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Dogs, kids and families on the Nannie Creek Trail

The Nannie Creek Trail is among the favorite trails that leads into the eastern side of the Sky Lakes Wilderness. For most, the lure is Puck Lakes, a pair of shimmeringly blue lakes about 2-1/2 miles from the Nannie Creek Trailhead.

It’s a hike that begins gradually climbing through forests of Shasta red fir, mountain hemlock and lodgepole pine before leveling and slightly dropping to the lakes’ turnoff.

There’s no sign, but large rock cairns mark the route to the lakes. Lower Puck Lake, the larger of the two, is a just a few hundred feet from the trail. Most people, whether day hikers or backpackers, stop at the lower lake, but a trail heads a third-of-a-mile north to the smaller Puck. Both are excellent destinations for wading, swimming, fishing or just kicking back and savoring the sights.

The Nannie Creek Trail continues west from the Puck Lakes junction nearly two miles to the Sky Lakes Basin. About a mile from the Puck Lakes turnoff, the trail reaches the beginning of a rock scree slope where each footstep sounds like it’s shattering ceramic plates. It’s also a place to enjoy views of Pelican Butte, Mount McLoughlin, Luther Mountain and Devils Peak.

It’s another mile to the end of the Nannie Creek Trail, a place where day hikers typically do a 180 about-face and return to the trailhead-parking area, a distance of about eight miles.

If going for a longer day hike or backpack, the choices include heading south on the Sky Lakes Trail past Martin, Lower Snow and Donna lakes and on to Trapper or Margurette lakes, or north along the Snow Lakes Trail and its series of alluring lakes up to the Pacific Crest Trail.

My choice for a overnight outing was a lollypop loop — hiking the Nannie Creek and Sky Lake trails to Margurette, sometimes called the “Queen of Sky Lakes,” on day one. The next morning it was up the Divide Trail from Margurette to the PCT, hiking north to the Snow Lakes Trail junction, taking it down to its junction with the Nannie Creek Trail, then returning back past Puck Lakes to the Nannie Creek trailhead.

Both days the Nannie Creek Trail near Puck Lakes was alive with hikers, mostly families with rambunctious dogs, happily gallivanting young kids and even young babies being toted in child carriers.

Among the latter were Bryan and Rebecca Boatman with their almost 20-month-old child, Clementine, who, oh my darling, was fiddling with her sunglasses while enjoying the ride from her father’s child carrier. Bryan, the Fremont-Winema’s west side recreation specialist, was using a day off to get out and experience the land he helps to manage. The family was on their way to Puck Lakes.

More hellos were exchanged while passing or being passed by others, mostly families, many of them with happily tail-wagging dogs, on the way to Puck Lakes. Past the Puck Lakes junction on my way to Margurette, all was quiet, except for high-pitched whistles from a foraging pika. Figuring I’d have Margurette to myself, I found a prime campsite. By early evening other backpackers passed by. One couple made camp nearby but far enough to be unseen from my camp. Unseen until sunset, when the string of solar-charged lights they’d hoisted in trees around their campsite twinkled.

Even better, however, was nature’s phenomenon — seeing the glowing sun setting to the west and the nearly full moon, lightly colored scarlet from forest fire smoke, rising to the east.

My neighbors said they live in Sisters but favor the Sky Lakes Wilderness because of its variety of trails, surplus of beautiful lakes and, in sharp contrast to the heavily trafficked trails in their nearby Deschutes National Forest, relative lack of other hikers and backpackers.

There were no other hikers from Margurette the next morning on the Divide Trail’s three relentlessly huff-n-puff uphill miles to the PCT. The elevation gain is almost 1,000 feet but the rewards include overlooks that peer down and across Margurette, Trapper and other lakes; dramatically fractured glacier-carved rock outcrops; and — surprise — a last reminder of summer, a single red paintbrush stubbornly emerging from the rimrock.

There were no other hikers along mile-plus section along the PCT, an area that still shows persisting scars from past wildfires and its oh-so-slow recovery, or down the Snow Lakes Trail. And, just as its name implies, the Snow Lakes Trail sidles alongside and past a series of snow-fed lakes before reaching the Nannie Creek junction.

But, surprise, heading up the Nannie Creek Trail were two sets of parents each with two sets of youngsters and Sparkie, a friendly, glad-to-meet-you dog. The parents, Shawn and Loretta Havel, and Nick and Amanda Breuer, walked together while Abigail Havel, 10, scampered with Jollian Breuer, 13, and Riley Havel, 8, and Gavin Breuer, 11, also paired off. The two Klamath Falls quartets were returning after a vigorous day hike to Martin Lake, nearly a 10-mile roundtrip.

Margurette’s shore was alive with more parents and kids — and swimming dogs. One group from Medford explained they are transplants from Utah and are delighted with their new outdoor “neighborhood.” Others from Klamath Falls were showing off Puck Lake and other delights to out-of-town friends.

If weather forecasts are correct, hiking to Puck Lakes and beyond may not be a good idea this weekend. But until the snow flies, there’s still a chance to pack up the kids and dogs and head out the Nannie Creek Trail.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Bryan Boatman was happily hauling his nearly 20-month-olddaughter Clementine to Puck Lakes. Photo by Lee Juillerat
Abigail Havel and Jollian Breuer lead their parents and brothers along the Nannie Creek Trail. Photo by Lee Juillerat