Easy (to Middle Erma Bell Lake)
4.2 miles round trip
300 feet elevation gain
Open mid-June to mid-November
Use: hikers, horses
Moderate (to Williams Lake)
800 feet elevation gain
Right: Otter Lake
Lower and Middle Erma Bell Lakes, separated by a small waterfall, are among the most heavily visited destinations in the high country forests north of Waldo Lake—perhaps because the trail here is so delightfully level that even small children can manage the hike.
To be sure, popularity has brought some restrictions. Portions of the lakes’ shores are roped off for restoration. Within 250 feet of any of the three Erma Bell Lakes or Otter Lake, camping is only allowed at approved sites marked by a post. But it’s not too hard to outdistance the crowds here. Simply continue on a longer loop to Williams Lake, and pick up two other lakes in the bargain.
From McKenzie Highway ...
Scraped smooth by glaciers during the Ice Age, Williams Lake’s bedrock shore shows scratches left by rocks dragged beneath the ice. This entire area is still recovering from glaciation that ended just 6000 years ago. Humps of bare rock protrude from soils so thin that only lodgepole pine and beargrass can grow. Beyond Williams Lake the trail gradually descends ...