to the spot we assumed was the camping site I’d reserved through the Washington Water Trails Association. But a sign said NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING very clearly. Warren and I asked folks on the beach and they told us our site was 1/2 mile down island. Well, once we reached the end of the island with no site, we decided that the original site was in fact our place for the night, regardless. The information in the Marine Trail Guidebook must need updating? After the trip, I learned there is usually a water trails sign on that same post but it was missing.

It’s a very pretty site, located on the end of a sand spit with a lagoon behind. It was about low tide, so we were careful to check signs of high tide and pitch tents well above. You can see all up and down the opposite shore from there. It would be great for fireworks viewing!

The grunt work of carrying boats up from low tide took a while, but with team work we got the job done!

Michelle brought some wine and Warren had a bit of scotch, both welcome after this long day’s paddle!

Monte accepts some wine – well deserved!

All forms of backpacking food were brought out and cooked up. Warren and Deborah were the most prepared with dehydrated/vacuum sealed food they’d done at home. I had my usual Lipton pasta mixed with a pack of meat with a side of fresh greens, and Michelle had lamb she’d cooked earlier in the day.

Just past dinner twilight brought desire for a campfire. We gathered some wood and sparked a little beach campfire, and we all agreed we were privileged to have this spot, view, and atmosphere all to ourselves!

As night set in the opposite shore lit up! Some community fireworks began to really show their stuff by 10:00 and private fireworks displays were going on everywhere. I had my own cache, which we indulged in!

In Washington most fireworks are legal! Hooray!

Fireworks continued to decorate the opposite shoreline all night – some people must have broke the bank to keep going on like that! Pretty cool to watch!

Timothy Lake Primitive Kayak Camping: Day 2

1 07 2010

Morning broke bright and clear! The sunlight bathed the forest opposite in a warm glow – reflecting perfectly on the water in between. Another nice day on Timothy Lake had begun.

Slowly but surely, tents were unzipped and kayak campers emerged, rubbing eyes and hungry for breakfast. The fire was brought back to life and camp stoves revved up for cooking. Seemed everybody had the same idea – oatmeal with assorted accompaniments like nuts, yogurt and fruit. Coffee and tea were consumed heartily!

Nobody was in a hurry; we were content to experience the day’s warm-up and then take our time breaking camp.

Our mellow mood attracted a guest! For about 15 minutes a hungry Pileated Woodpecker pecked the douglas firs in and around our campsite foraging for breakfast. Up and down the trees it went, offering numerous photographic opportunities. This was the first time I’d seen one in Oregon, and I felt privileged in its presence!

The day’s plan called for a relaxed return to our start at Gone Creek Campground, with a lunch along the way.

Towing a threesome!

Wow, the color of the lake was truly spectacular! I could not figure why it was such a bright blue this time around. We nuzzled into a sunny, south facing campsite for lunch.

Next we hugged the rocky east side of the lake on our return. I tested out my new LevelSix tow belt. Very nice gear – and my fellow paddlers provided plenty of resistance!