Maxwell Lake.
Photo by Zoë Symon
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A Maxwell Lake Day Hike

We were having a lazy weekend, but still wanted to get a hike in. So what did we do? Took a 7-mile round trip day hike to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes, of course!

Zoë Symon       Trip Report       07/20/2019
Zoë Symon
Trip Report

Despite our best intentions, we did not leave the house at 6am. It was Saturday morning and Evan and I were feeling lazy. We had told ourselves that we would start the 2+ hour drive to the trailhead at 6am, but it was already 8am and we had both barely even packed for the day’s hike.

We had originally been planning a longer day hike into the Lakes Basin of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, our backyard wilderness area, and part of the largest National Forest in the state of Oregon, the Wallowa-Whitman. However, given our slow pace getting out the door, we both decided it would be better to tackle something a little bit shorter. I remembered my Maxwell Lake hike from last summer and suggested we give that a try. Evan had spent some time maintaining the lower stretches of the trail, but had never been up to the lake itself.

We decided to go for it, since we knew our dog, Springer, would appreciate the hike and the cool mountain water at the end. We finished our coffee, grabbed Springer’s leash, and hit the road.

A rocky switchback on a trail with imposing mountains in the background.
Switchbacking around a rocky point.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A view through a valley surrounded by towering mountains and filled with an evergreen forest.
Leaving the nice wooded switchbacks behind and ascending into the sun.
Photo by Zoë Symon

The drive to the trailhead is a beautiful, if long, one. When we got there, the day use parking area was already pretty packed, but we managed to squeeze in next to a minivan that had probably struggled on the lumpy Forest Service Road drive to the trailhead.

The first couple miles of the trail are luxurious: well-graded switchbacks that meander through a dense coniferous forest and occasionally provide stunning views of the Lostine River drainage.

A rocky ledge overlooks a green forest and distant rocky mountains.
More views from the trail.
Photo by Zoë Symon

However, at about the 2.5 mile mark, it’s as if the trail builders forgot what a switchback was, and the trail emerged from the forest to ascend nearly straight up the side of the mountain completely exposed in the sun. At the height of dust season, it was more than a bit treacherous!

The upside to this grueling climb is that as you hike upwards, you encounter increasingly beautiful views of the valley and the surrounding peaks.

Just when I thought the climb would never end, we crested a ridgeline and observed the trail now gently descending a short distance to the shores of Maxwell Lake.

We paused for a minute to catch our breath and to let some horseback riders go by, and made our way down to the stunning lake.

A path makes its way down a hill through a meadow and a stand of trees. There are tall mountains in the background.
The path down to the lake (currently hidden).
Photo by Zoë Symon

We leisurely walked around the shore (though we didn’t manage to avoid wet feet due to patches of mud) and found a spot to sit on a rock outcropping near the shore. There we feasted on the snacks we had packed up to the lake and relaxed for a while in the sun.

When we both felt it was time to start thinking about dinner, we descended back down the trail, slipping occasionally on the steep parts and enjoying the shade of the forested areas.

A blue lake with a grassy shore and a backdrop of mountains.
A view of the lake after emerging onto its shores.
Photo by Zoë Symon

We eventually crossed the wooden bridge back over the Lostine River and made our way back to our truck. Neither of us were in the mood to cook, and were too hungry to contemplate a 2+ hour drive home, so we decided to visit the local brewery, Terminal Gravity.

We were lucky Springer was worn out, because she laid calmly next to our table while we feasted on delicious food and a good beer.

All in all, a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.

A wooden bridge with handrails over a river leads to a clearing.
Headed back over the bridge towards the parking area.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A trail sign for Maxwell Lake.
A trail sign for Maxwell Lake.
Photo by Zoë Symon

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About the Author
A woman wearing glasses sits in front of a bamboo grove.

Zoë Symon

Zoë grew up in North Carolina and first heard of the Appalachian Trail during her time in college. In 2016, she took a leave of absence from her job and thru-hiked the trail. This adventure fostered her love for the outdoors and for hiking. Currently, she explores the public lands of Oregon. In 2017 she joined the team at Atlas Guides as Creative Director. She spends her days improving experiences for all our users.