- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

WALDO LAKE, Ore. (AP) - Waldo Lake is one of those places every Oregonian should visit at least once.

Oregon’s second-largest lake - and one of the world’s clearest - Waldo is a natural phenomenon on Willamette Pass east of Eugene.

On a clear day, you can see more than 150 feet deep in the lake’s sapphire waters - the deepest point is 420 feet. Diamond Peak rises above the south shoreline, and numerous islands and inlets invite exploring via boat.

The problem for casual visitors is where to begin. The lake is 10 square miles and home to numerous campsites, trails and boat launches. It’s a center for recreation in late summer and early autumn, when the area’s notoriously thick mosquito population thins out.

I visited Waldo in early September with just a half day for recreation. The question I considered beforehand was how best to experience this overwhelming destination in just six hours or so.

The answer, according to those who know it best, was to launch from the boat ramp at North Waldo Campground and explore the islands, inlets and beaches nearby.

Those with more time should consider a tour that includes visiting the lake’s boat-in campsites. I’ll save that for another day.

Waldo Lake gets plenty of visitors on sunny weekends in August or September, but the lake is also large enough to absorb most visitors. I always prefer weekdays.

Motor boat ban

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill aimed at keeping Waldo Lake pristine and quiet.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, authored legislation that banned internal combustion engines. The legislation outlawed most traditional motor boats, along with seaplanes. Electric motors are allowed for boats that travel under 10 MPH.

“This summer, I spent a wonderful warm weekend camping and canoeing at Waldo Lake,” said Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for the advocacy group Oregon Wild, who testified in support of the bill. “The no-motor policy appears to be a smashing success. Every manner of human-powered watercraft, from sailboats to paddleboards, were plying the lake in peace and harmony.”

Upon passing the bill, Prozanski said his motivation was to allow “everyone to enjoy this unique setting without being impacted by noise or water pollution.”

The North Shore

I decided a few years ago that I was unwilling to buy more than one hard-shell kayak. They’re too expensive.

Since whitewater kayaking is my biggest passion, I bought a used Liquid Logic Remix 79 five years ago. It’s designed for rivers and creeks, but with a narrow design and plenty of space, the boat works quite well for flat-water kayaking as well.

My point here is that you don’t need the most expensive boat from REI just to paddle Waldo Lake. Canoes and touring kayaks are best, of course, but even an inflatable boat would work fine on a calm day. Stand-up paddleboards are another option. Don’t let concerns about equipment stop you from experiencing natural wonders.

(Stepping down off soapbox.)

Anyway, I loaded up my kayak at Waldo Lake’s northernmost boat launch, filled it with drinks and snacks and headed off into the blue.

My destination was the collection of volcanic islands, and they begin quite close to the boat launch. The fun thing about island hopping at Waldo Lake is that the islands come in all shapes and sizes. Some are little more than a collection of rocks poking up through the surface, while others are large islands with a small forest to explore.

The islands are only for day-use - no campfires or camping is allowed.

I traveled northwest down the lake’s shoreline, stopping at five islands and eyeballing a few sand beaches that had already been claimed. At the largest island, I set up a hammock and enjoyed reading for about an hour, with a quick swim here and there.

It was heavenly.

Eventually, I paddled into the “burn zone,” the section of shoreline where the 1996 Charleton Butte fire torched 10,400 acres of the Waldo Lake Wilderness. I stopped to explore the burned area, which was actually home to some of the best sand beaches and spots for cliff jumping.

After getting pretty close to the lake’s northwest corner, I turned around and headed back the way I came. This meant paddling into the wind, and it took a bit longer, but it wasn’t too tough.

Overall, my quick trip of island hopping lasted right around four and a half hours. It would have been fun to stay longer, for sure, and spending a night at one of the boat-in sites would have been grand, but I’ll save that for another time.

To experience Waldo Lake at its best - and with more time - I’d recommend island hopping every day of the week.

If you go …

Waldo Lake

In a nutshell: One of the world’s clearest lakes - and Oregon’s second-largest lake - near Willamette Pass east of Eugene

Season: Best time to visit is late August, September and early October. The lake is open earlier, but mosquitoes are very bad.

Elevation: 5,414 feet

Water clarity: You can see deeper than 150 feet on a clear day at Waldo Lake.

Development: Multiple campgrounds and trails surround the lake.

Island day use: You can visit Waldo Lake’s islands for day use, but you can’t camp there or make a campfire. You can visit boat-in campsites around the lake. Contact the Middle Fork District Office for details.

Information: Middle Fork District Office, Willamette National Forest, 541-782-2283

Drive time: Two hour and 46 minute drive from Salem

Directions: From Eugene, take Willamette Pass Highway 58 east for 65 miles and turn left onto Forest Service Road 5897 at signs for Waldo Lake. Follow signs for North Shore Campground.

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The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal’s website: http://stjr.nl/2duUCRo

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

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