Little Three Creek Lake is located in a glacial cirque beneath beautiful Tam McArthur Rim. This short and relatively flat hike high in the mountains makes for a perfect family adventure to one of the more scenic vistas in the Cascades. And when it is all said and done, Three Creek Lake is waiting right there for you, daring you to take a quick dip in its chilly waters.
The hike to Little Three Creek Lake begins right at the entrance to the Driftwood Campground. I highly recommend going counter-clockwise on this hike because I have tried twice to find the trail at the end of the campground road so I could travel clockwise and not short circuit my brain. I ended up on the wrong trail both times. I’m pretty sure the Forest Service is trying to disguise it because the last time I tried to find it, the trail had a couple logs down across the entrance along with some camouflage netting and a small grizzly bear napping in the general direction I thought the trail should go
So anyway, take off from the lower trailhead. The trail leaves from the left side of the parking lot and makes its way through the forest, some if it burned, as your head towards the lake. In a little less than a mile, you will encounter a 4-way intersection. The right trail would take you to Three Creeks Meadows and straight away would take you to Snow Creek and evenutally Park Meadow. You should go left and make your way through some meadows as the views to Tam McArthur Rim really start to open up. Make the final push, climbing less than 100 feet over the next 1/3 of a mile to reach the shore of one the prettiest lakes in Central Oregon. The turquoise water of the shallow lake contrast beautifully against the rocky and often snow-covered backdrop of the rim.
Once reaching the lake, follow the trail to the right and work your way around on the lakeshore. There are a couple of springs on the back side of the lake that gush right out of the ground through the rocks beneath your feet. Some of the trail can also get a little swampy along the south side of the lake and there is a small creek to rock-hop across. It’s about ¾ of a mile to circumnavigate the lake until you reach the trail that will take you back to the trailhead. Once you pass the narrow land bridge between Little Three Creek Lake and the pond to it’s east, look for a trail about as wide as a road heading to the east. This trail travels about half a mile and will dump you out on the road at the far end of the Driftwood Campground road. The final drop back to the road can be steep and loose, so watch your footing. Once reaching the road, sneak around that napping Grizzly and follow it back the ½ mile to your vehicle.
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 18 miles until you reach the lake. The majority of the road is paved, with maybe the last couple miles being gravel, but most cars should have little trouble reaching the lake. Driftwood Campground will be on your right as you reach the lake, and the trailhead for Little Three Creek Lake will be almost immediately on your right again.
Passes: Northwest Forest Pass is required at this trailhead. Beginning in 2021, a Central Cascades Wilderness day-use permit will be required to hike from this trailhead between the Friday before Memorial Day and the final Friday of September. The permits will be available from recreation.gov and will go on sale in early April.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Trail is usually snow free in June.
Bugs: Mosquitos can be bad during the melt season, usually June-July, then will mostly clear up moving into August.
Flowers: Different flowers will bloom depending on elevation, but July and early August are usually peak months.