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5 mountain dips

August is the best month — some might say the only month — to go swimming in mountain lakes in Southern Oregon.

Cold-water lakes in the mountains might be warm enough for swimming in July some years, but clouds of mosquitoes can put a damper on the experience. By the middle of August, the water is as warm as it is going to get, and the mosquitoes will have started to decrease.

By the end of August, cold nights will have water temperatures dropping, so there's no time to waste. The season for swimming at elevation is a short one.

Here are five good choices:

1. Crater Lake

If you've never swam in Crater Lake, grab a towel and a picnic lunch and head up to the Cleetwood Cove Trail, the one and only place where it is possible to enter the water at Oregon's crown jewel. The steep hike down to the water's edge also leads to the docks where tour boats load passengers for tours of the lake and Wizard Island. The trail is 1.1 miles long and drops nearly 700 feet to the lake shore, so the walk back is a nice workout. Visitors are welcome to swim in the lake from the shoreline at the end of this trail. With construction and fires clogging roads in the park this summer, be sure to check with the park for the best way to reach Cleetwood Cove (www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm, 541-594-3000).

2. Sky Lakes

Many of the more than 200 natural pools and lakes in the 116,300-acre Sky Lakes Wilderness Area offer great swimming. Depending on which lake basin you choose and the trailhead you start from, you'll have a lengthy walk, so pack a map, and don't shy away from investing in a Pacific Crest Trail guide book for mile-by-mile notes on which trails access which lakes. Some of the best for swimming are Blue Lake, Wizard Lake, Heavenly Twins Lakes (north lake), Isherwood Lake, Lake Elizabeth, Lake Notasha, Dee Lake and Badger Lake. While mosquitoes are fewer in August, always bring repellent when you enter the Sky Lakes. No joke. They'll eat you up.

3. Squaw Lakes

Big Squaw and Little Squaw lakes in the Applegate are mighty fine swimming holes, but don't expect solitude. The lakes are popular places, so you'll have some company. Located about nine miles east of Applegate Lake, the lakes offer just as pure of a swim as Applegate Lake, but with an out-of-the-way feel. Big Squaw covers 50 acres, and Little Squaw Lake is 12 acres. The hike-in reservoirs are located off Forest Service Road 1075, which can be reached by crossing Applegate Dam on French Gulch Road and taking a right about one and a half miles from the dam. For information, call 541-899-9220 or see www.applegatelake.com/campgrounds_squaw_lakes.html.

4. Willow Lake

Willow Lake offers one of the most picturesque settings for a summer swim in Southern Oregon. Tucked into the Cascades near the base of Mount McLoughlin, the Jackson County-owned reservoir is a popular place to swim, boat and fish for a $4 day-use fee. Concessions are available on site. Willow Lake is about 45 miles northeast of Medford. Take Highway 62 to Butte Falls/Fish Lake Road. The lake is 7.5 miles east of Butte Falls. For details, call 541-560-3900 or see www.jacksoncountyparks.com.

5. Hyatt Lake

A large swim area inside the Hyatt Lake Recreation Area is the best place to take a dip at Hyatt Lake. You'll find a sandy beach, plenty of picnic tables and parking spaces inside the recreation area's gate. The day-use fee at the recreation area is $3 per vehicle. The reservoir is about 25 miles east of Ashland off Hyatt-Prairie Road, which can be reached from either Highway 66 or Dead Indian Memorial Road. For information, call 541-618-2200 or see http://tinyurl.com/hyattL.

Reach Mail Tribune features editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or dsmigelski@mailtribune.com.

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Big Squaw Lake. Photo courtesy Flickr.com
Hyatt Lake. Mail Tribune / file photo