Clear Lake – Sisters, Oregon - Atlas Obscura

Clear Lake

The trunks of 3,000 year-old trees lurk beneath the surface of this crystal clear lake in Oregon. 


Named for its exceptional transparency, Oregon’s 148-acre Clear Lake was created about 3,000 years ago when molten lava flowed down from the neighboring Sand Mountain and cooled, damming up a riverbed located at what is now the lake’s southern end.

At an altitude of over 3,000 feet, Clear Lake’s temperature hovers just above freezing year-round. Relatively free of contaminants, Clear Lake’s waters are crystalline enough to see into its depths and its most enchanting feature: an underwater forest. Ancient trees that were drowned in the flood are effectively petrified by the waters’ cold temperature, and they’re open for exploration. Kayakers and canoeists can paddle across the lake for a close view of the tree tops, and trained divers can even swim through the submerged tree trunks. 

The lake’s water is incredibly pure, comprised primarily of active underground springs that facilitate an extraordinary ecological environment. Melted snow from the looming Mount Washington also makes its way into the lake, the runoff filtered through the mountain’s system of caves and caverns by the time it reaches the base. Clear Lake notably feeds into the McKenzie River, which is the source of all drinking water for the city of Eugene, Oregon.

The five-mile Clear Lake and McKenzie River trails meet and loop around Clear Lake for a picturesque walk. The trail is relatively flat for walking and mountain biking, though amateur mountain bikers should be aware that the McKenzie River Trail will lead them through a lava field forest, where dismounting is recommended. The trail is pet-friendly and takes between one and three hours to complete depending upon pace.

Know Before You Go

Clear Lake is located approximately 21 miles east of McKenzie Bridge off of Highway 126. Motorboats are prohibited. Some hiking trails and day sites require visitors to purchase a Recreation Pass.

Clear Lake is a prime destination for outdoor recreation, from camping and freshwater diving (multiple wetsuits are advised) to row boating, kayaking, and canoeing. Rowboats are available for rent, or visitors can launch their own for a small fee. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has also introduced a rainbow trout population, which, in addition to the presence of brook and cutthroat trout, makes the lake a popular fishing locale.

The Clear Lake Resort offers nearby cabin accommodations, as well as a grocery store and restaurant open from the spring through the autumn months. For visitors in pursuit of more rugged conditions, the Cold Water Cove Campground is dotted with over 30 campsites, each with its own campfire and picnic table. 

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