For years I avoided riding at Waldo Lake because I’d heard that Harralson Horse Camp, the equestrian camping area near the lake, isn’t the greatest. Boy, did I miss out on some fabulous riding because of that decision!
It’s true that Harralson Horse Camp is a bare-bones campground. It has a toilet and garbage cans, but no water and no corrals. And early in the season, the mosquitoes can be fierce. However, the trails near Waldo Lake are fabulous. The quality of the scenery and the riding more than make up for having to bring your own stock water and highline your horse or put up a portable corral.
Waldo Lake is the second-largest natural lake in Oregon (behind Crater Lake), and is one of the purest lakes in the world. On a calm day, you can see 120 feet down into the lake!
The many trails in the Waldo Lake area are exceptionally scenic, with little elevation change on most rides, and plenty of variety. Here is a sample of some of the rides you can experience.The 7-mile loop to pretty Charlton Lake runs through dense forest and through the area burned by the 1996 Charlton Fire, which now has 5-foot tall trees and a carpet of pink fireweed and white pearly everlasting wildflowers in season.
The 8.5-mile out-and-back ride along the north shore of Waldo Lake takes you to the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River, the lake’s only outlet. This section of the Waldo Lake Trail runs through the area burned by the 1996 Charlton Fire, so you’ll see plenty of blackened tree trunks. But the fire also opened up unobstructed views of Waldo Lake and the nearby mountains.
Waldo Lake from the Waldo Lake Trail
The 22-mile Waldo Lake Trail loops all the way around the lake. It features little elevation change, lush forest along all but the north shore of the lake, and plenty of lake views. This trail is popular with mountain bike riders.
Waldo Lake Trail
The PCT runs north through the Charlton Burn to Irish and Taylor Lakes, two midsize lakes separated by a narrow strip of land.
The 12.5-mile out-and-back ride to Lemish Lake runs through beautiful forest. If you’d like a longer ride, you can reach the lake via two different 18-mile loops.
Lemish Lake Trail
The 15.5-mile Round Meadow Loop takes you to Round Meadow via the Metolius-Windigo Trail.
The Twins is a double-peak cinder cone that offers a 360-degree view of the Cascades and the Cascade Lakes District. This ride is 17 miles round trip from Harralson Horse Camp, or 13 miles round trip from the Betty and Bobby Lakes Trailhead.
The view of the Three Sisters and Charlton Lake from The Twins
On your way to or from Harralson Horse Camp, be sure to stop off at the Betty and Bobby Lakes trailhead (right beside Road 5897, the road to Waldo Lake) for the 6-mile ride to both Betty Lake and the Bobby Lakes. These two destinations are on opposite sides of the road, so after you ride to the Bobby Lakes, you’ll ride right past your trailer on your way to Betty Lake.
Harralson Horse Camp
Situated in a large stand of old-growth hemlock trees, Harralson Horse Camp has five sites with picnic tables and fire rings, a vault toilet, garbage cans, and day-use parking for several trailers. The camp has no corrals, so you’ll need to bring a portable corral, electric fence, or highline. And it has no water, so you’ll need to bring your own, or bring lidded containers so you can drive to the people campground two miles away to fetch water. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for day use or overnight camping.
From Eugene, take Hwy. 58 to Oakridge, then continue on Hwy. 58 for 25 more miles. At milepost 59, turn left on Waldo Lake Road (Road 5897). In 10.9 miles, Road 5897 veers right toward Charlton Lake and becomes gravel. Stay left on paved Road 5898, and in 1.1 miles turn right on Road 511. Harralson Horse Camp is ahead in 0.1 mile.
The riding at Waldo Lake is covered in more detail in Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel. (Ponderosa Press, 2017). Available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, April 2017 issue.