By: David Woronets
The ideal time to visit Oregon’s Cascade Lakes region is just after the mosquitoes abate and before the snow returns. And one of the best ways to do it is by mountain bike. This fall, my friend Josh and I decided to connect a couple of iconic high-mile mountain bike trails that would take in a Cascade peak and several alpine lakes. We dubbed the route The Twins lake loop.
Because we’d have to push to the Twins summit, I opted for my lighter gear, including my MSR WindPro II stove, Titan Kettle and FreeLite 2 tent. I love the way I can invert the fuel canister on the WindPro II to create a liquid flow in cold weather, never leaving me waiting in the cold for morning coffee.
We drove out to the Shadow Bay Campground on Waldo Lake, which was close to our starting point, and camped the night before to get an early jump on the day. The weather was perfect, calling for clear, 70-degree days and 40-degree nights. The first night was crisp and the few remaining mosquitoes let their meal plans be known. Deet, the backcountry deodorant, would be the scent of the trip.
The next morning, the ride from the campground, at 5400 feet, started with a 3-mile road climb to the first trailhead. Turing onto the Twins Peak trail, we began the longest climb of the day on the dusty, tree-lined singletrack. This climb continued to steepen until the last mile, when we relented and pushed our loaded bikes up a loose scree field to the summit.
Pushing the loaded bikes at over 7000 feet, I was glad we’d decided to route the hardest part of the trip while our legs were still fresh. We reached the peak and were treated to all the views as promised: The Oregon Cascades surrounded us; mountain peaks lined up from Jefferson to the north and Mt. Thielsen to the south; and a slew of alpine lakes spread out below us.
The next segment was spent descending prime flowy singletrack through stands of pine and fir trees. The loaded bikes behaved well and we were sporting ear-to-ear grins by the time we reached crystal clear Charlton Lake for lunch. The water was warm enough to swim and as tempted as we were, we grudgingly mounted up to keep riding in hopes that we could take a dip when we got to camp.
Continuing through the forest canopy, we merged onto the Waldo Lake trail and headed around the lake counter clockwise. The 9.8-mile Waldo Lake was as clear and blue as advertised; it’s one of the purest lakes in the world. We rode through the old burn area bordering the Waldo Wilderness on the north end of the lake. The stands of dead trees, wildflowers and aquamarine lake made for a vivid experience in the midday sun.
Our next goal was to find a campsite for the night, with access to the lake for water and swimming. We noticed a fire ring on a rocky outcrop over the lake with no clear trail leading to it.
Deciding to investigate it further, we found ourselves bushwhacking and heaving our loaded bikes over a maze of downed trees. Once we arrived we knew we had found the crown jewel of sites on the lake. The sun was still overhead and we dove right into the lake, clothes and all.
As twilight became darkness we were treated to a star-filled sky that was reflected by the calm waters of the lake. I reluctantly crawled in my tent, only to be distracted by the Milky Way overhead.
The next morning, the sun rose, as it does, and so did we, enjoying coffee on a ledge overlooking the peaks to the east that we’d crossed the day before. Our mileage would be shorter on day two, which would allow us to ease the pace of our tired muscles and explore the rest of the lake on the ride back to the car.
The lake loop trail supplied more forest singletrack and a few pushes, but all was well worth it for the jaw dropping views at each turn. We left the bikes often and hiked peninsulas and lake trails.
We got back the car ahead of schedule and popped a frosty beverage and stared at the lake in disbelief at the diverse terrain and incredible scenery we just packed into two days.