Fall Hike to Duffy and Mowich Lakes

Duffy Lake 

Straddling the Cascade Crest and three different National Forests lies the relatively large Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Home to an incredible array of forest types, rivers, creeks, alpine lakes, and nearly 200 miles of trails, Mount Jefferson Wilderness is understandably very popular. Marion Lake and Duffy Lake are two of the most popular destinations on the west side of the Wilderness, while Jack Lake and Wasco Lake are popular east side destinations. There are many other opportunities for long hikes including a 40 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail to Duffy Lake starts out in a very impressive old-growth Douglas-fir/western hemlock forest as it climbs slightly in elevation.
Old-growth Douglas-fir along the Duffy Lake Trail

Douglas-fir and vine maple along the Duffy Lake Trail 
Climbing through a misty old-growth forest on a crispy fall day is one the best things about living in the Willamette Valley. After walking through about a mile of large trees there is shift towards trees that grow better at a higher elevation such as mountain hemlock and a variety of true firs. As we neared the bridge-less crossing of the Santiam River we discussed different possibilities if the crossing was going to be unsafe. Thankfully we were able to cross it and keep our feet dry. I'm assuming that the flow would increase dramatically in the spring as snow melts.

River crossing of the Santiam along the Duffy Lake Trail

Downstream from the river crossing of the Santiam on the Duffy Lake Trail
We took a quick snack break after crossing the Santiam River. This also gave Caitlin a chance to try out her new Sawyer Squeeze water filter. So far the filter has worked out well, but she will review that later on after a few more uses. Shortly after crossing the Santiam River you will come to a trail junction with trail #3433, which will lead you to the Maxwell Trailhead. This trail also connects up with the Maxwell Butte trail. Continuing past this junction you will quickly reach Duffy Lake. 

Maxwell Trail Cutoff (Trail #3433)

Caitlin looking out at Duffy Lake
The trail after Duffy Lake leads through a meadow which was mostly filled with water. It seems that the trail is in need of a reroute to avoid further damage to this area. After this moist meadow the trail climbs into an area burned several years ago. It's recovering quickly, with lodgepole pine, manzanita, and western white pine leading the way. The trail is relatively steep in places and with recent rains will likely have water flowing down it. Once we arrived at Mowich Lake the rain really started to pick up, so we decided to head back to the trailhead. If you continue about half a mile past Mowitch Lake and take a hard right on trail #3494 this will connect you back to the Duffy Lake trail, near Duffy Lake.
Duffy Meadow

Trail #3422 just before Mowich Lake

Heavy fog on Mowich Lake

Directions from Sweet Home: Follow Highway 20 east for 47.7 miles , turn left onto Highway 22, follow for 5.6 miles, turn right onto the road signed 'Big Meadows" (FR 2267), follow FR 2276 for 2.6 miles, keep left at the junction for .2 miles to the end of the road at a large turnaround.

Hike Distance:  9.7 miles

Hike Type: Out and Back 

Elevation Gain: 1100 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 4,000 Feet

Usage: Heavy in Summer, light in fall

Difficulty: 1 out of 5

Fees: 5 dollars or Northwest Forest Pass


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