Sky Lakes Wilderness, designated by Congress in 1984, is
a land of lakes, rocky ridges, and timbered slopes. Sky
Lakes Wilderness (113,590 acres) straddles southern
Oregon's Cascade Range from Crater Lake National Park
southward to Highway 140. It is approximately six miles
wide and twenty-seven miles long, with elevations
ranging from 3,800 feet in the canyon of the Middle Fork
of the Rogue River, to a lofty 9,495 feet at the top of
More than 200 pools of water, from mere ponds to lakes
of 30 to 40 acres, dot the landscape. Fourmile Lake,
near the southern end of the area exceeds 900 acres.
The lake basins can sometimes be crowded with other
campers, but the Wilderness has thousands of acres of
forest and scenic ridges where the visitor can find
solitude. There are no developed or improved campsites
in Sky Lakes.
- Motorized vehicles and equipment are prohibited. In
addition, hang-gliders, carts, wagons, bicycles and
other forms of mechanized transport are not allowed
(disabled persons in wheelchairs permitted.)
- Maximum group size is 8 persons; maximum number of
stock per group is 12 pack/saddle animals.
- Campsites must be at least 100 feet from lakeshores
and 50 feet from streams. Keep pack and saddle animals
at least 200 feet from lakeshores and 50 feet from
streams. There are no developed or improved campsites in
- Avoid tying animals to any live tree; doing so wears
off the bark and exposes roots, which eventually kills
the tree. Instead, use a "high-line" stretched tightly
between two trees.
- Be sure to bring adequate food (pellets or grain, not
hay) for your animal because feed is scarce in the
- Grazing is not allowed before August 1, unless
otherwise posted at trailhead bulletin boards.
- Avoid specially marked "restoration sites."
- So that everyone may enjoy the tranquility of the
Wilderness, refrain from operating loud radios or other
audio devices. Discharging of firearms within or near
occupied areas or across lakes is prohibited.
- The Wilderness contains two lake basins (Seven Lakes
Basin and Blue Canyon Basin) where further restrictions
In sensitive areas of these two basins, groups with
pack/saddle animals must camp only within designated
"horse camp" sites. These sites are marked with signs;
sensitive areas and horse-camp locations are shown on
maps posted at trailheads.
In the two basins, grazing is permitted only in
designated meadows and only after August 1 (unless
otherwise posted at trailhead bulletin boards).
Be sure to check the trailhead bulletin board for
current rules and other information pertaining to the
Sky Lakes Wilderness. The complete management
regulations enforced in the area may be reviewed in the
Forest Supervisor or District Ranger offices.
In terms of geologic time, the Sky Lakes Wilderness is
quite young. Its volcanic and glacial history is clearly
written in landforms as well as rocks and soil.
Geologic studies indicate that the earliest rocks in
this part of the High Cascades began forming when a
chain of volcanoes erupted between five and three
million years ago. During the "Ice Age," the composite
volcanoes of Mount Mazama and Mount McLoughlin began
their initial build-up less than one million years ago.
Just south of Sky Lakes, Brown Mountain produced its
extensive lava field as late as 20,000 to 15,000 years
ago, and the last eruption of Mt. McLoughlin took place
around the same time.
On their north and east slopes, Mt. McLoughlin and other
peaks bear the scars of glacial ice. Like most other
major drainages within Sky Lakes Wilderness, Seven Lakes
Basin and the deep canyon of the Rogue River's Middle
Fork were carved by the massive ice fields which covered
the highest elevations of the Cascades.
With the onset of warmer climate, local glaciers
virtually disappeared by 12,000 years ago. Volcanic
activity was not yet over, however. Minor lava eruptions
and mud-flows occurred at places like Big Bunchgrass
Butte and Imagination Peak. A chain of cinder cones,
extending from Goosenest Mountain north to present-day
Crater Lake National Park, also formed during the
post-glacial period. The most recent--and by far the
most catastrophic--geologic event happened about 6,700
years ago, when Mt. Mazama exploded and collapsed,
forming the caldera of Crater Lake. Some of the vast
amount of rock and ash which was thrown into the air
landed in the northern portion of Sky Lakes Wilderness,
creating the pumice-covered "Oregon Desert."
Although forests now carpet much of its terrain, Sky
Lakes Wilderness retains its character as a land derived
from "fire and ice."
On the timbered slopes are found many species of trees
and smaller plants. Nearly two dozen tree species exist,
ranging from the Pacific yew in the lowlands to the
mountain hemlock and subalpine fir in the higher places.
Lodgepole pine is commonly found, but is in its element
in the Oregon Desert. Whitebark pine, an uncommon tree
in Sky Lakes, may be found high on the slopes of Mt.
