It had been years, decades actually, since I’d made the hike. But the other time the weather was chilly and brisk, with some snow flutters and flurries, so I’d only gone as far as Lower Rosary Lake.
This time was different. Toasty temperatures, blue skies and, most amazing of all for a summer day, no mosquitoes. And instead of just stopping at Lower Rosary, about 3 miles from the trailhead by the Willamette Pass summit, my trek continued another mile or so to and past Middle and Upper Rosary Lakes.
All three lakes are relaxingly beautiful, places to sit back and enjoy. Located in the far northwest corner of Klamath County, the lakes have been compared to a series of beads, rosary beads. It’s no coincidence that the nearby 7,818-foot mountain is Maiden Peak or that the rock outcrop overlooking the lake is Pulpit Rock.
People have been preaching the beauty of the area, especially of the three Rosary lakes, for generations. Except on summer weekends, it’s a relaxing place, a peaceful region filled with sounds, smells and sights. Samples: the drilling rat-at-tats of woodpeckers, the creaking sounds of tall trees flexing in the wind, the twittering of unseen birds, the soft whispers and scents from gentle breezes fluttering the lakes’ surfaces. And the steady bzzzzs of foraging bees sometimes coming too close — “Hey! I’m not your honey!”
There are sounds of civilization — distant toots of trains along Odell Lake’s south shore and the occasional sounds of other hikers wordlessly pattering along the trail, their hiking poles sending staccato rhythms.
On this day, some of the hikers shared smiles, brief greetings and stories. One grinned proudly telling about crossing snow-chocked passes along Sierra sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. A 66-year-old told of being half-way on his trek along the PCT through Oregon. A young woman, probably in her late 20s, explained she had started in Etna, Calif., and was on her way north with, so far, no final destination. Exchanging hellos were a happy group of fathers and children spending days fishing and exploring from their camp overlooking Lower Rosary.
The Rosary Lakes are a sometimes stopover for northbound PCT thru backpackers, but because of its proximity to nearby Odell Lake’s campsites, stores and restaurants, more often the lakes are a place to hike past while adding miles. But for weekend backpackers and day hikers, the lakes are popular destinations.
That’s partly because the lakes are easy to access. The starting point is just west of the Willamette Pass Ski Area, a turnoff identified by a hiker symbol sign near the summit of Highway 58. A parking area is near an Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance shed just off the road. From there it’s a quick several steps to the junction with the PCT, which ambles east before bending north toward and past the Rosary Lakes on its way to Washington and the Canadian border.
Once on the PCT it’s a steady but gentle uphill path, mostly through a thick forest of subalpine fir, mountain hemlock and Pacific silver fir that only occasionally offers peeks at sparkling Odell Lake and peeks of Diamond Peak. The switchbacks begin after about two miles, with more stands of ponderosa and lodgepole pine. Shortly after passing along a trailside basalt outcrop, the trail climbs to Lower Rosary, a wholly — and holy — delightful lake that provides visual offerings of Maiden Peak and Pulpit Rock.
Still on the PCT, in another mile the trail passes alongside Lower Maiden, the largest of the holy trinity of lakes, crosses a seasonally dry creek and climbs a brief uphill to Middle Rosary. At the Middle’s north end, a well-used camping/day use is all that divides Middle from Upper Rosary. For over-nighters, good campsites are near the PCT, but even better are others reached by taking unmarked but obvious tracks that veer away from the main trail.
Whether staying for a night or just for the day, the Rosary lakes are a place to count your blessings.