Southern Three Sisters Wilderness: Erma Bell and Williams Lake Loop

Middle Erma Bell Lake
Continuing on my quest to hike in 50 Wilderness Areas, I set out to hike in both the Three Sisters Wilderness and the Waldo Lake Wilderness. This post will focus on the section of the hike through the Erma Bell Lakes region of the Three Sisters Wilderness. After car camping at Skookum Campground/Trailhead my friend and I set out to hike a 10 mile loop around Erma Bell, Williams, and Otter Lakes. The trail exits the campground over Skookum Creek and is nearly flat until reaching lower Erma Bell Lake.
Nearly flat section of the Erma Bell Trail

One of two bridges along the lower section of Erma Bell Trail
Oddly enough this is the only wheelchair accessible trail within a Wilderness Area that I have ever been on. The area is uniquely suited for this, because it is incredibly flat and has very few obstructions. Upon reaching Lower Erma Lake we could hear several families playing along the side of the lake. There are campsites near the lake shore, but the Forest Service asks that you only use the sites marked with a post.

Lower Erma Bell Lake

Small cascade between Middle and Lower Erma Bell Lakes
 Middle Erma Bell Lake was more beautiful and didn't have anyone camping along the western shore. After a short break, due to the growing clouds of mosquitoes, we made our way towards Mud Lake. This lake unlike Lower and Middle Erma Bell looked pretty disgusting. There are a couple of short climbs between the Mud Lake and Middle Erma Bell.

Middle Erma Bell Lake

The aptly named Mud Lake along the Erma Bell Trail 
If you're trying to simply complete the Erma Bell and Williams Lake loop, continue along the Erma Bell trail until you reach a left turn a signed junction for Williams Lake. If you turn right you can make your way to the Taylor Burn Guard Station and Waldo Lake Wilderness. Back on the Williams Lake trail the mosquitoes were fairly bad, but the interesting forest made up for them.

The relatively small Williams Lake

Williams Lake trail in Three Sisters Wilderness
The area near the Taylor Burn Guard Station was burned in the early 1900's by sheepherders trying to clear forest. This spawned a forest dominated by lodgepole pine. It was burned again in 1996. The recent fire helped created several decent areas to pick huckleberries. There is something incredible about huckleberry season in the High Cascades.
Huckleberries along the Williams Lake Trail

Beautiful forest along the Williams Lake Trail
Otter Lake was near the end of our hike and we were both wanting to swim, but a large amount of algae prevented that. After connecting back up to the Erma Bell Trail we made excellent time back to Skookum Creek.

Very 'leggy' old-growth Douglas-fir

Along the Erma Bell Trail
I was somewhat surprised to see the campground nearly full when we returned. Keeping that in mind, visiting here during the week is probably the best course of action of you want to camp at Skookum Campground. But if you're backpacking in, I don't really see a way that the very large parking lot could fill up. The Erma Bell Lakes basin is a beautiful destination and a great base camp for further exploration of the Three Sisters Wilderness and Waldo Lake Wilderness.

Directions from Eugene: Follow Highway 58 for 31.5 miles, turn left onto Westfir road, continue along this road until it becomes Forest Road 19(Aufderheide) and follow for 35 miles, turn right onto FR 1957 and follow for 4 miles to the end of the road at the campground.

Hike Distance:  10.1 from the start of the trail miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 1000 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 4000 Feet

Usage: Heavy

Difficulty: 1 out of 5

Fees: 5 dollar day pass or Northwest Forest Pass

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