McLoughlin. Shasta red fir dominates much of the
Numerous shrubs, ground-covering plants, and wildflowers
occur in Sky Lakes. Special attention should be paid to
the prostrate juniper and heather in the rocks above
Margurette Lake, the brilliant columbine amid the talus
rock of Lucifer, and the kinnikinnick and huckleberry
found in many places throughout the wilderness.
You may encounter any of the wild creatures common to
the Cascade Range as you travel Sky Lakes. You may see
chipmunks, a family of deer, or even a herd of elk.
Possibly a black bear will visit your camp or a coyote
will fill your night with his lonely music. Uncommon
animals in the area include the yellow-bellied marmot,
the fisher, and the pine marten. Often heard (but rarely
seen) among the rocks of talus slopes is the tiny pika.
Eagles and other large hawks may be seen as they pass
through. Goshawks live and hunt under the tree canopy.
The area provides them with an excellent environment in
which to nest and rear their young.
Summers at this latitude tend to be warm and dry, while
winters at this high elevation are bitterly cold and
produce a heavy snow layer. The snows often prevent free
access through the area until mid-July. On protected
north slopes on Mt. McLoughlin and Devils Peak snow may
persist to the end of summer.
Except for an occasional summer
thunderstorm, there is normally little moisture from
June to October.
The fragility of plants and soils is directly related to
the climatic patterns. The growing season between the
thaw and the drought is extremely short.
Beginning several thousand years ago Native American
groups--ancestors of the Klamath and the Takelma
Indians--hunted game and gathered huckleberries within
the Sky Lakes area. Klamath youths would sometimes come
to make their "vision quest" (a religious experience
during which one fasted in solitude and sought a
spiritual vision while dreaming) on high peaks along the
Cascade crest. However, the short season of mild weather
and the limited variety of food plants and animals did
not encourage prehistoric visitors to stay long.
The early white settlers also made use of the Sky
Lakes--hunting, trapping beaver or marten in the winter,
grazing their stock (in the early days, large herds of
sheep) in the high meadows during the warm months.
Settlers from lower-elevation communities came each
August to pick huckleberries at places like Stuart Falls
and Twin Ponds. After 1906 the newly established Forest
Service built trails and fire lookouts within the Sky
Lakes area. By mid-1970s, a new Pacific Crest Trail
route replaced the original Oregon Skyline Trail of a
Points of Historical Interest. The Sky Lakes Wilderness
contains evidence of use by previous visitors--from the
stone tools of prehistoric Indians to 20th century
cabins and shelters. These cultural resources are
protected by law for public enjoyment and education;
please do not remove, disturb or destroy these gifts
from the past.
The Twin Ponds Trail follows the route of the old
Rancheria Trail, an Indian travel route. In 1863, it was
widened and used as a military wagon road between
Jacksonville and Fort Klamath. This portion of the
Rancheria Trail is listed on the Nation; Register of
Historic Places; many segments of the old wagon route
are visible to the discerning eye along the Twin Ponds
At the southeast end of Island Lake is the Waldo Tree.
This inscribed Shasta red fir bears the carved names of
early-day Oregon conservationist Judge John B. Waldo and
four companions. In 1888, these men journeyed south
along the crest of the Cascades, from Waldo Lake to Mt.
Shasta, the first recorded party to travel much of the
general route of what is now the Pacific Crest Trail.
Pacific Crest Trail
Hikers and horsemen will find a well constructed, well
maintained Pacific Crest Trail winding along 35 miles of
the summit of the Cascade Range through the Sky Lakes
Wilderness. A trailhead on Highway 140, a mile east of
Fish Lake, is the southern entrance point. The trail
passes through lake basins and over ridges on its way
north, where it crosses into Crater Lake National Park.
The Pacific Crest Trail may be reached from other
locations by way of the many other trails that enter the
Sky Lakes Wilderness.
Maps of the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon are
available at Forest Service offices.
Planning Your Trip
A hiker in good condition will average a maximum of
10-15 miles per day. Those not used to hiking should not
plan on more than 5 to 10 miles.
There are no stores along the way from Fish Lake or Lake
of the Woods resorts to Crater Lake Lodge. Side trips to
supply points in Butte Falls, Rocky Point, Prospect, or
Fort Klamath are not considered reasonable unless you
have a vehicle at the trailhead.
Don't plan to live off the land. Survival foods do not
exist in abundance. Berries are seasonal. Fishing can be
poor much of the season. (Oregon fishing licenses are
Permits and Fires
No permit is required provided that your group totals
less than 8 people and 12 horses and pack animals.
