Duffy Lake is a great family destination into the Mt Jefferson Wilderness that will grant hikers a scenic mountain lake as a destination but won’t exhaust the kids with endless climbing on the way. The lake is decently large with lots of good shoreline access, Duffy Butte sits along the north side of the lake making for a beautiful backdrop, and, almost more importantly, the water warms up nicely in the summer. Nothing breaks up a long hike with a nice dip in a mountain lake.
The hike begins from the Duffy Lake trailhead right near the border with the Mt Jefferson Wilderness. The trail quickly dives into a beautiful mixed conifer forest and begins the long but slow climb up to Duffy Lake. The trail is lined with Bear Grass, so if you time your hike right, and it happens to be one of the years when the grass blooms, except to find beautiful stalks of white flows along the path. Mosquitos are also big fans of the area, so if you are here before August, make sure to bring bug spray. And long sleeves and pants. And a mosquito net. And hey, maybe even pull a small trailer spraying DDT so you can walk in a cloud of the chemical. However you feel comfortable.
The trail slowly climbs pretty much the entire 3.3 miles to Duffy Lake. You will come across a few trail junctions along the way, with a trail to the Big Meadows Horse Camp heading to the right almost immediately after the parking area. You will also pass junctions to the Turpentine Trail 1.5 miles in and the Lava Lakes trail right before reaching Duffy Lake. 2.5 miles from the trailhead, you will come to a crossing of the North Santiam River. This is a pretty wide crossing and you will probably have to wade across it. It usually isn’t’ anything more than ankle deep or so, but could always be more. If you are planning your adventure after about mid-July though, the river will likely be dry and this will be nothing to worry about.
As you reach Duffy lake, there will be a whole big junction of trails. The trails to your left are user trails and will make their way to the lake. It’s not far so pick your way through some trees and pop out on the shores of this beautiful blue lake. Duffy Butte’s rocky summit spire will dominate the skyline to the north. This is also where you will start seeing the first impacts of the devastating 2003 B&B fire, which burned much of this area. The water is also surprisingly pleasant, so if you feel like a swim, you should go for it. There are lots of good camping places along the lakeshore if you brought your gear.
. From here on Duffy Lake, you could continue along the Blue Lake trail is you are looking for additional access points to the lake. The lake stretches about half a mile long, east to west, and there are several places you can drop down to the bank if you want. There are also some user trails that curl around the grassy western end of the lake. If you have only just quenched your appetite and want to hike some more, you could continue on the Blue Lake trail up to Mowich Lake, or head south to Santiam Lake. So many decisions.
To reach the Duffy Lake trailhead, take Highway 22 six miles north of Santiam Junction or 26 miles southeast of Detroit and then head East on Forest Road 2267. The road is paved but only one lane with turnouts. Follow the road for 2.6 miles before making a left towards the Duffy Lake Trailhead. It’s only 0.3 miles to the trailhead from here, but he road changes to gravel and gets pretty bumpy. Most cars should be able to navigate it though, if you go slow enough.
Passes: A Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is required to access this area between June 15th and October 15th. The permits will be available from recreation.gov and will go on sale in early April. A Northwest Forest Pass is also required to park at this trailhead.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Most of trail should be melted out sometime in June.
Bugs: Mosquitos can be really bad here during the melt season, primarly June and July. They start to clear up in August.
Flowers: Different flowers will bloom depending on elevation, but July and early August are usually peak months.