The trail to Santiam Lake from Santiam Pass is an absolute gem of a ride. Along the way, you’ll enjoy impressive mountain vistas, pretty forest, and a close-up look at how the forest is recovering after the 2003 B&B Fire. Be sure to do this ride on a clear day, because the reflection of Three Fingered Jack in the lake is stunning.
Elevation: 4,850 to 5,450 feet
Distance: 12 miles round trip
You’ll start at the Santiam Pass Trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The route follows the PCT for a time, then veers on to the Santiam Lake Trail. Initially, you’ll be riding through the fire scar from the B&B Fire, where silvery tree trunks contrast starkly with the blue sky and wildflowers abound in season.
Be sure to look behind you to see Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters. Before the fire, the mountains would have been hidden by the trees.
Soon you’ll leave the fire scar behind and enter dense, shady forest. You’ll see a small unnamed lake and ride beside Lost Lake Creek, which is dry by mid-summer.
Then you’ll reach Santiam Lake. Interestingly, the lake isn’t visible from the trail, and there are no signs pointing the way to the lake. However, if you reach a big meadow with a spectacular view of Three Fingered Jack, you’re getting close. Take the first unsigned trail that goes to your right, and soon you’ll be at the lake.
The path that runs along the shore of the lake is an overgrown scramble and isn’t passable for horses. The best views of the lake are from the south end, anyway, so enjoy the view of Three Fingered Jack over the lake, then retrace your steps to return to the trailhead.
From Sisters, drive northwest on Hwy. 20 for 19 miles. Turn right at the Santiam Pass Trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail and drive 0.4 mile to the parking area. You’ll find plenty of parking for horse trailers.
You’ll find more information about the Santiam Lake Trail in Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2018), available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.