Marion Lake makes for a popular destination for many hikers within the Mt Jefferson Wilderness. The beautiful blue lake is the largest lake in Oregon located within a wilderness area. The 350-acre basin Marion Lake fills was scoured out by glaciers and reaches a maximum depth of 185 feet. This lake has long been popular, with people packing in all the way from Detroit prior to the completion of the Santiam Pass Highway. Now, you are likely to find your fair shar of visitors carrying fishing poles, float tubes, and picnic lunches heading up the trail with you to enjoy this tranquil setting.
The hike begins from the Marion Lake Trailhead, just east of Marion Forks. Head out of the south side of the parking area, near the toilet, and begin your slow climb through the forest. There are some old growth Douglas Firs along this stretch of trail that are absolutely enormous. You will reach Lake Ann in about 1.5 miles along with 600 feet of climbing. As you approach the lake, you will walk through a section of trail as it passes over a field of rock. If you listen here, you can hear the outlet of Lake Ann rushing through the rock beneath your feet.
Shortly after passing Lake Ann, you will come to a trail junction with the Marion Lake trail heading to the left and the Marion Outlet trail to the right. Take the outlet trail and climb until you reach the top of a little hill, less than a 1/10 of a mile from the trail junction. Here, there will be a user trail heading off to the right and at the time of this writing, there were a couple of logs laying across it. This trail takes you to Marion and Gatch Falls, one of the more impressive waterfalls I have seen and definitely worth the short detour. The trail is easy to follow until you reach the creek, and then it kind of disappears into a mess of old, fallen timber that is rotting away. Just head downstream until you see the trail again. From here, the trail gets extremely steep and slippery in places, resulting from the mist of the falls. Once you reach a nice viewpoint of Marion Falls, don’t stop, but keep heading down. Gatch Falls is just below it, and seeing both falls lined up together is an amazing experience. In all, it is only about 0.3 miles from the trail down to the falls.
Once you’ve had your fill, climb back up and head back to the trail. Follow the outlet trail for about half a mile until you reach the junction with the Blue Lake Trail. You may want to walk out onto the bridge and check out the view at the outlet of Marion Lake, but then take the trail to the left and walk along the lake shore. This trail follows the northwestern shore of Marion Lake for .7 miles before intersecting with the Marion Lake Trail. Head left here and travel another 0.4 miles before re-encountering the junction with the Marion Outlet Trail. Continue to your right, heading down, and you will be back at the trailhead in no time.
To reach the Marion Lake Trailhead, head to the “town” of Marion Forks on Highway 22, about 15 miles north of the Santiam Junction or 16 miles east of Detroit. Head west on Marion Creek Road and the trailhead is 4.5 miles ahead. The first mile or so of the road is paved and it is gravel after that. The road doesn’t have anything in it that would preclude a passenger car from making the trip, although there are quite a few potholes to watch out for and it seems like some may span the entire road.
Passes: A 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: Trails will usually be snow free in June.
Bugs: Mosquitos can be bad during the melt season, usually June-July, then will mostly clear up moving into August.