Lost Lake (Hood River)

Reachcode: 17070105019287 | Area: 252.6 acres | Shoreline: 3.0 mi | View on Interactive Map

(From Atlas of Oregon Lakes, Johnson et al. 1985). Lost Lake is one of the premier mountain lakes of Oregon, one of the best known to residents of northwestern Oregon, and certainly one of the most photographed. It is scenically located between the Columbia River Gorge and towering Mt. Hood. To the Indians, the lake was known as E-e-kwahl-a-mat-yan-ishkt, which translates as "Heart of the Mountains". It was for a long time a favorite summer and autumn campground of the Indians. According to legend, one evening during a summer potlatch, a snow-white doe pursued by wolves suddenly broke from a thicket, plunged into the lake, swam to the middle, dove beneath the surface, and disappeared. A medicine man pronounced this a bad omen. The Indians broke camp and never returned to the lake. In 1912 a young Indian couple who did not share the beliefs of their elders came here to camp. During a storm a bolt of lightening struck the tree under which they were standing and killed the young woman.

Early pioneers travelling the Walk Up Trail from the Columbia River to the Sandy River probably saw the lake as early as the 1850s. The origin of the name Lost Lake is a bit obscure. According to one account, it was originally known as Blue Lake. Another account, printed in Mazama in December 1920, states that the lake was discovered by Joe and John Divers. Acting on information gathered from these two men by E.L. Smith of Hood River, a party of twelve was organized in August 1880 for the purpose of finding the lake. It was found and christened Lost Lake, now one of several in the state of Oregon with the same name.

Lost Lake sits at the head of a steep valley scoured by glaciers, a setting similar to nearby Blue Lake to the west and Bull Run Lake to the south. However, in contrast to these two lakes, it formed behind a lava dam, a result of the eruption of Lava Lake Butte, which blocked the valley and impounded the water. It is likely that a lake already existed in the glacial valley and that the lava dam changed its shape and raised the water level. The only significant surface inflow is from a cluster of streams on the west side known as Inlet Creek, a marshy area. Numerous springs on the east and west sides also contribute to the lake. The abundance of springs is due to the thin topsoil on the basin slopes over a dense volcanic hardpan. Outflow is into the Lake Branch of the West Fork of Hood River on the north end. A three-foot high spillway at the outlet controls the water level to some degree.

The small drainage basin is made up of steep slopes covered by a thick coniferous forest, a mixture of Pacific silver fir, mountain hemlock, western red cedar, Douglas fir, and some white pine. The thin, rocky topsoil restricts the root growth of large trees and, in soils saturated with heavy rains, many trees are found toppled around the shoreline. Western red cedar are prevalent in the marshy areas adjoining the lake. Vine maple, devil's club, and deer fern grow near the springs, and skunk cabbage thrives in the marsh. A wide variety of wild flowers are found near the lake. Cut-leaf bugbane is a wildflower native only to Lost Lake and grows near the inlet. This marshy area is inhabited by salamanders, insects, and occasionally river otter and beaver.

The morphometry of Lost Lake is a result of its geologic origin. It is an extremely deep lake (maximum depth = 175 feet), the deepest in the Mt. Hood National Forest. The lake basin is a continuation of steep ridges that flank it on two sides; Butcher Knife Ridge and Lost Lake Butte are on the east. The Cascade Crest forms the divide between Lost Lake and Bull Run Lake.

Recreational opportunities have made Lost Lake one of the most appealing in the northern Oregon Cascades, and thousands of visitors each year enjoy the variety of opportunities. A three-mile hiking trail surrounds the lake and includes boardwalks and footbridges over the marshy areas on the west side, most of them built in 1974. A small portion of this section has been set aside as a re-vegetation area. The Mt. Hood National Forest maintains a large campground at the lake which is equipped with chemical toilets. A commercial resort on the north end offers cabins, boats and supplies during the recreation season. Boats are available for rent, but no motorboats are permitted on the water. Fishing is for both native and stocked species; German brown trout, kokanee salmon, brook trout and rainbow trout are native, but populations are maintained by stocking rainbow and brook trout. Brown trout are generally found in the deeper portions of the lake.

Water quality in Lost Lake, as can be expected in a deep mountain lake, is excellent. Thermal stratification in summer is pronounced and water temperatures are usually cool. While the surface temperatures will generally reach 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), in the summer, below 50 to 65 feet (15-20 meters) it is about 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) all year. The concentrations of major ions are low, similar to other lakes on the north slope of Mt. Hood, for example Bull Run Lake and Wahtum Lake in this report. Alkalinity (8 mg/1) and conductivity (10 mhos/cm) are also low. These factors, incombination with low concentrations of total phosphorus and chlorophyl and high water transparency, all indicate oligotrophic conditions. Biological productivity in the lake is limited and it could not support the heavy fishing pressure without being stocked by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Algae observed in the past (net collections) include: Tabellaria flocculosa, Asterionella formosa, Stauroneis phoenicenteron, Gomphonema constrictum, and Ceratium hirondinella. The nannoplankton is dominated by Chroulina (93.9%), which is typical of Cascade mountain oligotrophic lakes. Although the density is moderately high, Chromulina is an extremely small alga; the total phytoplankton biomass is accordingly very low.

Lost Lake is very deep and is not susceptible to change in trophic status from the small contribution of nutrients generated by recreational activity at the lake. Unless there is a considerable extension of facilities, or unless motor boats are allowed, the trophic level will remain low.


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