Elk Lake

Oregon's Western Cascades — Willamette National Forest

Elk Lake - Willamette National Forest

Elk Lake at dawn.

Elk Lake is both beautiful and relatively remote. When we camped in August, though most of the camp sites were taken, we managed to score a nice spot close to the lake with a convenient put in for the kayaks.

In addition to its watery charms, it's also close to Battle Ax Mountain, which was our priority for hiking.

The evening was graced by a giant full moon over the lake, clear sky, and millions of stars. Other than the hum from distant campers, it was primal. I regretted not being able to capture a decent photograph of the moonrise.

The following day, while we kayaked, other campers played in the lake, swam, and generally messed around, but it wasn't unpleasantly crowded. The lake is certainly large enough to accommodate a few paddlers. Designated camp sites are on the north side of the lake, but it's easy to paddle across, beach your boat, and do a little exploring in the woods on the south side. We missed them this year, but know there are wild huckleberries and blueberries usually ripe for picking in late August and early September.

Campsite amenities are minimal. There are some primitive pit toilets (which were surprisingly well maintained considering), but campsites are loosely designated around the parking. Hiking and hauling equipment a little way is more likely to garner a better campsite somewhat removed from other campers. As forest service maintenance is limited, plan to pack everything out.

  • Details
  • Getting There
  • Map

Permits & Passes: The Forest Service requires a self-issue permit.

Camp sites: Limited ... 12 with adjacent parking, but several hike-in sites with fire rings and lake access. There are no reservations and it's first come, first served.

Amenities: Pit toilets. No garbage — Plan on packing everything out. NO Water ... bring what you need.

Activities: Swimming in the lake and non-motorized boats. There is a boat ramp at the marshy end of the lake near the campsites. Hiking trails include Battle Ax Mountain, Battle Ax Creek, and Opal Creek.

Season: June to November

From I-5 near Salem, drive east on Hwy 22 (aka Santiam Hwy) to Detroit Lake (approx. 50 miles). Turn left onto Hightway 46 (Breitenbush Rd.) at the northeast end of the lake, where you will pass the Detroit Lake Marina. Proceed approximately five miles, then turn left to National Forest Service road 4696. You will pass service road 720 on your left; take the right fork to continue on 4696. At the next branch in the road, turn left on 4697 to reach Elk Lake. There is a switchback somewhat further up (service road 350 is marked); you want to continue on 4697.

The road is rough and clearance is low. Proceed with caution, especially the last couple miles.

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Disclaimer: The trail map shown here is for information only. For accurate, up-to-date information, visit the ranger station at Detroit Lake for Forest Service maps.

Related links

USDA Forest Service Information— Information for Elk Lake is posted at the Forest Service website.

Dispersed Camping Guidelines in National Forests — General rules for camping in remote or undeveloped locations within the National Forests.