Discover the best of the PCT for day hikes or weekend jaunts
With sweeping views, glorious meadows, towering peaks, and countless lakes and waterfalls, Oregon’s portion of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail includes some of the most beautiful hikes in the country. Let local expert Paul Gerald guide you on 29 unforgettable day and overnight trips.
This comprehensive guidebook includes trail maps and elevation profiles, as well as ratings for scenery, trail condition, difficulty, solitude, and accessibility for children. You’ll also find driving directions to trailheads, GPS coordinates for key locations, permit and fee information, and details about what to expect on the trail. The 29 trail profiles are in geographical order from south to north.
Traverse the “high road” through Oregon as the PCT crosses Mount Hood National Forest, the Three Sisters Wilderness, Crater Lake National Park, and so much more. Every trip is another adventure!
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Sky Lakes Wilderness
- Scenery: 5
- Trail condition: 3
- Children: 2
- Difficulty: 3
- Solitude: 2
- Hiking time: 3 days
- Distance&configuration: 23.8-mile out-and-back with loop map: USFS Sky Lakes Wilderness
- Outstanding features: A series of high-altitude lakes, mountain views, and a dramatic ridgeline walk
Officially, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) skips the best parts of Sky Lakes Wilderness. To limit impact on the lakes, it runs along a high ridge away from all water. But most people skip that part and visit the lakes; I suggest you do both. Warning: Don’t go to the Sky Lakes in July or early August. The mosquitoes will absolutely ruin your trip. Trust me, I know.
Several trails access this wilderness, but what I’m suggesting here is the easiest way in. That’s because the hike in is a little more than 5 miles and gains all of 200 feet in elevation. From there, I suggest spending two nights with a long day hike in the middle, or perhaps even a third night to explore around the lake basin, going off-trail and maybe looking for some killer fishing.
Start at the Cold Spring Trailhead, where there’s a shelter to spend the night but signs say the water isn’t fit for drinking. If you make it here by midday, you’ll have plenty of time to find good camping in the woods. It’s easy and pleasant walking north on the Cold Spring Trail (3710), through an old forest where the biggest and most interesting trees are mountain hemlocks. In a little less than a mile you pass the South Rock Creek Trail (3709), and then at 2.7 miles you join the Sky Lakes Trail (3762), which comes in from the left.
Stick with the Sky Lakes Trail as it keeps rolling along over tiny rises on a trail made wide by horses. You’ll see huckleberries (ripe in August) and some impressive trail building in a boulder field, and in a little more than 3 miles out you’ll pass the Heavenly Twin Lakes, where all of the campsites are closed for restoration as of this writing. Fear not, for you’re just 2 more easy miles from the main lake area and a bounty of campsites.
When you arrive at big, beautiful Trapper Lake (and see Cherry Creek Trail  on the right), start looking around for camping. Some lakeshores are off-limits (look for the signs), but you have plenty of good spots to choose from. Some lakes are even off-trail. Just consult a good, detailed map and go for it. You might even get a trout for dinner. These lakes, by the way, are said by the Forest Service to have some of the purest water of all lakes on the globe.
The next morning, take the Divide Trail (3717), which you find by following the Sky Lakes Trail as it wraps around the north end of Trapper Lake. Walk around even bigger Margurette Lake, where camping is banned, and then the trail climbs gradually before switching back to pass a series of rocky viewpoints down into the lake basin, east toward Klamath Lake, and south to Mount McLoughlin. The scramble a couple hundred feet up Luther Mountain ahead of you looks pretty straightforward. Finally, 2.6 miles up from the Sky Lakes Trail, intersect the PCT, way up here away from all that fun stuff below. Turn right on it.
After all that lake and forest time, you’ll see a big difference up here. The PCT traverses this ridge for 3.5 miles, with little hills here and there and big views all around. (About 2 miles of this area burned in the summer of 2014.) In midsummer you also walk through flower gardens and maybe even the occasional patch of snow. Pass the Snow Lakes Trail (at 1.3 miles), Shale Butte (at 2.3 miles), and the Seven Lakes Trail (at 2.8 miles) before finally arriving at the saddle between Devils Peak and Lee Peak, at 7,320 feet. Now the view stretches from Mount McLoughlin in the south (and maybe even Mount Shasta if it’s clear) to the peaks around Crater Lake and beyond to pointy Mount Thielsen and the Three Sisters. In PCT miles, you’re looking at a distance of well more than 100 miles.
Heading north, as you can see, you would drop down quite a slope, which until late July will have snow on it—lots of fun with a full backpack. But there’s not much to see between here and Crater Lake National Park, so you might as well head back. You could make a loop of it by taking the Snow Lakes Trail; just understand that would add a mile or two and that the area also burned pretty badly in 2014. As you drop off the southern end of Shale Butte, you’ll hit a flat stretch with a sparse collection of small trees. The trail is in there, on the left—if you start heading down again, you've missed it.
To take this alternative route back, follow Snow Lakes Trail down 0.2 mile to the Upper Snow Lakes, which are about as lovely a place to spend some time (or a night) as you can imagine. At one campsite, somebody even made some furniture out of the flat stones. Beyond those lakes your trail stays fairly flat for 0.5 mile before the bottom drops out and you lose 700 feet in a little more than a mile down to the Nannie Creek Trail (3707). This is also the northern end of the Sky Lakes Trail. If you have a campsite back among the lakes, that’s your route home for the night. It’s 2 easy miles from here to Margurette Lake.
And for the record, I officially don’t know anything about feisty, 10- to 12-inch brook trout in any of these lakes, especially the bigger ones like . . . well, as I said, I’m not reporting any such thing. You didn’t hear it from me.
PERMIT INFORMATION A Northwest Forest Pass ($30/year) is required for parking. See tinyurl.com/northwestforestpass for more information.
DIRECTIONS From Klamath Falls follow OR 140 for 28 miles west, and turn right onto Forest Service Road 3651, which is signed for the Cold Spring Trailhead. Follow this gravel road 10 miles to the trailhead at the end. If you’re coming from Medford, this (left) turn is 41 miles east of OR 62 on the north end of town.
GPS TRAILHEAD COORDINATES N42° 32.564' W122° 10.835'
Table of Contents
PART 1: SOUTH: CALIFORNIA BORDER TO MOUNT THIELSEN
PART 2: CENTRAL: WILLAMETTE PASS TO SAN TIAM PASS
PART 3: NORTH: MOUNT JEFFERSON TO COLUMBIA RIVER
Appendix A: Park and Local Contacts
Appendix B: Managing Agencies
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