Clear Lake Oregon is the stunning headwaters to America’s cleanest river – the McKenzie River.
“Dramatic lava flows, great springs, crystal blue waters, an ancient underwater forest, vista views of the Three Sisters mountains all surrounded by towering, 100 foot tall Douglas Fir trees – combine to create another great magical travel experience at Oregon’s Clear Lake!”
Nearly every state has a Clear Lake, some states like Oregon, have more than one.
This Clear Lake is the most famous in Oregon. As part of the McKenzie River, it may be the most unique in America.
When you visit Oregon, make sure you stop by and take in the National Park quality attractions in the central cascade mountains especially the McKenzie River area.
This Clear Lake is the headwaters of the McKenzie River and is famous for its crystal clear waters. Although there is some snow melt that fills the lake, Clear Lake is predominantly fed by underground springs that flow year round. The clarity of the water is phenomenal – swimming pool clear – and it is a striking site to behold.
The lake was created about 3,000 years ago as the result of a lava flow from Sand Mountain. The lava created a natural dam at the south end of the lake. The waters filled up slowly leaving many trees still standing under water. The frigid waters (35-43 Degrees F) have preserved many of the trees, some of which are still standing underwater.
Actives at Clear Lake Oregon
Hiking / Mountain Biking – Clear Lake Trail / McKenzie River Trail: The lake is surrounded by a 4.6 mile loop trail. The front side is Clear Lake Trail and the back side is the famous McKenzie River Trail. Its a fairly flat trail, both family and pet friendly. The back side of the lake – the McKenzie River Trail side, can be a bit challenging on a bike as it weaves through lava fields.
Allow 1-3 hours to hike the trail.
This loop is a great smaller mountain biking trail for people who do not want to bike the entire McKenzie River Trail. Just remember, the back side of the lake can be difficult for beginning riders, novice riders should be be prepared to walk your bike through the tougher parts. For more information on the McKenzie River Trail for Mountain Biking visit McKenzieRiverTrail.com
Clear Lake Trail may be stroller and at least partially wheel chair friendly. These are mountain trails and are NOT ADA compliant – however, with assistance, many should be able to explore trails for a bit. Proceed with caution and use good judgement for what you can and cannot do safely.
Fishing – ODFW regularly stocks the lake with trout.
Boating – Row Boats are available for rent at the boat house. Rates are $30 a day or $15 per hour. Bring your own boat with a $5 launch fee. In order to maintain the water quality, motorized boats are not allowed on the this lake.
Diving – These standing trees and the clear waters make Clear Lake for an extremely popular fresh water dive spots in the United States. See the video below for an entrancing underwater film clip. The image of a scuba diver swimming among standing trees is so surreal it almost seems like a Hollywood special effect. Note to diver – the water is cold! Bring appropriate diving suits.
On a past visit to the lake, I asked a diver how they could handle swimming in that cold water for such an extended time. The diver peeled down his wet suit to reveal a second wet suit under the first!
Where to stay at Clear Lake Oregon
Lodging – Clear Lake Resort offers rustic lodging options. You can get more information and reserve a Clear Lake Resort cabin rental here.
These are very “rustic”, Clear Lake Resort says to bring “Complete bedding with pillow, sheets, blankets and/or sleeping bags. Complete cooking & eating utensils, dish soap, dish cloths & towels, pot holders. Food & beverage supplies. All bath linens & toiletries. Barbecue grill (if desired). Lawn chairs (if desired).”
They also add, “There are no individual fire pits at the campsites. There is one group fire pit at the boat ramp for all to share (please bring your own firewood). Campsites DO NOT have a fire ring and are very primitive.”
Camping – Camping is available at Cold Water Cove Campground (approx. #5 on the trail map to the right).
More lodging options are available down river in nearby towns of McKenzie Bridge and Blue River, Oregon. If you are done exploring the wonders in the McKenzie River are, nearby on the eastern side of the cascades, you can find lodging in and around Sisters Oregon.
For more information on the headwaters of the McKenzie River, visit our geology page for an interesting video clip and great pictures of hidden springs.