Remember that large groups are not compatible with the
No Trace ethic and can be destructive without intending
to be. A group of eight, for example, would often have
to split into two groups of four to avoid damage to
vegetation surrounding a potential campsite.
Normally, you will not need a campfire permit. However,
during unseasonably dry weather, campfires have in the
past been prohibited. Keep your firepit small and take
it apart when you leave. Scatter the cold ashes away
from the campsite. It is possible to leave no sign of
your fire. Firewood is scarce around many of the most
popular lakes. A light-weight gas or propane stove of
the backpacking variety is a handy item.
Motor vehicles and motorized equipment such as chainsaws
are not allowed. Also, mountain bikes are prohibited.
There are no developed or improved campsites in Sky
Lakes. Remember that camping is not allowed within 100'
of any lake or pond. Older camp spots from years past
can be seen very close to lake shores. Do not be tempted
to use these. Over time it is hoped that vegetation can
be restored on these sites so that the shores of popular
spots do not become deserts.
Wilderness rangers patrol the Sky Lakes area daily.
Their job is to help visitors to understand the unique
problems which increasing recreational use brings to our
wildlands. They also love to swap stories about the
wildlife and history of the area. They do not enjoy
having to enforce rules which exist for the common good.
Many of the nearly 200 lakes in the area are shallow and
do not support fish, but the deeper lakes may have some
brook trout. A few lakes may have rainbow trout. The
South and Middle forks of the Rogue River and Red
Blanket Creek also provide fishing. An Oregon State
fishing license is required.
General hunting seasons are in accordance with the
Oregon State Fish and Game Department regulations.
Oregon hunting licenses and appropriate game tags can be
obtained at most sporting goods stores in Oregon.
Outside of hunting season, firearms are permitted, but
discharging them is discouraged due to the obvious
nuisance effect created where peace and tranquility are
the expectations of users.
There are few meadows and very little grazing in the
lake basins. We recommend from 12 to 18 pounds of
pellets per head per day. To protect lakeshore
vegetation, pasturing or tethering of stock within 200'
of any lake is prohibited. Tie horses to a hitchline
strung high enough between two trees to allow them to
pass under. Set up you hitchline where damage to
vegetation will not occur. A shovel may be used to
scatter manure and keep flies down.
Rattlesnakes are not known to occur in Sky Lakes.
Mosquitoes can be very bad through midsummer. Bears are
only rarely a problem. There is no poison oak or ivy.
Depending on conditions from year to year, the most
spectacular wildflower displays occur in July or early
August. The best huckleberry picking is in late August.
Rock climbing is not considered an attraction in Sky
- There are not established search and rescue
organizations in the vicinity. Forest Service patrols
may be encountered anywhere in the area, but they cannot
be located at any fixed stations.
Sky Lakes Wilderness
"Let us permit nature to have her way; she understands
her business better than we do."
- Michael de Montaigne (1533 - 1592)
The United States Congress designated the Sky Lakes
Wilderness in 1984 and it now has a total of 113,590
acres. All of the wilderness is in Oregon and is managed
by the Forest Service.
With a name like Sky Lakes, this Wilderness is obliged
to deliver at least more than one impressive sapphire
pool, and it does. In fact, it takes in three major lake
(former glacial) basins as it stretches along the crest
of the volcanic Cascade Mountains from the border of
Crater Lake National Park on the north to State Highway
140 in the south: Seven Lakes, Sky Lakes, and Blue
Canyon basins. All of southern Oregon seems to lay at
your feet when viewed from the rugged summit of the
beautiful volcano Mount McLoughlin (elevation 9,495
feet), and then extends out northward into Sky Lakes'
broad plateau-like ridges, dotted with many of the
Wilderness's lakes. You'll find creeks and ice-cold
springs (such as Ranger Springs, where the Middle Fork
of the Rogue River springs to the surface almost
"full-grown" from the beneath the lava), grassy meadows,
and scores of crystalline sub-alpine lakes. Several of
the Wilderness's lakes (Alta and Natasha among them)
were found (by 1980s-90s Environmental Protection Agency
baseline study of acid-rain conditions in Western U.S.
mountain lakes) to have among the most chemically pure
water known of all lakes on the globe. Most of the
area's lakes (some of them stocked by the State of
Oregon with game fish) are set against a backdrop of
tall trees that reach to the edge of the lakeshore.
An overall high-elevation forest consisting largely of
Shasta red fir, western white pine, and mountain hemlock
yields to lodgepole pine around many of the lakes, as
well to moisture-loving Engelmann spruce here and there.
Hardy, long-lived whitebark pines are found near the
summits of Mt. McLoughlin and Devil's Peak. The forest's
understory is dominated by species of huckleberry, as
well as manzanita, snowbrush, and heather.
