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Cliff Lake, the most visited lake in the Seven Lakes Basin of the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, sits below Devils Peak. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Devils Peak is a highlight of Sky Lakes

The hike up Devils Peak can be hellish, but the rewards are heavenly.

Most people take in the sweeping views from the 7,300-foot saddle below the 7,582-foot-tall Devils Peak. Although there are two steep, unmaintained trails to the Devils Peak summit, most people are satisfied with seeing the sights from the saddle, with views south into the Sky Lakes Basin and north into the Seven Lakes Basin.

But the summit offers more, including 360-degree views of Upper Klamath Lake, Mount McLoughlin, four neighboring peaks — Lucifer, Juniper, Venus and Lee — along with the mountains that frame unseen Crater Lake and, on clear days, the upper reaches of Mount Thielsen.

Devils Peak and its neighboring lake basins are part of the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, which follows the Cascade Crest nearly 35 miles between Highway 140 near the Lake of the Woods north to Crater Lake National Park's southern boundary.

Most people who reach the Devils Peak saddle are hurry-up northbound PCT hikers. During a recent hike with Anthony Benedetti, we met through- and section hikers from Liverpool, Finland, Russia and several U.S. states. But the saddle is also a great resting/lunch/soak-in-the view spot for backpackers making loop day trips from campsites at Cliff, Middle or other lakes in the Seven Lakes Basin or, from more distant Margurette, Trappers or other lakes in the Sky Lakes Basin.

Benedetti, a recreation specialist with the Fremont-Winema National Forest, was scouting out trail conditions in advance of a major Sky Lake trail maintenance project. We started what turned into a 17-mile day hike from the Sevenmile Marsh trailhead outside Fort Klamath. From the trailhead, it's nearly 2 miles to the PCT, then another 7½-plus miles south to the saddle.

The view from Devil's Peak saddle was a highlight — and certainly our hike's high point — but there were many other delights. Getting there includes passing through subalpine wildflower-plentiful meadows, experiencing flights of head-circling butterflies, seeing wind-tormented whitebark pines, crossing over bubbling streams and, even more fun, stepping through zones with seemingly zillions of tiny hippity-hopping Cascade toads. What we didn't see — surprisingly and happily — were blood-hungry mosquitoes.

Instead of retreating the way we had come, from the Devils Peak saddle we followed the PCT about a half-mile west to the Devils Peak trail junction, then took the Seven Lakes Trail 1.3 miles past South Lake to Cliff Lake, the basin's most visited.

We didn't have time for a cooling swim in Cliff Lake or lazy views along the lake's shoreline. But even during brief pauses, the sights leading to and along the lakeshore include the lake's steep south-side rockslide, where it's common to see pikas, cute round-eared critters also known as rock rabbits or conies, that are often heard calling out high-pitched "eeks." More impressively, Cliff Lake's shoreline also offers dramatic views of towering Devils Peak, including a knobby outcrop that geologists say was part of an old volcanic plug that was worn by long-ago glaciers that created the Seven Lakes Basin.

From Cliff Lake, the trail aims straight to a junction with the PCT. But even better is a spur route that adds less than a half-mile. The rewards include passing alongside a corner of Middle Lake and paralleling a section of Grass Lake before rejoining the PCT north of the Cliff Lake junction.

If staying overnight, other trails in the Seven Lakes Basin lead to Lake Ivern, North Lake and skinny Alta Lake. For hikers or backpackers using the Sevenmile trail, just past the PCT-Sevenmile junction another trail goes about a mile to the gushing waters of Ranger Springs, the headwaters of the Rogue River's Middle Fork. For people entering and exiting from the Rogue Valley side, detours include Alta Lake and King Spruce Springs.

Wherever it's from or however it's done, hiking to Devils Peak and its neighboring basins is — to give the devil its due — a wickedly delightful experience.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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