The Santiam Pass, 1.5 hours southeast of Salem, cuts through the heart of Oregon’s Cascade Range, between Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. The area is crisscrossed by an assortment of wilderness trails - including the PCT - and dotted with meadows and pristine sub-alpine lakes, all in the shadows of glacier-carved volcanic peaks and spires. A few miles east of North Santiam Hwy 22, the Duffy Lake trailhead is the kickoff for access to several of these.
From the trailhead at the top of the turnaround and parking area, fill out your wilderness registration slip, and note the camping regs for some of the lake destinations if planning an overnight. Follow the Duffy Lake trail east on a gently sloping track, passing several junctions that branch to the left and right in the shade of old-growth fir and hemlock, with bunchberry and Columbia windflower lining the route. After a couple miles, the tree cover gets thinner and the ground color changes to blue lupine, with spots of paintbrush, columbine, shooting star and cat's ear. The trail crosses the Santiam River, an easy rock-hop by mid-summer, but more challenging in early season, then comes to a 4-way junction just before Duffy Lake.
At the junction, head left for Duffy Lake, a pretty green lake under Duffy Butte, with several campsites scattered along the southern shore. Duffy Lake can get crowded on weekends, hence the camping limits, so keep heading east past the lake, either along the lakeshore trail or the meadow trail (they’ll meet up again at the opposite end of the lake). Fork right at the next couple of junctions, now heading south to Santiam Lake, through several pocket meadows, and a couple creek crossings via the Santiam Pass trail. Cross the outlet for Santiam Lake and look for the second spur on the left to head for campsites on the northern shore, or continue on another 0.25 mile through a large meadow for another spur that leads to more sheltered campsites on the south shore with peeks of Mt. Jefferson's snowy summit; either side has spectacular views of Three-Fingered Jack across the lake.
Mapped by Eli Boschetto
Trailhead: North Santiam Hwy 22 E for 76 miles. Left on Big Meadows Rd 2267 for 3 miles, veering left at fork to trailhead turnaround.