SKY LAKES, OREGON
Sky Lakes Profile in Southern Oregon Cascade Range  

 
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 Mount McLoughlin.
 
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.
 
Special Rules
 
- 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 Sky Lakes.
 
- 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 Wilderness.
 
- 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 apply:
 
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.
 
Geology
 
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."
 
Vegetation
 
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 Wilderness.
  
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.
 
Wildlife
 
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.
 
Climate
 
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.
 
History
  
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 half-century earlier.
 
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 Trail.
 
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 required.)
 
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.
  
Motorized Use
 
Motor vehicles and motorized equipment such as chainsaws are not allowed. Also, mountain bikes are prohibited.
 
Camping
  
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

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.
  
Fishing
  
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.
  
Hunting
  
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.
  
Stock
  
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.
  
Pests
  
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.
  
Wildflowers
  
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
  
Rock climbing is not considered an attraction in Sky Lakes.
  
Emergency Considerations
  
- 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)
  
Introduction
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.
  
Description
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 specific information.
 
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 wilderness.
 
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 wilderness.
 
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 : 100 FEET
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 visit.
 
STOCK USE RESTRICTION - MANDATORY SETBACK FROM WATER : 200 FEET
Protect water quality, vegetation, and privacy of other groups.
 
STOCK USE RESTRICTION - NO HITCHING OR TETHERING : 200 FEET
Prohibits tethering stock to live tree for more than 1 hour; prevents spread of barren soil areas and girdling of trees.

For More Information Contact:
 
Fremont-Winema National Forests
Klamath Ranger District
1936 California Avenue
Klamath Falls, OR 97601
(541) 885-3400
 
Klamath Falls Work Center
2819 Dahlia Street
Klamath Falls, OR 97601
541-883-6714
 
Web info: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/frewin/
 

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