July 3, 2007

Clear Lake

Kayak on blue-green waters of Clear Lake

I like my lakes murky, as a rule.

Not being a strong swimmer and a fear of heights makes it preferential, for me, to not see the bottom of any water I’m transversing.

Clear Lake would be the exception to that rule. Although at an average of 40 degrees I won’t be in swimming any time soon, its crystalline waters makes boating a joy.

Located on Highway 126 a few miles south of the Highway 20 junction, Clear Lake is an anomaly on top of a quirk. Created when an ancient lava flow blocked the McKenzie River, the former river bed slowly filled with near-glacial waters that seeped in from far beneath the cooled lava rock. Now Clear Lake functions as the headwaters of the famed McKenzie, which flows for nearly 90 miles and empties into the great Willamette.

Clear Lake comes by its name honestly, with blue-green waters translucent as glass for as much as 200 feet. The trees unlucky enough to be along the ancient river bed when the lake filled have been nearly preserved in the frigid waters, tall sentinel snags that dot the lake floor – still standing thousands of years later.

While the great trout fishing, lush forests and trails, and non-motorized boating opportunities attract ardent fans, the lake’s eerily clear waters bring scuba divers from all over the country.

Willamette National Forest owns the 1.5-mile long lake and surrounding area and operates a small campground, Coldwater Cove, at its southern end.

At the other end of the lake lies a throwback to lakeside resorts from days of yore, a charmingly rustic collection of cabins, docks and cafĂ© nestled on the northwest shore that until very recently was operated by a nonprofit group of nature-lovers, Santiam Fish & Game Association. The group of fishing enthusiasts’ built and maintained the resort for more than 80 years, aiming to keep costs low for both members and non-members. This year due to declining enrollment the association sold the resort to Linn County, which hopes to continue operation in a similar manner.

The resort maintains a boat launch, available to the public for a fee, and a fleet of vintage rowboats and canoes rented by the day or hour. A trip to Clear Lake is not complete without a boat ride, gliding over the turquoise lake bottom with not a sound to disturb except the occasional whoosh of cars on the distant highway or a gaggle of rambunctious kids trying a round of “Row, row, row your boat” at full volume.

If taking to the water is not your thing great views of Clear Lake can still be found from its nearly 5-mile hiking trail, which circumnavigates the lake over lava flows and forest paths. The trail has very slight elevation changes, making it perfect for the less-hardy hiker.

Regardless of your preference, Clear Lake makes a perfect day trip from Redmond and an even better weekend getaway, without burning too much gas.

-- photo and story by Leslie Pugmire Hole

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