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Backpack to Santiam Lake via Duffy Lake Trailhead

Sisters, Oregon



9.94 miles

Elevation Gain

1362 ft

Route Type



Added by Samuel Judge

So this short backpack/day hike is super awesome because it has 2 lakes, both of which have awesome views and water warm enough to swim in, and, unlike other places in the area, you are permitted to have a campfire! Santiam lake has an incredibly beautiful view of Three Fingered Jack as well.

You start by weaving through an old-growth forest, gaining a little elevation, appreciating the shade, before you come up out and into the alpine forest the majority of the hike will take place in. 

You will quickly reach your first of many intersections within ~.1 mile into the trail. Be sure to hang a right here! At your next intersection, which is 1.5 miles from the T.H., take another right. From here the trail will head southeast. For clarity, you will be following the Duffy Lake trail, so follow those signs. 

At about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, you'll encounter the cooling North Santiam River. At the time I hiked it, the river was a little too high to cross, so if you're searching for a fallen log, turn right at the intersection with the river. Just a little ways upstream you'll find a large downed tree spanning the river and forming a great bridge. 

Soon after, you'll come to the intersection with the Lava Lakes trail. Keep straight (choose the leftmost option). I believe there is a sign for the Duffy Lake trail, but if there is not, you'll be going the correct way if you're headed north. 

Your next intersection will be just at Duffy Lake, although the lake cannot be seen from here. To get to the lake itself, go straight. You'll cross some large logs and pass a "day use only" sign, and find yourself at a beautiful, tranquil lake, sitting in the shadow of the dead-tree covered Duffy Butte. Spend some time here, perhaps take a quick dip, and appreciate it's beauty! 

SIDE NOTE:  if skipping the lake interests you, turn southeast intersection. This route will take you through the Duffy Lake prairie, home to some pleasant, but mosquito ridden meadows. I don't remember the name of this trail, but you'll know it's the right one if you head down a hill and quickly come to a creek crossing. I took this route on my way back from Santiam Lake, and as it is deep, it took some scouting to find a log on which to cross it. If you head downstream, you'll find two downed trees connected by rootball crossing the stream. 

When you continue on the trail, head back down to the intersection and turn left. If you have skipped the lake but wish not to take the side trail mentioned above, this will be a right for you. You'll quickly cross a small, warped bridge, at the foot of the lake, with a sweeping view of the lake and Duffy Butte. 

You will cross a creek just before you come to a T-intersection. Here, you'll want to turn south (right). You'll now be following signs for the Santiam trail. You'll meet up with the side trail coming from the right, and head southeast Half a mile from here, you'll come to another intersection. Head south again. 

The trail will wind its way up, gaining ~400 feet of elevation in this final mile of trail before the lake. You'll cross a small creek, the waters of which pour from Santiam lake itself. Shortly after the creek, you'll head up a hill and the trail will open up into a large meadow. Just before the trail turns into the ruts of an old dirt road, there will be a clump of shrubs. There lies a trail turning back the way you came but heading to the northeast. It will head down the hill and to the lake. There is a trail that I think circles the lake, but I'm not entirely sure. Try it out. 

Right when you get to the lake, there is a good campsite, but there are more along the small trail. Take your pick, set up camp, and spend the evening enjoying the lake and admiring the magnificent Three Fingered Jack, the relative base of which you are camped at. Because you are on the eastern side of Three Fingered Jack, you'll see fantastic alpenglow on the mountain just before dusk. In the north, you can see the tip of the top of Mt. Jefferson. 

IMPORTANT: if you wish to have a campfire at Santiam Lake or Duffy Lake, as the sign says, no campfires within 100 feet of the lake. Failure to follow this regulation will result in a $250 fine. 

IMPORTANT (but different): in June, especially on the Santiam Lake trail, there is a solid amount of snow pack still covering the trail. Further, it seems that the Forest Service has not been back to clear downed trees in quite some time, so there are also a fair amount of felled trees blocking the trail. Be sure to either have fair snow navigational skills or be familiar with the trail (take a map!! also: google maps can tell you where you are even without service, although it will take a few minutes to find you. This can be very helpful if only just to find the correct direction to walk in!), and also be comfortable going over and around many logs. 

Also, the bathrooms that are mentioned in the available amenities are only at the T.H., so don't expect a toilet at either lake!

Happy trails!

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