Aspen Butte (Mountain Lakes Wilderness) 06-Jun-2015

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon

Aspen Butte (8,208 feet) is the high point in the six mile square Mountain Lakes Wilderness just west of Klamath Falls, Oregon. In 2007, Terry Richard (The Oregonian’s outdoor writer) climbed the butte and described this wilderness as “…unappealing, although the lakes down below must have their charms.” we thought this comment was a bit harsh and dismissive. Given how little wilderness there is, and how hard it is to get, dissing what we have seems counter-productive. Sullivan, on the other hand, describes the loop trail as gorgeous. Never having visited a wilderness area that we couldn’t find to love in some way, we headed out to test the charms of the Mountain Lakes for ourselves. There are three trailheads into this wilderness – Varney Creek, Mountain Lakes, and Clover Creek; the latter is the start of the shortest path to Aspen Butte.

The Clover Creek Trail (USFS #3722), sporting some recent blowdown, but otherwise easy to follow, took us steadily but gently up into the wilderness,

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Starting out on the trail

past a small meadow,

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
There is one usually lush meadow along the trail

and then a small unnamed pond.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
A small pond along the trail (not Clover Lake)

Just past this pond, we branched right on a now unmaintained trail, that, until 1985 or so, was shown on the map and was the shortest way to the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail and the butte. This is the route described in SummitPost. Higher up, the Clover Creek Trail ends at a new junction with the Loop Trail – a junction which is obvious on the ground but not mapped correctly – this can cause some confusion. Not too surprisingly, we encountered three mapless hikers who we had to assist with directions. But the 1985 trail is pretty easy to follow to the rim – it’s old school and well marked with blazes. Update: The old 1985 trail has been resurrected and a new sign now marks its junction with the Clover Creek Trail.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
A blaze along the 1985 trail

In a mile, the old trail junctions with the Loop Trail and that took us to a view of Lake Harriette – the largest lake in the wilderness – sitting below Mount Harriman. That lake looked pretty appealing to us.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Lake Harriette with Mount Harriman rising behind it

Not too far east of this viewpoint, we left the Loop Trail for an obvious use trail that follows the ridge up toward the summit,

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Aspen Butte (arrow) from the ridge

mostly over dirt with only a few, minor boulder fields to cross.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Crossing one of the small boulder fields on the ridge

There were no impediments along the ridge and we were soon on the summit – where we found that Aspen was apparently spelled differently in 1920.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
The benchmark on “Aspin” (it’s since been stolen)

We had lunch on the summit, drinking in the HUGE VIEWS in all directions!

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Mount McLoughlin from Aspen Butte
Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Mount McLoughlin, Whiteface Peak (in front of McLoughlin), and the rim we just hiked
Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Upper Klamath Lake in the distance, with South Pass Lake in the foreground
Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Mount Shasta
Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
A butterfly (arrow) photo-bombs Mount McLoughlin

All too soon, it was time to head back down.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Going back down the ridge

But we took time to stop by Clover Lake, which is just north of where we’d turned off on the old trail to the rim. Sullivan describes this lake as “…small, disappointing…” which, to us, seems like an overly harsh judgment. It’s the only lake on this side of the wilderness, has nice camp sites, and there are plenty of fish in it. Plus it’s full of WATER – which is in short supply down here this summer.

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Clover Lake

A great hike (10.5 miles round-trip; 2,700 feet of elevation gain) on good trails through a pleasant area to outstanding views! Sorry, Terry, we like reading about your travels and your trip suggestions, but we simply can’t see the Mountain Lakes Wilderness as “unappealing.” But, to be fair, we’re going to force ourselves to hike in from the Varney Creek Trailhead to see whether the bigger lakes on the east side of the wilderness “have their charms” or not. 🙂

Aspen Butte Mountain Lakes Wilderness Oregon
Our route to and from Aspen Butte

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