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Delightfully cool waters reward hikers

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Badger Lake is a popular destination near Fourmile Lake in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Badger Lake a Sky Lakes Wilderness destination
Swimmers enjoy the refreshingly cool waters of Badger Lake. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Snow-starved Mount McLoughlin is visible from the trail along Fourmile Lake. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Refreshing!

Because the hike happened days before the weather started cooling, even with a relatively early start, the trek had been increasingly sweat-inducing as temperatures warmed. So, when our group of seven reached Badger Lake, lunch was temporarily postponed when five of us stripped down to our shorts, waded in and — ahhhhh! — cooled off.

We’d stopped a short time earlier for snacks at nearby Woodpecker Lake before reaching Badger Lake, one of several beautiful mountain lakes in the aptly named Sky Lakes Wilderness Area. Woodpecker was tempting, but our destination was Badger.

In previous years, Badger Lake was an easy-to-access lake. Until 2021 the trail to Badger was easily reached from Fourmile Lake and Fourmile Lake Campground. Because the campground and area are still being cleared of danger trees, reaching Badger requires a longer hike.

Getting to the trailhead at the Rye Spur Horse Camp is challenging because of the lack of signage at a critical road junction. From Highway 140, the well-signed FS Road 3661 to Fourmile Lake ends at a gate just south of the lake and campground. For the second year, a small crew is removing hazard trees damaged by fires and a mountain pine beetle infestation. Just before the gated junction, we turned right on an unsigned gravel road that reaches the Rye Spur Horse Camp in about a mile.

From the trailhead, we headed north on the Rye Spur Trail, which becomes the Long Lake Trail at the Twin Ponds-Rye Spur Trail junction. Using the current trailhead at the horse camp adds on more than 2 miles — 2 very pleasant miles — each way.

Earlier this summer, the Long Lake Trail from near the junction had been impassible because of many downed trees. Anthony Benedetti, the Fremont-Winema National Forest’s wilderness technician, said it was cleared by firefighters to provide access to a nearby lightning-caused fire that, happily, was doused before it caused serious damage.

Past the recently cleared section, the trail opens up, briefly paralleling the eastern corner of Fourmile Lake before gently winding uphill through a still beautiful forest to Woodpecker Lake. Woodpecker is a small, inviting lake, but for us swimmers the goal was Badger.

Badger didn’t disappoint. Along its eastern shore, we found a trail-side opening large enough to shed our day packs, kick back, enjoy the scenery and relax.

But most of us quickly immersed ourselves in the lake. It required some fancy footwork because the easy lake entry point was alive with tiny frogs that scurried hither and thither. Once in Badger’s delightfully cool waters, it was time to relax.

No one had to pester me or the others to jump in the lake, but it took some badgering to get us out.

Getting There

To reach the trail to Badger Lake from Medford, follow Highway 140 east to the Fourmile Lake Road turnoff. Follow the road, FS Road 3661, to a gate blocking access to Fourmile Lake, which is closed while a logging operation removes trees damaged and killed by a mountain pine beetle infestation. Just before the gate, turn right and follow the unsigned road about a mile until it ends at the signed Rye Spur Horse Camp, which has a large open parking area, pit toilet, picnic tables, horse corrals and a pond. From there follow the Rye Spur Trail north. Near the junction with the Twin Ponds Trail, which is closed, the trail becomes the Long Lake Trail.

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