Oregon is such an amazing place, with its thundering waterfalls, raging rivers and creeks, scraggly volcanic peaks and it’s beautiful clear mountain lakes! In the Willamette National Forest alone, there are over 500 lakes hidden amongst the dense timber, ranging from over 6,000 acres to less than one acre in size. Most of these are in the high country, remote and difficult to reach. Some are accessible by car, most by trail and still others don’t even have a trail leading to them.
Duffy Lake is an easy hike and a popular one during the summer months. It is 31 acres in size, is noted for it’s fishing and lies at 4,793 feet in elevation. I would suggest going now, since the summer traffic has waned and the winter has not yet set in. We recently visited Duffy Lake for the first time and there were only two other cars parked at the trailhead parking area.
The hike begins on a wide and well-graded trail, through an old forest of Douglas fir and western hemlock. It’s a gradual uphill climb from the start but levels off after a few miles as it follows the dry bed of the North Santiam River. All the usual suspects line the trail: bear grass, yellowing vanilla leaf, deer fern, snowberry, Oregon grape, mountain lupine and bracken fern. We come to a junction with a sign for the Turpentine Trail, but we stay to the right towards Duffy Lake. The signage is good, so we have no worries of getting lost.
There are lots of juncos fluttering about and we spot a few gray jays, a very friendly and common bird at higher elevations. We were also very fortunate to see a male Black Backed Woodpecker with its yellow crown, pecking and searching for food in old dead stumps.
We cross over the dry riverbed of the North Santiam River which apparently can be difficult to pass during the spring and late fall when it is noted to be 20 feet wide. We continue on, passing a junction on the right for the Maxwell Trail. After skirting the edge of large meadow, we come to a four-way junction where we head straight towards the lake.
It’s a beautiful clear lake, the water is a bit cold and a few campsites are dotted along its edge. The rocky Duffy Butte on the north side of the lake towers at 5,849 feet and there is evidence of the B & B Complex Fires that burned through this area in 2003. It is a perfect place for a picnic lunch and a rest. If you’d like a longer hike you can continue on to Mowich Lake, which is only another 1.1 miles.
I think it is best to visit Duffy Lake right now. The trees and shrubs are changing color and the trail will not be as dusty, thanks to the recent wet weather. But hurry before the snow starts to fall and covers the trail.