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Mountain Lakes Wilderness

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Viewing out through open snow-covered forest to a tall snowcapped mountain peak in the distance.
Library image #2895: Mountain Lakes Wilderness with Mt. McLoughlin in the background.


The United States Congress designated the Mountain Lakes Wilderness (map) in 1964 and it now has a total of 23,036 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Oregon and is managed by the Forest Service.


Before its eruption and subsequent transformation into a large caldera (a broad, craterlike basin formed by volcanic violence), the area we call Mountain Lakes Wilderness was a 12,000-foot mountain, one of the giants of the southern Cascades. Glaciation then carved up the caldera, leaving a scattering of small alpine lakes instead of one enormous body of water, such as Crater Lake National Park to the north. Only eight prominent peaks remain of the caldera's rim. Unique to the National Wilderness Preservation System, this area is the only Wilderness with a perfectly square boundary. Long appreciated for its wonder, Mountain Lakes was one of the three original Primitive areas created in 1930 in the Washington-Oregon region. Mosquitoes fly thickly from snowmelt to mid-August, snack food for the rainbow and brook trout in the lakes. The 8.2-mile Mountain Lakes Loop Trail winds along the southern rim of the caldera, connecting three trails in the interior of the Wilderness: the Clover Creek Trail (4 miles) from the south, the Mountain Lakes Trail (6.5 miles) from the west, and the Varney Creek Trail (4.5 miles) from the north. Beyond the eastern boundary lies private land.

Planning to Visit the Mountain Lakes Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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