Before its eruption and subsequent transformation into a large caldera (a broad, craterlike basin formed by volcanic violence), the area we call Mountain Lakes Wilderness was a 12,000-foot mountain, one of the giants of the southern Cascades. Glaciation then carved up the caldera, leaving a scattering of small alpine lakes instead of one enormous body of water, such as Crater Lake National Park to the north. Only eight prominent peaks remain of the caldera's rim. Unique to the National Wilderness Preservation System, this area is the only Wilderness with a perfectly square boundary. Long appreciated for its wonder, Mountain Lakes was one of the three original Primitive areas created in 1930 in the Washington-Oregon region. Mosquitoes fly thickly from snowmelt to mid-August, snack food for the rainbow and brook trout in the lakes. The 8.2-mile Mountain Lakes Loop Trail winds along the southern rim of the caldera, connecting three trails in the interior of the Wilderness: the Clover Creek Trail (4 miles) from the south, the Mountain Lakes Trail (6.5 miles) from the west, and the Varney Creek Trail (4.5 miles) from the north. Beyond the eastern boundary lies private land.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.