Backpack to Square and Booth Lakes
Oregon › PCT - Mt. Jefferson Wilderness
Added by Chris Anderson
Very easy access and great for kids. There is Day Hiking, Fishing, Photography, Wilderness Disc Golf.
This is an easy access, fairly short backpacking trip to a high mountain lake, which is good for kids. A super dusty, dry and smoke permeated trip to the base of Three Fingered Jack. Forest fires raging throughout the northwest poured smoke in to the entire western half of the state during this August weekend. A fun adventure to get different perspectives from a wilderness area recovering from fire more than 10 years ago. Lakes are low, but allow for several fun activities. Day hiking options abound and views are improved because of the state of the forest.
As of August 2015, conditions are extremely smoky and dusty. Remnants of the 2003 B&B Forest Fire predominate landscape, and there is little shade. While our first night was clear, by the next morning the smoke had arrived, obscuring the view of Mt. Washington and Three Sisters. Regrowth is still fairly small - pine and fir trees are around 4’ tall. Foliage is in recovery from fire, with many brush and shrubs. Some trees survived in patches, especially around lake areas. There are several meadow areas with dry grasses.
Fish activity is high at both lakes. There are many small frogs at Booth, two larger frogs as well. Other wildlife include robins, ducks, osprey, chipmunks, and garter snakes.
This backpacking adventure was planned as a combination of activities to accommodate a diverse group (two regular backpackers, my part time backpacking wife and eight year old son). Requirements included keeping the distance around three miles, primarily for my son’s sake. Additionally, fishing and photography were prime considerations. In order to meet these goals we wanted to combine a shorter first night entry to a lake with the ability to do a longer day hike during the day Saturday. Square Lake near Santiam Pass fits these requirements nicely.
From Eugene it is approximately a two hour drive to the trailhead. The road from Eugene of course traverses through the McKenzie River Valley, which works out well should you need to grab a quick bite to eat on the way. For a quick but tasty option we recommend calling ahead to one of the local restaurants such as the Vida Café or Takoda’s Pizza to pick up a snack. One important note we discovered – call the restaurant and ask if they are open! Don’t just rely on the web to tell you, as we found the Vida Cafe to actually be open while the web said otherwise.
Square Lake is approximately 2.2 miles from the PCT trailhead at the Santiam Highway. From this trailhead there is access to a number of wonderful locations. This itinerary includes night one at Square, and then day hiking up past Booth and Martin Lakes to end on the flank of Three Fingered Jack.
From the trailhead, take the path traversing approximately .3 miles up the PCT before connecting to the Old Summit Trail. This continues for about another 1.75 miles before you hit the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness boundary. Depending on the time of day, you can find a campsite after dropping into the Square Lake basin. It seems that there are approximately 5 good sites around the lake. These include taking a right around the lake just as you come in, traveling around the lake as we did approximately 100 yards before the trail junction, and finally all the way around to the opposite side of the lake on a peninsula.
Due to our late arrival, we ended up having another Mountain House meal for dinner, which have all proved to be pretty light weight and tasty options (especially if you add a couple of small extras). I’ll post some specific reviews on these in the upcoming review section
Night is beautifully clear with great views of the Milky Way over the lake. This presents some excellent opportunities for astrophotography. Tip: Always take advantage of the first night photography opportunities. I have been frustrated on several occasions when I didn’t follow this tip only to find something interfering with the ability to get quality images on subsequent evenings.
You can choose to move your campsite to Booth Lake, the next day, or alternatively go on a day hike from your current set up. Booth is about another 2 miles beyond the trial junction, and nice views (when the smoke isn’t a problem) greet you as you ascend the approximately 400 feet of elevation. Booth also has very limited camping options, with really only two or three good spots available, but shouldn't be very crowded.
There is potential for several activities during this weekend adventure, including float tube fishing at Square and Booth Lakes. In August, fish activity was obvious, however, as usual for that time of year in the high Cascades, the fish are finicky and difficult to catch. Spinner fishing for several hours morning and evening only resulted in one smaller fish caught and a few bites. We are guessing that this would be a great area to try your luck further into September and early October.
Additionally this area has some good options for wilderness disc golf, but players need to be careful about hole selection as there are some locations that can result in lost discs. Photography here is also interesting as a different perspective and approach is required due to the state of the forest. This particular weekend was a challenge however, because of the very smoky conditions. Full reports on Wilderness Disc Golf and Photography will be available at Metolius Photography and Wilderness Disc Golf.
In general this area can be fun and a good area of adventure to fit a diverse set of requirements if needed. The ability to take kids on the shorter hike and add longer adventures into the trip were what appealed to our group. Keep in mind that this is a recovering forest area, and adventurers should be prepared for somewhat dusty, dry and potentially hot conditions due to the lack of shade. There are however a great number of options to find a small patch of shade, explore, get a campsite and either relax in or around the water or pursue a number of different outdoor activities.
Getting there: Follow directions to Santiam Pass. Upon arriving at the pass look for the PCT trailhead sign approximately 50 yards to the east of the Hoodoo Ski Bowl Entrance. Take the PCT trail for about .3 miles until it connects to the old summit trail. Take a right on trail to Square Lake. Junction at Square Lake leads towards Booth Lake or continues on to Round Lake.
Day hike towards Three Fingered Jack: While our original goal was to day hike to Martin Lake, our resident planner neglected to thoroughly read guide book directions regarding the difficulty in finding the trail junction. I will reiterate here; it seems nearly impossible to try and find the trail junction to Martin Lake from the trail leading up and above Booth Lake, in fact we looked very long for this trail and I’m not sure if it even still exists. Hikers may be able to bushwack from the opposite direction. This is the recommended approach that William Sullivan describes in his 100 Hikes in the Oregon Cascades book, which actually offers a nice loop that I’m guessing is a great option (future trip for us). You can however continue up towards the mountain and get very close, with some excellent views of the peak through the now burned tree remnants.
Through hike from Square to Round Lake: If you have a car shuttle you could place a car at the Round Lake Trail Head and through hike between Santiam Pass and Round Lake.
Loop hike: Following the directions in William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades “Three Fingered Jack Hike” you can continue on the PCT towards a viewpoint and junction to Martin Lake. This allows you to take a look hike in the opposite direction and continue down to Booth and Square Lakes before returning to the car.
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Water Bottle
- Water Filter
- Hiking Boots
- Fleece Coat
- Fleece Pants
- Rain Coat
- Change of clothes
- Cooking kit
- Hot Sauce
- Plate or Disc
- Wilderness Disc Golf Disc (floating)
- Spare batteries
- Sun glasses
- Tarp/Space Blanket
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They say that this wildfire area just allows more views with less trees - but the truth is that the burnt forest can be a little depressing and tiring on the eyes. If you make it all the way out to the Three Fingered Jack area, I would recommend heading to the other side of the mountain and camping in Canyon Creek Meadows. You can park at Jack Lake for an easy 2 mile hike in, and there are plenty of stunning day hikes to keep you busy (and your legs sore).
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