Elk herds spend much of the summer and early fall in the
northern third of the Sky Lakes Wilderness, and the
elk-hunting season can be very active; the entire
wilderness supports roving populations pine martens and
fishers, black bears, cougars, coyotes, as well as pikas
and golden-mantled ground squirrels and other species of
wildlife. During October and November, migrating birds
pass over in the hundreds of thousands, often stopping
at the high lakes. Ospreys regularly visit Sky Lakes to
try their luck at fishing. Thirsty swarms of mosquitoes
hatch from snowmelt until mid-August.
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCNST) passes
the entire length of Sky Lakes Wilderness north-south
for about 35 miles, but much of the PCNST route is well
away from streams, springs, and other water sources.
Human use is heavy in the three main lake basins,
particularly at the larger lakes, which are popular
fishing, hiking, and camping destinations. The
1888-inscribed "Waldo Tree," at the southeast shore of
Island Lake is a draw for a few historically minded
visitors each year, as is the opportunity to hike along
the route of an 1860s-1890s military wagon road, on the
present Twin Ponds Trail. The summit of Mt. McLoughlin
is a popular but very strenuous summer day-hike. Other
areas of the Wilderness typically provide excellent
opportunities for solitude.
The Sky Lakes Wilderness is part of the 107 million acre
National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of
lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical
for rare and endangered plants and animals. In
wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational
activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking,
canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching,
stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for
solitude. You play an important role in helping to
"secure for the American people of present and future
generations the benefits of an enduring resource of
wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United
States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow
the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace
techniques when visiting the Sky Lakes Wilderness to
ensure protection of this unique area.
General Wilderness Prohibitions
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical
transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands
designated as wilderness. This includes the use of motor
vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles,
hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the
landing of aircraft including helicopters, unless
provided for in specific legislation.
In a few areas some exceptions allowing the use of
motorized equipment or mechanical transport are
described in the special regulations in effect for a
specific area. Contact the Forest Service office or
visit the web sites listed on the 'Links' tab for more
These general prohibitions have been implemented for all
national forest wildernesses in order to implement the
provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Wilderness
Act requires management of human-caused impacts and
protection of the area's wilderness character to insure
that it is "unimpaired for the future use and enjoyment
as wilderness." Use of the equipment listed as
prohibited in wilderness is inconsistent with the
provision in the Wilderness Act which mandates
opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation and
that wilderness is a place that is in contrast with
areas where people and their works are dominant.
Sky Lakes Wilderness-Specific Regulations
Wilderness managers often need to take action to limit
the impacts caused by visitor activities in order to
protect the natural conditions of wilderness as required
by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Managers typically
implement 'indirect' types of actions such as
information and education measures before selecting more
restrictive measures. When regulations are necessary,
they are implemented with the specific intent of
balancing the need to preserve the character of the
wilderness while providing for the use and enjoyment of
Equestrians are welcome in Sky lakes Wilderness, which
offers many miles of day-riding or overnight-packing
opportunities. However, with its fragile ground-cover
vegetation and short growing season, special measures
must be taken by stock users while in the Wilderness to
protect the area's naturalness. Also, because of
ecological and social issues, in two of the high-use
lake basins of Sky Lakes (the Seven Lakes Basin and the
Blue Canyon Basin), designated horse-camps must be used
by equestrians when camping in these two areas. The
"Horses and the Sky Lakes Wilderness" brochure provides
details on these camps as well as many other items of
interest to horse users.
The following wilderness regulations are in effect for
this area. Not all regulations are in effect for every
CACHING OF EQUIPMENT PROHIBITED
No caching of food, supplies, equipment.
CAMPSITE RESTRICTION - IN DESIGNATED SITES ONLY
Restriction of camping within designated camps only
applies within two high-use lake-basin areas within the
wilderness, as shown on public hand-out map.
CAMPSITE RESTRICTION - MANDATORY SETBACK FROM WATER :
Campsites and fires prohibited within 100 feet from
lakes; 50 feet from streams or springs; preserves water
quality, vegetation, and privacy of other groups.
MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE: 8 MEMBERS
Group-size limits applied to provide for the mandated
opportunities of wilderness solitude.
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF STOCK: 12 HEARTBEATS
Number of stock permitted (12) provides for up to 8
people to ride and use pack animals during a wilderness
STOCK USE RESTRICTION - MANDATORY SETBACK FROM WATER :
Protect water quality, vegetation, and privacy of other
STOCK USE RESTRICTION - NO HITCHING OR TETHERING : 200
Prohibits tethering stock to live tree for more than 1
hour; prevents spread of barren soil areas and girdling