Vulcan Lake (Kalmiopsis Wilderness) 19-Apr-2016

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon

On our way back from the Illinois River Trail, we decided to do the short hike to Vulcan Lake on the west side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This lake, like Babyfoot Lake on the eastern side of the wilderness, is one of the few relatively accessible lakes in the Kalmiopsis. And, of the many alpine glacial lakes in Southern Oregon and Northern California, this is the only one reached from the coast. Hence it appears in most of the popular guidebooks for this area (Hike #92 in Sullivan’s Oregon Coast and Coast Range guide (2014); Hike #85 in Bernstein & Urness’ Hiking Southern Oregon guide (2014)).

While the hike itself is short, the drive to the trailhead is anything but easy. From Brookings, Oregon it’s 8 miles of paved two-lane road, 8 miles of paved one-lane, then ~13.5 miles of rough, cobblestone-surfaced gravel road, finishing with a 1.5 mile traverse on a very narrow dirt track across a very steep slope. Despite all this roughness, there are three Forest Service-maintained outhouses in the last 2.5 miles, including one at the trailhead! All had toilet paper in them! One can only image what servicing these is like.  Signage is limited (what there was seems to have been shot away) but the road ends at the trailhead, with its poster-free sign.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
The Vulcan Lake Trailhead

From the trailhead, we could look back at further evidence of the 2002 Biscuit Fire and the narrow, sphincter-tightening road we just survived to get here. {Update: This whole area – including the lake – was burned over again by the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire.}

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Burned snags and the narrow road, with the Pacific Ocean on the far horizon

The trail starts on an old mining road but becomes an actual trail within 100 yards or so. Thanks(?) to the Biscuit Fire, the terrain is now open, with views west out to the ocean and east into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The trail was in good condition and easy to hike.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Along the trail through burned and unburned forest

After about a mile, we topped the ridge and started our descent into the Vulcan Lake Basin – which had been swept clean of all but the larger trees by the 2002 fire.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Entering the Basin, with Vulcan Peak in the distance

The lake itself is a little blue gem, nestled in the cirque of reddish-orange rock below Vulcan Peak.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Vulcan Lake
Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Vulcan Lake

The trail fades a little as you approach the lake but is easy to follow to some small campsites along the north shore. We found one on a ledge near the lake’s outlet, with a commanding view eastward over the Kalmiopsis. Great campsite, but if you had to leave your tent in the night for some reason, it would be good to remember you’re on the edge of a cliff.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Gazing upon the Kalmiopsis

Close-up, the lake’s waters are clear and blue. Despite the long drive, it’s easy to see why folks are attracted to this place.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Vulcan Lake
Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Vulcan Lake

Unfortunately, some of those who are attracted here also seem incapable of packing out their own trash – douchenozzles! – so we got to gather up a bag of their leavings to take back with us.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Why is this woman smiling?

Toting our new load of someone else’s crap, we headed back up the ridge,

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Going back

beyond which we got a view westward to the fog bank still hugging the coast.

Vulcan Lake Kalmiopsis Wilderness Oregon
Fog along the coast to the west

A long drive to a short hike (3.7 miles roundtrip; 650 feet of elevation gain) but worth it to see a unique lake on the edge of one of America’s more beguiling wilderness areas.

HOME