Golden Lake is a beautiful little lake located in a meadow right at the foot of Broken Top. The views of the mountains from this little oasis are spectacular as they virtually surround you. The length of the hike can make this an ideal backpacking destination and it can be combined with the Broken Top Loop Trail. Plus, there are countless areas to explore on the mountainside behind the lake. However, it is also defiantly a doable day hike, without a ton of elevation gain. So whatever floats your boat, don’t miss the opportunity to witness one of the coolest spots in the Central Oregon Cascades for yourself.
The hike begins from the Park Meadow Trailhead, right as the paved road turns to gravel on the way to Three Creek Lake. And lucky you gets to experience the effects of the devasting 2012 Pole Creek fire right off the bat. While the fire has eliminated virtually all the shade for the first 4 miles or so of the hike, the skeleton forest allows for many more views of the mountains that would normally have been hidden behind all those pesky branches and green needles and things. In addition, numerous flowers pop up all over the trail, especially near wet areas, making you appreciate these lush little islands all the more.
You will hike through the burn, heading slowly downhill for the first 3 miles until you reach Snow Creek. Snow Creek is the smallest and easiest of the three streams you most cross on your way to Park Meadow. Depending on the time of year, weather, and even time of day, some of the crossings can vary widely. There was a makeshift bridge of logs crossing Snow Creek, so we were able to make our way across it while keeping our feet dry. After Snow Creek, it is another 1.5 miles until you reach Whychus Creek. Whychus was running much higher and was full of milky glacial runoff, probably from the week of near 90 plus degree days we had had prior. Thus, there was no noticeable way to cross on logs or by rock hopping, so we donned our sandals and strolled across. It can be a little unnerving when you can’t see the bottom of the stream because the water is so turbid, but it was never over about mid-calf depth on us.
A half mile past Whychus, you finally reenter green forest and you are only another half mile from beautiful Park Meadow. Here you will find the third stream to ford, Park Creek. This one had much clearer water and not nearly the flow as Whychus, but still no easy way to rock hop across, so we just waded across again. Once you cross Park Creek, you will reach the intersection with the Green Lakes Trail. Head to the left and wander your way through Park Meadows. Here, the views really open up and the beautiful landscape reminds you of why you come to the mountains. Don’t stop here though, as Golden Lake is only 1.5 miles further down the trail.
As you leave the Park Meadows basin, you will climb about 400 feet in the next mile as you start working your way up the pass between Broken Top and South Sister. Once the trees begin to thin out some, watch for an unmarked trail on your left. The trail is well traveled and obvious. In about half a mile, this trail will lead you right to Golden Lake. Small waterfalls cascade down around you and the views are truly dramatic. If you have a little juice left in you before you turn around and head back, or if you are spending the night and are up for some wandering, you can follow the creek up out of the south end of the meadows as it crashed down from Broken Top. If you keep climbing, there are a couple of beautiful little tarns (small mountain lakes) hidden on the mountainside with amazing views of the surrounding peaks.
From Highway 20 watch for signs directing you to Three Creek Lake right on the main drag. Head south on Elm Street and proceed for 16 miles until the road turns to gravel. Pretty quickly after turning to gravel, you will see a small parking area on the left with a kiosk and trail information on the right. This is the Park Meadow trailhead. So park already.
Passes: A Central Cascades Wilderness Overnight Permit is required to camp in 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 free, self-issue wilderness permit is required upon entering the wilderness. A Northwest Forest Pass is also required to park at this trailhead. The Central Cascades Wilderness Day-Use Permit is not required from this trailhead, if you are not planning on camping.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Usage: Somehwere between moderate and heavy.
Open Season: Higher elevation trails usually melt off sometime in July and remain open until the first snow falls.
Bugs: Mosquitos can be bad during the melt season, usually July-August, then will mostly clear up later in August. The areas around Park Meadow and Golden Lake can be especially brutal.
Flowers: Different flowers will bloom depending on elevation, but July and early August are usually peak months.
Camping Restrictions: No fires within 1/4 mile of Golden Lake and no Camping with 250 feet of the lake.