Waldo Lake, Oregon

Waldo Lake in the morning
Waldo Lake is our absolute favorite place to camp. An alpine lake high in the Cascade Mountains (5,414 feet altitude), it's the second purest lake in the world (the most pure being in Siberia). It's also the source of the Willamette River.

We used to take the kids here almost every year and we still go back whenever we can. We always camp at Shadow Bay Campground. And the best time of year to go is late August or early September. Otherwise, it's too cold or there are too many mosquitos.



banked canoeAugust 11 - 15, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic created a special challenge for our traditional family camp this year, but we brought masks and sanitizer and forged ahead. Tobi's family came down from Olympia, and Ronan's parents drove up. Kelly came with us, and Kathleen and Maddie joined us for a day. We got a double first-come site (4) and two adjacent sites.

When the campground got crowded on Friday, we paddled and hiked to a secluded beach up-shore and had the place to ourselves.

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blue waterAugust 21-25, 2019

We had the whole family together this year. Aly flew home from Germany. Tobi and her family drove down from Seattle. Ronan's parents drove up from Berkeley. And Jesse, Kathleen, Maddie, and Kelly came with us from Eugene. We didn't have reservations, but we got three great first come sites (3, 5, and 7).

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blue waterSeptember 5-7, 2014

This year we reserved three sites (86-88). Tobi, Ronan and Alethia joined us from Seattle. We also had Aly, Kathleen, Madison, and Kelly.

We escaped scorching heat in Eugene (upper 90s), which meant wonderfully warm temps at Waldo in the afternoon, but still quite cold at night.

A bad forest fire near Oakridge caused a haze in the west and obscured the stars on Saturday night but fortunately kept away from Waldo.


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September 6-8, 2013

This year we returned to Waldo Lake with Jesse and his friend, Jaden, and Aly and her friend, Naja. We were joined by our neighbor, Kathleen, and her daughter and granddaughter, and by our yoga teacher, Justine, and her husband and son. Our friend, Kelly, showed up Sunday and spent the afternoon with us on the lake.

Although we were packing on Thursday in steady rain, this weekend we experienced what may have been our best weather ever at Waldo. And almost no mosquitoes!

There were 13 of us all together, which made for some slightly chaotic meal times. But it was a wonderful group, and an absolutely fantastic time together.

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waldo lakeAugust 28-30, 2011

Kate, Aly, and I finished our big summer camping trip at Aly's favorite spot, Waldo Lake. It was a long drive to get there from San Juan Island, and we stopped in Seattle to visit Tobi in her new home. So we didn't get in to the campground until dark. But our neighbor, Kathleen, and her granddaughter, Madison, were there to greet us and help us set up camp.

The next day was gorgeous and warm. We spent most of the day on the private little beach right down from our campsite, and paddling around in our boats. Aly showed Maddie how to catch the tiny frogs she used to catch years ago. And that night Maddie experienced s'mores. Unfortunately, we also all experienced the worst mosquito infestion we'd ever had there. Must have been the wet, cold summer. We kept ourselves dosed with bug spray, but when Maddie got home, she was sick for a week. West Nile virus. The first case that far west in Oregon.

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September 10-12, 2010

blue waterThis particular camping trip will be one we'll never forget. We went with friends, Claire and Marsha, and their dog, Zoe. Claire and Marsha rented a small RV and drove down from Whidbey Island to join us. They'd heard so much about our great camping trips they decided they should give it a try. We were thrilled to have them join us and wanted to share our favorite camping location with them.

We lucked out with the weather. At 5,000 feet, Waldo after Labor Day is risky, but the days were blasted with sun and blue, both from the sky and the water. The temps dropped into the 30s at night, but we were warm in our respective "bedrooms."

This wasn't exactly a typical weekend at Waldo. Friday night, there was a kegger that lasted after 3:00 a.m. We managed to sleep in spite of it, but the next morning, 10 campsites around us cleared as the partiers were evicted. That day, there was a baptism on the main beach, with a cello and girl in a white robe. A bear cub was spotted in a tree. (There have never been bears at Waldo before.) And that night, there was a campground wedding with a bluegrass band. We explained to our friends that normally, Shadow Bay Campground is very quiet, with the kind of campers who canoe or kayak all day and retire early.

Still, I think our newbie camper friends enjoyed the weekend. We'd borrowed a canoe, and took turns taking it out on the lake. On Saturday, Marsha and I took the dogs on a two-hour hike along the southeast shore. Marsha proved herself to be an excellent fire-mistress. Claire mastered the art of pie-iron cookery. And there was no denying the beauty of our surroundings.

The weather got better with each day, and on Sunday we were in no hurry to pack up. After breakfast, I suggested that two of us paddle the canoe south while the other two hike with dogs along the shore. After a while, we could trade places and head back. We could pack up after lunch.

paddling at Shadow BayIt seemed like a good idea, but when Marsha and I had hiked this trail, we hadn't notice how infrequently it actually connected with the shore. It ended up taking us two hours to find each other. At this point, Kate was tired, hungry, and getting hypoglycemic. Marsha and Claire offered to paddle her back to camp, and I said I would hike back alone with Bailey. I hiked the four miles or so at a clip (in spite of wet sandals that gave me four blisters) and made it back in 45 minutes. I was surprised to beat them, but I set out lunch and waited.

Two hours later, I was convinced they had capsized in the frigid lake, and when I'd left them, they hadn't been wearing their life jackets. I tried not to panic, but by 4:00, I realized that if they needed a search party, it was now or never. I had to drive 25 minutes to the pass to get cell phone coverage, where I called 911. The sherrif told me to go back to the campsite and wait and he would get a deputy with a motor boat to meet me. It was 5:00 when I returned to the empty site. When Claire, Marsha, and Kate paddled up ten minutes later, I completely fell apart. I had been envisioning the worst catastrophes while they had steered off course and paddled for three and a half hours trying to find the campground. It was all we could do to pack up and get out of there by sunset.

View PhotosIt's unfortunate that this beautiful weekend ended on such a traumatic note. When we left, I wasn't sure I'd ever want to go back to Waldo Lake again. But it would take more than this to keep me from returning to this magical camping spot with decades of memories.

banked canoeAugust 14 - 16, 2009

This year we returned to Waldo with friends, Anita and Hillary. It had been ten years since we camped there together with our kids. Anita and I went up early in the day to nab a good site. Turns out that the Northwest Trappers Association (there are still trappers?) had booked two loops, and the place was almost full. But we lucked into the best spot we've ever had: Site 80. Right on the lake, on a quiet loop, and very private with plenty of space.

After a record-breaking heatwave, Oregon was experiencing a cool spell, which meant frigid temperatures in the high altitudes. But the sky was clear and the sun bright, giving us some hours of warmth midday. Just no cold plunges into the lake this year!

Alfredo, the doctor Kate works with, showed up for the day with his kayak, which he shared with us. He ended up staying through dinner and proved to be a master Scrabble player.

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Waldo LakeAugust 31 - September 3, 2007

Our first camping trip with the teardrop was at Waldo Lake, where we traditionally go with friends and family on Labor Day weekend.

We went with family (Tobi, Ronan, Alethia, and Aly) and met up with friends Anne and Robin and their friends, Kelly and Leslie, along with their four children. Jesse came and joined us for a night, and so did our friend, Kathleen. So it was a great big group. The weather was fantastic, warm enough for swimming, and we had a great time.

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Shadow Bay Campground

Shadow Bay