Saturday, November 4, 2017

Clear Lake Color Spectacular

In Central Oregon's high country, autumn color reaches its height by early October.  From prior trips, I remembered vivid displays of red and orange vine maple leaves while driving over Santiam Pass.  So when my parents decided to visit Bend during the second weekend of October, I scheduled an extra day specifically for leaf-peeping.

Vine maple multicolors

I originally planned to split up my drive with a hike along the Metolius River.  But when people began posting spectacular fall color photos from Clear Lake, my itinerary changed in a hurry.

Colorful reflections

Located just west of Santiam Pass, Clear Lake and the McKenzie River are known to have amazing displays of fall colors.  Although I'd camped here twice in summer months, this would be my first autumn visit.

Still water makes for amazing reflections

Another early drive got me to Clear Lake's day use area by 8:30 one sunny Thursday morning.  Although the temps were still chilly, nearby colorful vine maple leaves immediately warmed me with excitement of things to come.

Submerged log

A five mile trail circles this gorgeous gem of a lake.  Passing by the store/boat dock and cabins, I soon left civilization behind, plunging into a thick green Douglas Fir forest accented with plenty of red and orange hues.

Backlit leaves

Clear Lake's still waters reflected the colorful leaves and green trees perfectly.

One of many log bridges

The first mile took way longer to traverse.  There were just too many wonderful photo subjects!

Close up colorful leaf

Rounding the first inlet, I came upon the aqua blue waters of Great Spring, a natural underground spring that bubbles up from rocky lava below.  The lake's only water source, it's responsible for the crystal clarity and a nearly constant chilly temperature year-round.

Unique aqua water

By then the sun had risen enough to take the chill from the air.  And I started to get passed by hikers.  Quite a few of them!  I figured on this weekday morning I'd have the place to myself.  But it appeared I wasn't the only one who'd got wind of the wonderful autumn display here.

Clear Lake boat dock

Traveling further around the lake got me a few nice views of the restaurant/lodge building and boat dock.  Even though motorized boats are banned here, it appeared the place was doing a brisk business renting row boats and kayaks.  Lots of folks launching vessels from the ramp area!

Great spring

The path ducked in and out of forested areas, offering peek-a-boo glimpses of the lake, ringed by more colorful vine maple.

Shoreside color

I began to see fisherman bobbing in their boats, hoping to land the "big one."

Fall leaves and blue skies

Beyond the boat ramp viewpoint, I reached the first of many barren lava fields.  A hot place for summer hikes, it was downright comfortable this cool, fall morning.

Red bushes in the lava fields

And lined with brilliant red and yellow leaves, it was much prettier than the summer.

Colorful path through the lava zone

I may have taken way too many photos here.

Fantastic views across Clear Lake

Late morning light turned Clear Lake's waters a stunning blue.

Dewy leaves

Between lava fields, I passed shady areas where the night's cold temps had coated some leaves with a thin layer of frost.  The melting ice created nice water droplets - and photo ops.

Golden trees

At the lake's southern end I came upon a huge patch of golden leaves that reflected perfectly into the water.  I had to scramble down a steep bank to capture the full scene, but it was worth it.

Fishermen enjoying the color show

Now in the homestretch, I traversed the lake's west bank.  Although mostly in thick forest, a few viewpoints produced stunning displays of color, reflected into the water like a Monet painting.

Kayakers on the water
Truly stunning!

Mt Washington peeps over the trees

Near the end of my journey, I was treated to a glimpse of snow-capped Mt. Washington, peeping over the treetops.

Flaming red trees

Just before the parking lot, I came upon these fire-red leaves, perfectly illuminated in the midday sun.  Probably the best view of the entire hike, I clicked off several frames before ending my journey back at the car. 

Wowza!  Clear Lake was definitely one of the best displays of fall color I'd seen in Central Oregon.  Glad I made the detour on my way over the mountains.  Now it was on to Bend....but I did have time for a quick stop at the Metolius River. 

I'll show you what I found in my next post!


  1. Wow what beautiful water shots! You do Oregon proud! :)

  2. Puts the English muddy browns and faded yellows in the shade! I must admit that some of the most spectacular colour I've seen this year has been courtesy of American Red Oak which has been introduced here and seeds itself in our climate, though mostly makes straggly bushes rather than big trees - so far anyway.

  3. The whole colour and shape of these landscapes is so different to what I see on a daily basis. Wonderful and different.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  4. Beautiful hike. Unusual to see that blend of reflections, bare lava and colourful hues all mixed together. Never seen that before.

  5. Hello, the trail around the lake is beautiful. Wonderful captures of the fall colors and views of the lake! Enjoy your day and weekend.

  6. ..."Shoreside color" is my favorite among many favorites!

  7. Gorgeous captures of Clear Lake and fall color!!!

  8. I can se why you changed your plans . What awesome colors.

  9. That hike is every photographers dream. The sights are breathtakinlgy gorgeous as are your photos.

  10. Now that is a PERFECT fall color hike! Looks like I'll have to put Clear Lake on my trail list...!

  11. You can never take or share too many photos, when they are of this quality and incredible beauty. They could all be framed and hung on my wall.

  12. The photos just got better and better. Reflections are fabulous. As you said a perfect Monet.

  13. It looks like you had better colours than we did this fall!

  14. Wow - amazing landscape! The fall there was spectacular!

  15. Amazing colours across the spectrum. That clear blue lake is just stunning

  16. Hi! Very beautiful autumn color! I am very impressed. Each photo with reflection is very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Drat! I missed out! I don't know why I didn't think of going there to get some great photos during the peak! We will have to do it next year! Your photos are wonderful!

  18. Oh wow Linda, it really is breathtaking! Autumn is such a gorgeous time of year. I especially love the leaves reflecting in the water!

  19. Very nice - you got some nice fall colors

  20. I've run that trail! I really like it.

  21. I love Clear Lake! Kayaking on it is great. I knew you'd get some great photos!

  22. Amazing post full of colors! Glad you made the detour too and looking forward to the next one!

  23. Oh my! Those really are spectacular shots!

  24. Magnificent fall colours you found on that trip

  25. Truly breathtaking fall scenery. fabulous images Linda.

  26. Great reflections all the way around! And looks like you caught the color at its best too!

  27. Oh my gosh this was fantastic. Fall is one of my favorite seasons and you captured it so beautifully with these lovely photos.


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.