Backpacking Indian Heaven Wilderness
Indian Heaven Wilderness is truly an amazing area and I am so surprised that I never made it out there before. As part of our attempt to get away from fireworks on the 4th of July holiday, we headed out to Cultus Lake from the Cultus Creek campground and spent a couple of nights on Cultus Lake, day hiking to the other lakes that are everywhere in this amazing basin and hiking/scrambling to the top of Lemei Rock.
A brief description from OregonHikers.org:
The trail starts at the Cultus Creek Campground Trailhead quickly climbing up the side of Bird Mountain paralleling Cultus Creek on the Indian Heaven Trail. You’ll see lichen-draped douglas fir trees and lots of beargrass. Parts of the first mile are very steep. After a mile the trail reaches a viewpoint where there are views of Bird Mountain, Mount Adams and other peaks.
The trail re-enters the forest and climbs at a gentler pace. After leveling out the trail passes by a short side trail to Deep Lake before reaching Cultus Lake after about 2.5 miles. There are a few campsites here. If you camp here, please practice Leave No Trace principles and do not camp in the fragile meadows.
A side trip to Deep Lake is worth your time before you head back. The 0.3mi spur trail takes you to the big lake, which is indeed deep. There are more campsites here than at Cultus Lake.
While we had been hoping to find a campsite at Deep Lake, we got there pretty late in the evening and when we arrived there were no more sites available. So we headed back to Cultus Lake and fortunately found what I think may be the only legitimate campsite just above the lake on the south side. Despite what the above description says, we didn’t find “a few campsites” here, just the one. We felt very fortunate to have found it and even more amazingly, have the entire Cultus Lake to ourselves (its not a big lake, but it was still awesome to have our own private lake).
We found swimming in many of the lakes to be quite enjoyable. Most of these lakes are pretty shallow (perhaps not Deep Lake, but we didn’t test it) and have sandy bottoms which heat up quite nicely in the summer. I wonder if the fishing is any good in these lakes? maybe next time I will bring a fly rod?
Beyond the lakes, Lemei Rock is an excellent little scramble with very rewarding 360-degree views from the top. If you are in this area, do not miss scrambling up the bowl to the top. It looks a little sketchy at first (dint overestimate your abilities) but I found quite a few little trails carved into the talus slopes that made the scrambling much easier.