Aspen Butte is the highpoint of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness in Southern Oregon. The Mountain Lakes Wilderness is located in the Winema National Forest situated between the cities of Klamath Falls and Medford. Aspen Butte is ranked at #72 on the Highest Peaks in Oregon
at 8,208 ft of elevation and at #18 on the Oregon Prominence List
with 3,088 ft of prominence. This is a really beautiful wilderness area worthy of a backpacking trip and camping next to one of the lakes. Mt. Harriman (7,979 ft) and Mt. Carmine (7,882 ft) are located in the wilderness area and are also listed in the top 100 peaks of Oregon.
The following is quoted from the Winema National Forest
website. “The concept of Wilderness in the National Forests originated in the early 1920's. Mountain Lakes was one of the three original "primitive areas" designated in Oregon and Washington National Forests in 1930, and it has been managed as a primitive recreation area since that time. When the 1964 Wilderness Act passed, 23,071 acre Mountain Lakes became one of the nation's original Wilderness Areas.
Mountain Lakes is unique, yet its geologic history is similar to that of Crater Lake National Park, its famous neighbor to the north. Like Crater Lake, the landscape contains a large caldera (a broad crater-like basin) formed by the explosion and collapse of a volcanic cone. Unlike Crater Lake, the caldera is filled with many smaller lakes rather than one big one.
There are 3 popular trails that access the Mountain Lakes Wilderness. These trails all connect to an 8.2 mile trail that meanders up and down the old caldera rim of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness. The central circular trail can be reached from the north by way of the Varney Creek Trail (4.4 miles); from the west on the Mountain Lakes Trail (6.3 miles); or from the south by way of the Clover Creek Trail (3.3 miles).”
Finding the appropriate trailhead for your hike will depend on your objective. If you want the shortest hike and just want to bag the summit of Aspen Butte then use Option 1, Clover Creek Trailhead. If you want to camp at Harriette Lake use Option 2 or 3 and hike in from the Varney Creek or Mountain Lakes Trailheads.
Option 1. To find the Clover Creek Trailhead you first find Hwy 140 that connects Klamath Falls with White City. Just east of Lake of the Woods is Dead Indian Memorial Road that runs down to Ashland. Turn on Dean Indian Road and go 8.2 miles from Hwy 140, past Lake of the Woods, to Clover Creek Road. Turn left or east on Clover Creek Road and go another 8.3 miles to the signed turnoff for Clover Creek Trailhead. Turn left here, and follow this road about 4.0 miles to the trailhead.
Option 2. To find Mountain Lakes Trailhead, again locate Hwy 140 and Dead Indian Memorial Road. Turn onto Dead Indian Memorial Road and go about 1.3 miles to Lake of the Woods and turn left on the signed access road for Mountain Lakes Trailhead. You could also simply walk from Lake of the Woods to this trailhead.
Option 3. To find Varney Creek Trail. Locate Hwy 140 and proceed east about 5.5 miles towards Klamath Falls from Lake of the Woods. There is a signed turnoff to the right for the Varney Creek Trailhead. Follow the road about 4.0 miles to the trailhead.
No Red Tape here. You may need a campfire permit if you want to build a fire. Check with the Winema National Forest Service
if you plan on building a fire. In the winter, you will need a Snow Park
permit to park in the area.
Camping Winema National Forest
has many fine camping sites within a few miles of the Mountain Lakes Wilderness. There are also private camping facilities at Lake of the Woods
and Fish Lake
Mountain Lakes Wilderness has several camping spots for backpackers. Harriettte Lake is particularly beautiful.
When to Climb
Summer and Fall are the best times to dayhike into the Mountain Lakes Wilderness and Aspen Butte. I would avoid June and early July because the mosquito’s can be voracious at this time. Winter time access will require snow shoes or cross country skis and winter survival skills. Snowmobiles or any motorized transportation are not permitted at any time of the year.
The winter snows usually melt out of the caldera during June. This area receives huge amounts of snow in the winter and access to all the trailheads will be problematic. During the summer, there is the threat of thunderstorms during July and August. Check the weather in Klamath Falls and Medford for thunderstorm information. Late in the Fall be careful not to get caught by the first snow storm of the season.
Klamath Falls Weather