backpack: Mount Washington Wilderness – Tenas Lakes
Located in the Mount Washington Wilderness in Central Oregon, Tenas Lakes are a group of subalpine lakes with rocky shorelines and blue-green water. We spent four days relaxing, swimming, and doing short exploration hikes in the area.
- day 1 – Benson trailhead to Tenas Lakes campsite: 2.8 miles, 630 ft. gain, 60 ft. loss
- day 2 – day hike to Scott Mountain: 4.4 miles roundtrip, 685 ft. gain/loss
- day 3 – explore Tenas Lakes
- day 4 – hike out to Benson trailhead: 2.8 miles, 60 ft. gain, 630 ft. loss
- best months: August – September
- location: Central Oregon Cascades; nearest town: Sisters
- land management: Willamette National Forest: Benson Lake Trail #3502
- permits: required for all backcountry campsites
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
The drive from Portland takes just over 3 hours. We drove to Eugene and took Highway 126 to Highway 242, which is quite scenic as it winds its way up into the Cascades. We started our hike at the Benson Lake trailhead next to the campground at Scott Lake.
The hike is forested most of the way, and passes by Benson Lake after just 1.5 miles.
We continued for another mile to the junction with Tenas Lakes to find a campsite.
Luckily, we had met two women in the parking lot who told us about the campsite they had just left and it was perfect for our group of four. To find it is not easy… the trail ends before reaching the camp area, and we went the wrong direction at least once before locating it. The campsite was perfect, with room for two tents on a high point above the lake, and two more tents fit in the trees just behind it.
The next day, we hiked to the top of Scott Mountain for panoramic views stretching from Mount Hood to Diamond Peak.
After our hike, we swam in the lake and relaxed at camp. It’s nice to do a trip with a lot of down time. : )
On our third day, we explored around the Tenas Lakes, starting from our camp to do a complete loop around the larger lake. We were also scouting for campsites for future trips to this area.
After completing the loop around the larger lake, we explored the smaller of the three Tenas Lakes. One of them had a fun short scramble over a rocky ridge between two lakes.
Back at camp, we went swimming again and did laundry.
At sunset, I decided to explore more around our camp area and discovered a ridge with great views.
On our last day, we had breakfast and then packed up to hike out to the trailhead. I absolutely loved this area and hope to come back again in the fall.