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Hike the sparkling blue gem of the Blue Mountains: The Jubilee Lake Trail

By Melissa Queen

Looking for an easy but scenic hike that offers picnic spots with water views and splashing opportunities? Look no further than Jubilee Lake. About an hour and a half from Walla Walla, the Jubilee Lake Trail offers a relatively flat and even 3-mile loop, a welcoming outdoor experience that is accessible for those just starting to embrace hiking or those who want something the entire family can enjoy.

The lake shore can get crowded in the summer on weekends, but the majority of the visitors hang close to the west side of the lake, setting up picnic spots relatively close to the parking lot and boat launch. The trail around the lake still offers serene moments with peaceful views of the lake and its surrounding forest, once on the farther east side.

However, if the three mile distance around the lake is a limiting factor, it is easy enough to scale the hike back without sacrificing the value of the experience.

The trail is the easiest going from the parking lot out to the left towards the north side of the lake. Heading out to the right towards the southern end of the lake, the trail is a bit less flat but still has good footing. After about half a mile in either direction, the paved part of the trail ends. But the unpaved path that continues is well-worn and softly padded with pine needles. Just watch out for the occasional tree root. 

For the more adventurous spirits, there’s a rope swing just past the Mottet Creek spillway and dam coming from the south end of the lake. Those approaching from the north will wind up at the rope swing after the second mile. It’s a fun place to hang out for a while especially if you have older kids. Make sure to have them wear a swimsuit under their clothes and pack a few towels.

For those who are adventurous, but not in a “swinging from a rope into a cold mountain lake” sort of way, there’s a smaller, rockier trail that splits off to the east near the rope swing. This unmarked trail leads to a high meadow with an expansive view of the Wallowa mountains off to the east. If you are there in June or early July, the wildflowers will be on full display. While this trail does continue on to connect with Forest Service Roads much further south, it doesn’t loop back around to the Jubilee Lake Trail. So hike out just far enough to catch that mountain view and then return back the way you came to reconnect with the main Jubilee Lake Trail.

At a brisk pace, you can make it all the way around the lake in under an hour, and at a more moderate pace, in well under two hours. But if you’re going to make the drive up, why be in such a rush? There are lots of lakeside day use sites scattered all along the shore. Because the hike itself isn’t particularly difficult or time consuming, consider carrying a daypack and packing a picnic lunch. Leave enough time in your hike to stay and rest awhile once you find your perfect spot along the shore.

Things to know before you go:

  • Jubilee Lake, its campground and trails, and its surrounding forest are located on land that holds an important place in the traditions of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes. Learn more about how the Blue Mountains, including this area, are used by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla to support their culture and way of life.
  • If you are planning on pairing your day hike with a lakeside picnic, Andy’s Market is a great place to stop off to pick up supplies. Andy’s Market carries great locally sourced options for all diets, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. In addition to their larger College Place grocery store, their smaller downtown location – The Market by Andy’s – offers a convenient option for healthy grab and go lunches. But plan ahead, because Andy’s stores are closed on Saturdays. Graze is another great option for fresh sandwiches and hearty salads, and with a quick drive-thru only location that’s likely en route to the trail.
  • Access to the trail is in a recreation fee area. The fee is $3 per vehicle for day use. The paysite is cash only, and you’ll need to bring exact change. Or, plan ahead and get ahold of one of the recreation passes accepted at this site in advance. Accepted passes for Lake Jubilee day use include the Northwest Forest Pass or the America the Beautiful Pass.
  • There is little to no cell coverage in the area around the lake.
  • The Jubilee Lake recreation area is dog friendly. Dogs have to be kept on leash while in the campground and around the boat launch.
  • If you pack it in, pack it out. If you aren’t already, get familiar with these basic seven principles of Leave No Trace for protecting and preserving natural landscapes. 
  • There are maintained bathroom facilities and water faucets safe for drinking during the summer months only. But bringing some of your own toilet paper just in case is never a bad idea.

Getting there:

From Walla Walla, drive southwest on WA-125. At the Washington-Oregon state line, the highway becomes OR-11. Continue heading south through Milton Freewater and on towards Weston, Oregon. From Weston, go east on OR-204 for 20 miles. Then, turn left onto Forest Service Road #64. There is a USFS sign on the right hand side of the road directing visitors to Jubilee Lake. Once you are on Road 64, the signs to Jubilee Lake are pretty easy to follow.  Stay on this road for 12 miles, following these signs. After about 12 miles, turn right towards the Jubilee Lake campground and day use parking lot. Road 64 does turn from a paved road to a more rustic gravel road, so stay alert to road conditions and drive with caution. The gravel road can get washboarded thanks to rough winter seasons and heavy summer traffic.