Mountain Lakes Wilderness Area

1930: one of the three original Primitive Areas of Oregon/Washington

Mountain Lakes Evening

Imagine that this classic tent is your home for an entire summer. For a story about three adolescents' wilderness sojourn at a mountain lake in Southern Oregon, click here.

Mountain Lakes Morning

Smell your morning coffee brewing as the Sun paints reflections in the still waters.


Mountain Lakes Wilderness Commentary

Situated on the drier eastern fringe of the Southern Oregon Cascades, this small "pocket" wilderness was one of the Forest Service's original three "Primitive Areas" in Oregon and Washington, the brainchild and a pet project of Fred Cleator of the USFS, a man often named as the Father of the PCT... Mountain Lakes Primitive Area was established in 1930. It became a "Wild Area" in 1940, and the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 brought it on board as one of Oregon's first modern designated Wilderness Areas. It covers exactly one township, and is the only square-shaped wilderness within the United States' National Wilderness Preservation system. At 23,071 acres, it is one of Oregon's smallest Wilderness areas.

It's amazing but true: Like Crater Lake and East Lake and Paulina Lake to the north, the mountain lakes basin is another snuffed-out volcano! Actually, it was four overlapping shield volcanos, which got very glaciated during the Ice Age(s).... In the case of Crater Lake, a violent collapse formed one huge lake; when Mt Newberry collapsed, it left East and Paulina lakes; and when the Mountain Lake's four volcanos got glaciated, the result was a basin that filled with literally hundreds of ponds, pools, lakelets and a few larger Lakes.

This tiny area is just stuffed with wildflowers, great creeks, ponds and lakes. With all this water, aquatic wildlife like Bullfrogs are a delight! The image pictures a bullfrog that is has just recently lost its tadpole tail.

Mountain Lake Wilderness is also blessed with a wonderfully variegated forest cover. One of my favorite trees can be found on drier, sunnier mid-elevation sites. This is the Oregon Sugar Pine, with its enormous, trophy-size cones and ponderosa-like bark.

My favorite trail is the Varney Creek Trail, which sneaks into the wilderness from the south side, far away from the hustle and bustle of Lake of the Woods and the cars and truck traffic of Highway 140.



Lake Harriette, click Imagefor much larger version!

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Page Last Revised 04/05/2023