Elk Lake (192)
- Marion County)
(From Atlas of Oregon Lakes, Johnson et al. 1985). Elk Lake in western Oregon is considerably smaller than its namesake near Bend, but even at 64 acres it is the largest natural lake in this portion of the western Cascades. The footprint shaped waterbody lies in a U-shaped, glaciated valley at the base of Battle Ax Mountain. Well preserved moraines further identify the influence of glaciers in sculpting the region. One of these moraines formed a natural dam that impounded the water draining from the bowl-shaped upper end of the valley to form the lake. One small, unnamed surface stream now feeds the lake, the main source of water being seepage through the volcanic terrain. Elk Lake is the source of Elk Lake Creek, a tributary of the Collawash River, in turn a major tributary of the Clackamas River.
Elk Lake is not as heavily used for recreation as might be expected, primarily because of difficult access. It cannot be reached by road from the Clackamas River area and the access from Highway 22 includes six steep miles on a rough gravel road. This road is generally closed until late June because of snow. Nevertheless, those who do visit the lake find good fishing. Small rainbow trout are stocked and taken readily; kokanee have also been reported. Fly fishing is particularly good in August and September. A Forest Service campground is maintained at the west end and is commonly used as a base camp for hikes into the back-country, the Pansy Lakes Basin for example. Although Elk Lake lies in the extreme southern end of Mt. Hood National Forest, administrative duties are handled by the Willamette National Forest out of convenience.
The lake has a single deep basin slightly northeast of center, but much of it is shallower than 10 feet, particularly at the upper and lower ends. Nevertheless, only a minor amount of rooted macrophytes has developed, their growth perhaps limited by the cool temperatures at this elevation. The water column develops a slight thermal stratification, with a thermocline at about 15 to 25 feet (4.6 to 7.6 meters). Major ion concentrations are very low, characteristic of Oregon mountain lakes. All water quality conditions indicate that Elk Lake is unproductive and pristine. Chlorophyl and phosphorus concentrations are very low, water transparency is sufficient that the bottom of the lake can be seen (maximum 30 feet), and the lake is saturated with oxygen at all depths. These are all characteristics of an oligotrophic lake.