Lake Creek is seen here near its origin at Suttle Lake. A wide, level trail follows the creek all the way to Camp Sherman. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
By Craig Eisenbeis
The Suttle Lake to Camp Sherman Trail was completed about three years ago, but it still tends to be sometimes overlooked by hikers looking for a quick and convenient outing. The trail was the product of a cooperative project involving the Forest Service, the Deschutes Land Trust, and many volunteers.
The entire distance of this hike is probably a bit over 4.5 miles but certainly no more than five, even with a little wandering and exploration. The western terminus of the trail can be found near Suttle Lake, and the eastern end of the trail terminates in Camp Sherman near a Forest Service sign explaining larch thinning in the area.
We decided to take the downhill direction and started at the Suttle Lake trailhead, which starts at Suttle Lake Lodge. We parked at the public area just across the Lake Creek Bridge. Officially, the trail begins at the lodge parking lot but can be picked up anywhere along the route.
The trail splits down both sides of the turnout near the bridge and rejoins itself a few yards farther downstream. The fork nearer the bridge hugs the creek and is more scenic. An attractive kiosk at the public parking area provides information and a route map.
One of the surprising features of this trail is that it does not cross Highway 20. Instead, the path leads under the highway bridge that crosses the creek; so there's no need to dodge high-speed traffic. Tall hikers, however, should be alert for spots of limited head clearance. For the first couple of miles, the trail stays pretty close to the creek; and, while the creek is not always visible, it is always within earshot.
Much of the route is over former forest roads; and the trail builders have attempted to obscure some of the old double-track roads and meander the trail along the entire former road bed.
More than a mile of the trail is within the boundaries of the Deschutes Land Trust's Metolius Preserve, and the trail was completed with the full cooperation and support of the trust. Another informational kiosk presents land trust information near the mid-point of the trail. As the trail leaves the eastern part of the land trust's preserve, it wanders farther away from the creek; and the creek is no longer a part of the forest experience from that point on.
There are no steep or rough sections; and the trail is nearly flat, with a gentle downhill slope following the stream flow. The entire route is designed to be navigable by bicyclists, and we encountered some taking advantage of the biking opportunity.
The trail's final touches and markers were completed, largely by volunteers, as part of a local Earth Day observance in 2010. The trail is very well marked with substantial posts. Whenever the landscape opens up or other paths diverge, the posts can usually be spotted and depended upon to guide the way.
This is certainly not a wilderness trail, and it is accessible by vehicle from a number of points along the way. It shouldn't be too many years, however, before natural vegetation obscures the old roadbeds and gives the route more of a natural forest appearance.
Certain portions of this trail are closed to horses, and equestrians should familiarize themselves with those closures. Generally, horses are permitted for the two miles west of the Metolius-Windigo Trail. Signs in the land trust preserve frequently call for separation of horse, bike, and foot traffic. Further information can be obtained from the Deschutes Land Trust and from the Forest Service at the Sisters Ranger Station.
The eastern portion of the trail passes through a section of forest with many larch trees, also known as tamarack. Some of the biggest tamarack trees I've ever seen can be found in this area. Curiously, the bark of very large tamaracks closely resembles that of ponderosa pine, although the limbs and character of the tree trunks are usually quite different.
The larch (or tamarack) is the only conifer that sheds its needles for the winter. The trees sport brilliant green new-growth needles in the spring. In the fall, the trees' needles will turn a bright golden hue before they are shed.
To reach the Camp Sherman trailhead for the Lake Creek Trail, turn right (north) onto the Camp Sherman Road (Forest Road 14) 8 miles west of Sisters. The trailhead is located about 4.5 miles north, on the left (west) side of the road directly across from Sternberg Road (just north of the Camp Sherman Community Hall). The Suttle Lake trailhead can be reached by turning left off Highway 20 into the resort area about 12 miles west of Sisters. Follow the signs toward the resort and Cinder Beach; the parking lot and trail information kiosk can be found immediately across the Lake Creek Bridge.