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 Video

20 09 2010

Here is a five minute video of our Waldo Lake trip put together by Tim McRobert! Enjoy…!

It’s on YouTube…Tim’s Waldo Lake 2010 video

Waldo Lake – Labor Day Weekend – Sunday…

17 09 2010

All the prior week the forecast was for the weather at Waldo Lake to turn cloudy and cooler for Sunday. Forecast high was 53. So those of us heading down there Friday were expecting to just make Sunday breakfast and leave! But April checked out the forecast using her Android phone Saturday evening and all changed for the better.

Sunday broke beautiful and the weather was blue sky! Warm! Nice! No longer in the mood to rush home – we lingered instead! Saturday evening I had even put away some stuff that I didn’t want to pack wet, like my hammock. Hahahah. It came right back out Sunday morning and I re-set it between two trees where it gave a fabulous view!

South Sister looked fabulous from our campsite peninsula. From another vantage point Middle Sister is also in view as well as Mount Bachelor.

Sunday breakfast for ten was quite the production. We used four stoves…one for coffee…we kept it coming…one for bacon…one for pancakes…one for omelets! Nobody went hungry!

We made pancakes topped with huckleberries we gathered Saturday. The food kept on coming and we chowed down!

The sun continued to rise in the eastern sky, warming our hearts. Some of us would depart in the afternoon but nobody was hurrying – we slowly packed up and took in the view and the sun. My hammock was never empty. Canoes plied the waters in front of our site.

April and Phil stayed on to Monday as the forecast called for even warmer weather! The rest of us left, choosing to take Monday to clean up and unpack. It was the best Waldo Lake trip ever!

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!

Summer Means Kayak Camping…Let’s Go!

25 06 2010

Kayak camping is great.

Breakfast at Waldo Lake

You don’t have to carry your gear, as in backpacking. You can bring along a few luxuries, such as a folding chair. Still, there are definite limitations. One standout is the hatch size. Some decked kayaks only have 10 inch diameter hatches, limiting the size of what can fit inside. You might be able to fit some items in the cockpit. But don’t over stuff, or you’ll interfere with your ability to wet exit. Either way, unless they’re secured inside, they might be lost. As for the big sit on tops with gear wells, everything must be in dry bags and secured. No matter which way you go, as long as you adequately plan your kayak adventure, you’ll have fun!

You’ll need enough food to cover the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners on the trip. It’s a good idea to plan on food that doesn’t need refrigeration. Many options are available; you just need to rethink your normal cooking routine. You can usually have a luxurious first meal by freezing meat or seafood and allowing it to defrost during your paddle. After that, consider bringing food that can be rehydrated or food that can be brought without refrigeration. A fun idea is to split up the meals amongst the group. So a threesome prepares one breakfast, then another a dinner, and so on.

Obviously you’ll need clothing for wet conditions. Today’s synthetic fabrics work the best when you might sweat and the weather is wet. Wool works well too. These will wick the perspiration away from your body, allowing it to evaporate. A cotton layer will trap the moisture, keeping you wet. Cotton is better suited for camp, when you’re relaxing. River shoes are also important as you’ll be walking in and out of the water. Drybags are essential for all kayaks to carry your gear because sometimes hatches leak. Smaller size bags (15L and under) are preferable because first they’ll fit into the hatches; second they are good for organizing and third they can be stuffed into the nooks and crannies of the kayak. There are also compressible dry bags so you can squeeze even more clothing.

Safety gear is a requirement. PFDs, carabiners, ropes, maps, flares, and a good first-aid kit are must-haves. Depending on the trip, a map, compass, GPS and emergency locator might also be important. FRS radios are very handy in areas with no cell phone coverage and now some have a 20 mile range.

Packing the Boat
Pack the kayak so that the heaviest items are on the bottom. Your boat will ride much better that way. Also try to pack the boat so that the weight is as evenly distributed bow to stern as possible. If you can’t get it perfect, it’s better to have the stern heavier than the bow. A rudderless, bow-heavy boat is very difficult to steer in challenging conditions. Further, if you need to stash extra gear on deck, start with a small amount on the deck right in front of the cockpit and then go to the stern deck. Try to pack it as low as possible so it won’t catch the wind. On one kayak trip, a paddler over packed the bow so much that his boat constantly veered to port. Having paddled too far to repack, the only way he could correct the problem was cocking his rudder – at least he had a rudder! It makes sense to pack day use items nearest the hatch cover so they’re handy. And remember that some small electronics like GPS, cell phones and iPods are not always waterproof. There are numerous accessories which enable you to carry these protected from the elements. Still, other personal use items like sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm should be packed outside of the spray skirt so they can be accessed easily. There are PFDs with gear pockets, spray skirts with pockets or zippers, deck bags and over-the-shoulder mini dry bags for today’s necessities.

Conditions – Planning Makes Perfect
Planning for the weather and conditions where you’re going make the difference between a safe, pleasant voyage and an unpleasant, perhaps disastrous experience. Check the weather forecasts for the area you’re paddling. Research specifics such as whether the area normally experiences higher winds later in the day. On a large lake, find out if, for example, the afternoon wind usually blows from the west. If so, you might want to head across the lake to the west in the morning, and take advantage of the wind returning. If your trip is in tidal waters find out the size of the tide and tidal directions and velocities and their timing during your trip. When setting up camp you must set camp above the high tide line and well protected from waves created by any passing ships. You’ll want to plan your paddling to take every advantage of the tide, because in some areas, you cannot paddle against the tide. In many rivers near the ocean the outgoing tide doubles or triples the river current. Find out if commercial traffic will be traversing your route. Ships and barges travel much faster than they appear from a distance and are often constrained by the shipping channel. If you take advantage of general weather conditions, local nuances and tides, they can work in your favor. Otherwise, well, I think you can probably imagine.

Paddling Equipment
Spray skirt
Repair kit
Dry bags
Paddling gloves
Permits for your journey or overnight camping (if necessary)
Immersion wear

Camping Equipment
Extra batteries
Duct tape
Water filter
Lighter and matches
Tent/Ground cloth
Repair kit
Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
Pillow (optional)
Backpacking Hammock

First aid kit
FRS Radios
Throw bag
Float bag
VHS Radio

Synthetic Long Underwear
Waterproof / breathable pants
Waterproof / breathable shell
Sun hat with brim
Fleece or wool jacket
Winter hat

Camp soap
Bug spray
Toilet paper
Lip balm
Shaving kit
Toothpaste and brush
Toilet paper

Eating Utensils
Mess kit
Stove and fuel
Garbage bag
Camp soap and scrunge
Dish towels

Optional Fun Stuff
Mask, flippers, snorkel
Fishing equipment
Reading material
Foldable camping chair
Beverage of your choice
Musical instruments

Suggested Food
Tuna, salmon, crab or chicken in foil packages
Simple Lipton Pasta quickie meals
Gorditas or soft tortillas for bread. Regular bread is easily crushed.
Powdered butter
Powdered soft drinks
Green or red peppers
Pancake mix (add water only type) (repackage), syrup and oil (repackage)
Non-stick spray or oil
Trail mix
Instant coffee (if you can stand it)
Instant oatmeal
Power bars
Condiments – you can head to fast food joints for no-refrigeration needed packets of ketchup, relish, Dijon, horseradish, sugar, salt, wasabi, soy sauce, it’s amazing the treasure you can find!