Benson Lake and Hand Lake Loop

Benson Lake
We have had a relatively mild October until this last week, with the current forecast for next week calling for snow or rain based on elevation. For some people this would be the end of their 'hiking season'. I believe hiking is a year round activity. There is something so peaceful and beautiful to me about getting out on the trail on a cold and rainy day. Part of this is of course the lack of people on even the most popular of trails. After realizing snow would soon be falling in the High Cascades I started searching for a hike that would soon be under snow. After reading through a few guidebooks I decided to turn to my McKenzie River Ranger District map to find a few trails I could string together into a loop that was between 6-10 miles. Quickly I ran my Scalex Map Wheel over the trail, it came up as about 7 miles. If you're unfamiliar with a Map Wheel definitely check out Scalex's website.
I absolutely love driving on Highway 242, it's great no matter the time of year and the vine and big leaf maples make fall my favorite.

Autumn colors along Highway 242

If you haven't ever driven Highway 242 you've been missing out. It's generally closed to cars from late October- June because of snow, and it isn't plowed past the Proxy Falls trailhead. Highway 242 was originally a wagon road and then turned in to a highway in 1921. This is obvious in the switchbacks and narrow roadbed, which make for an awesome driving experience. This road is also very popular for cyclists, so slow down and always count on someone being around the corner.

Trailhead for Benson Lake near Scott Lake

After filling out my entry slip and paying the $5 fee I set out on the trail towards Benson Lake. The trail seemed to be fairly well maintained and there was only one tree across the trail for all 8 miles of it. The area around Benson lake was filled with meadows and ponds that would no doubt bring clouds of mosquitoes during early summer. There were even a few of the pests out on this rainy, cool day. The trail in many spots was a more like a small stream in a lot of places, with the water being about ankle deep.

Benson Lake shrouded in fog

Shoes of choice for the day: FiveFingers KSO Trek
I'm a big advocate of minimalist footwear and love the Vibram FiveFingers but this hike was definitely fairly painful because of the low temperatures and the constant water. I feel that my feet need a few cold fall hikes to adjust to the weather. After coming to Benson Lake you will continue climbing towards a junction with the Scott Mountain trail. During this time you will pass Tenas Lakes, which seemed fairly sweet, but I didn't visit them because it was fairly late in the day.

Huckleberries provide some fall color in this meadow
Trail junction towards Tenas Lakes
 Had it not been for the rain I would have liked to summit Scott Mountain, but with the heavy clouds I figured any vista would be obstructed. As the trail descends you will pass through a number of different kinds of forest, including a recent fire area. This area was fairly overgrown with Huckleberries, which on a cold wet day do a great job of soaking your pants. I moved quickly through this area only stopping to take a few pictures.
Small lava flow area

Recent burn area
Soon after the burn area you will come to a junction that is signed with Hand Lake towards your right, take this trail if you're heading back to the Benson Lake trailhead. The trail again dramatically changes character as you come across a massive lava flow that has sparse tree cover. You will skirt this lava flow until you reach Hand Lake. Sadly I didn't get any good pictures of Hand Lake because my lens was fogged up and my clothes were all damp. 
Huge sparsely forested lava flow along the Hand Lake Trail

The Hand Lake Trail near a lava flow

After Hand Lake the trail follows a very moist area filled with meadows and ponds. Shortly before you reach Scott Lake there is a short, easy climb. Once you reach the shores of Scott Lake you can follow the main road out of the campground back to the Benson Lake Trailhead.
Meadow shortly before Scott Lake

The north shore of Scott Lake

The Benson Lake and Hand Lake loop is an awesome showcase of the beauty that the McKenzie Highway has to offer. Given that you are no more than 2 miles as the crow flies from the highway this trail offers a feeling of wonderful isolation. As long as Highway 242 is open, this trail should be accessible.

Directions from McKenzie Bridge: Follow Highway 126 for 3 miles turn right onto Highway 242, follow for 14 miles, turn left at Scott Lake campground, follow dirt forest rd. 260 until the end, about one mile. Trailhead is well marked.

Trailhead Elevation:
Approximately 4,800 feet

Hike Distance:
8.4 miles according to my Garmin Oregon 550 GPS 

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: Approximately 1,000 feet

Light, didn't see anyone

Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Fees: 5 dollars or a Northwest Forest Pass

Benson Lake and Hand Lake Loop at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Oregon

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