The Ultimate Guide to the Sky Lakes Wilderness
High in the southern Cascade Range, sandwiched between Crater Lake (to the north) and Mount McLoughlin (to the south), the appropriately named Sky Lakes Wilderness has been enchanting lucky visitors for decades.
Spread across three basins in the heart of the Cascades, the Sky Lakes Wilderness is home to towering old-growth forests, abundant wildlife, and—yes—dozens of alpine lakes. In fact, Environmental Protection Agency studies in the 1980s and 1990s found that those bodies of water contain some of the most chemically pure water in the world.
Today, the wilderness area’s namesake lakes welcome swimmers, hikers, and backpackers between late spring and autumn. And many of the region’s trails feature gentle elevation changes and primitive backpacking sites, appealing to hikers of all skill levels. So as you make your upcoming plans for adventure in Klamath County, here’s a guide to the Sky Lakes Wilderness—where to hike, how to have fun, and where to grab a post-visit pint or meal afterward.
Where to Go Hiking in the Sky Lakes Wilderness
Ready to hit the trail? Here is a rundown of a few favorite trails that traverse the Sky Lakes Wilderness (one of four federally designated wilderness areas in Klamath County).
Sky Lakes Basin via Cold Springs Trail: The scenic Cold Springs Trail heads into the Sky Lakes Basin and, over the course of 7.2 miles (round-trip), passes a handful of scenic lakes—including the Heavenly Twin Lakes, Isherwood Lake, and Lake Notasha—amid forests of fir and hemlock. Along the way, the trail gains about 500 feet of elevation. Various intersections offer options for longer or shorter hikes, as well; check out a map and hiking profile for the suggested Sky Lakes Basin via Cold Springs Trail hike. (If you want to turn the trip into an overnight outing, a few primitive backcountry campsites are dispersed along the trail—and available on a first-come, first-served basis.)
Puck Lake via Nannie Creek Trail: Hike through a quiet hemlock forest and to the shore of Puck Lake via the Nannie Creek Trail, which gains a gentle 680 feet over the course of the pleasant, 5.4-mile (round-trip) trek. Soon after leaving the trailhead, views of the Klamath Basin appear from a series of switchbacks; at that point, hikers enter the forest and remain there until reaching an unsigned turnoff and (soon after) Puck Lake. If hiking in fall, watch for ospreys seeking out dinner. And similar to the Cold Springs Trail, you’ll find a few primitive backcountry campsites on the trail for intrepid backpackers.
Horseshoe Lake: This 6.1-mile (round-trip) hike loses about 650 feet as it descends toward a series of lakes through a forest of Shasta red fir and hemlock via the Blue Canyon Trail. Highlights include Round Lake, Blue Lake (which butts up against a rockslide), and Horseshoe Lake. Several social trails crisscross the forest around Horseshoe Lake, so consider tracking your steps with a mobile GPS app to ensure you don’t get turned around.
If you’re looking for other outings in the area, check out our round-up of hikes with amazing views in Klamath County.
What to Know About Hiking the Sky Lakes Wilderness
View this post on Instagram
Before you head into the Sky Lakes Wilderness for an epic day of hiking or swimming, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind for a safe, fun, and enjoyable experience.
Crowds: Trails throughout the Sky Lakes Wilderness can get busy, especially on summer weekends, with small parking areas at popular trailheads. For a bit more solitude, consider starting before 9 a.m. on weekends, visiting midweek, or even pushing your visit to early fall; foliage turns bright shades of red, yellow, and orange in late September and remains resplendent through mid-October—but the region sees far fewer crowds at that point in the hiking season.
Seasons: Depending on the previous winter’s snow totals, trails may remain snowy until late June or early July. Fall’s first snow, meanwhile, can blanket trails by late October or early November. If hiking during these stretches, contact the Fremont-Winema National Forest or Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for the latest conditions.
Mosquitos: There’s no sugarcoating it: With so many lakes and trickling streams across the Sky Lakes Wilderness, mosquitos are a nuisance between June and most of July; the insects will attack hikers in a way that almost feels personal, so use insect repellent at the trailhead—and as often as necessary while on the trail.
Ideas for Post-Hike Food, Drinks, and Fun
View this post on Instagram
If you’re ready to unwind after a day on the trail and in the water, you’ll find plenty of nearby stops for good food, craft beer, and more. Here are a few suggestions for post-hike fun:
Lake of the Woods Resort: Just south of the Sky Lakes Wilderness is Lake of the Woods Resort, which offers campsites, rustic cabins, boat rentals, and a pair of popular eateries on the shore of its namesake lake.
Crater Lake ZipLine: In addition to its thrilling aerial attractions, Crater Lake ZipLine offers a few taps pouring local craft beer and a food cart dishing light bites (such as wraps, skewers, and quesadillas). Between April and October, visitors can even try their hand at ax throwing on eight lanes. Sitting between the Sky Lakes Wilderness and Klamath Falls, Crater Lake ZipLine’s shady patio is an especially popular stop on warm summer afternoons.
The Falls Taphouse: If you’re not ready to head indoors yet, savor the vibes at The Falls Taphouse back in Klamath Falls. Choose among more than a dozen taps of local craft beer, cider, and seltzer; grab food from one of the on-site food carts; and pull up a chair—around an outdoor fire pit, on the patio, or on the taphouse’s rooftop. Sunset views from the rooftop deck are some of the best in Klamath Falls overlooking the Upper Klamath Lake.
The Growler Guys: Show up thirsty to The Growler Guys, which boasts a whopping 60 taps of craft beer, cider, seltzer, and even cocktails—with many of those offerings crafted in the Pacific Northwest. It all pairs well with a pub-food menu that includes pizza, toasted sub sandwiches, salads, and wings.
Ready to plan your next trip? Get inspired with our list of the top 10 things to do in and around Klamath Falls.