What lies beneath the surface of the crystal clear waters of the appropriately named Clear Lake of Sisters, Oregon?

Turns out there aren’t very many mysteries. After all, the lake is so clear you can see just about everything. Including its famous underwater forest.

That’s right—sitting just under the 148-acre lake, which is named for its amazing transparency, is an ancient forest, with 80-foot tree trunks once drowned in a flood, now kept petrified by the water’s cold temperatures.

Seeing Clearly

Discovered in 1859 by explorers trying to find a way through the Cascade Mountains, they made their way along an Indian Trail.

“Hiking the Clear Lake Trail is an incredible way to experience this unique Cascade lake,” writes Halvor Tweto of the Outdoor Project. “Leaving from the Clear Lake Resort trailhead, a counter-clockwise walk around the lake provides views of Three-Fingered Jack, the McKenzie River Headwaters, the Sand Mountain Lava Flow that created the lake, the springs that feed the river, and a surreal perfect image of the Three Sisters (volcanic peaks) perfectly framed in the lake’s waist.

Clear Lake

Tree (c.3000 years old) submerged in Clear Lake, Linn County, Oregon, USA. The top of the tree is about 12 inches below the water surface./CC Christopher Johnson

“Add to this the constant presence of clear, sapphire water and the ghostly, underwater figures of a forest long submerged, and you’ve found one of the best walks in the Cascade foothills,” he continued.

Brian Carroll, Linn County Parks and Recreation director, told Travel + Leisure that some see it as a spiritual place.

“To me, Clear Lake has a very spiritual effect on people…when you get there it just comes across as magical,” he said.

“You’ve got it all, the mountains are there, the forest is there, and there’s lava; there’s just so many different abnormalities about the area because you’re surrounded by all this volcanic terrain.”

Frozen in Time

Sitting at an altitude of more than 3,000 feet, scientists note that the lake has an area temperature just above freezing year-round. This keeps the underwater world in a nearly frozen state, and some divers take advantage by exploring through the branches.

Surrounded by five miles of trails in the Willamette National Forest, Clear Lake offers cabins and relaxation, campfires, and picnic tables. “(It) is considered one of the best spots for freshwater diving in America,” writes Jen Anderson, of TravelOregon.com.

Clear Lake

Courtesy of Iandraz via Flickr. The Petrified Forest at the bottom of Clear Lake.

Which really begs the question: Why wouldn’t you want to check this out?

Just a few hours away from major cities like Portland, Salem, and Bend, you’re pretty much off the grid when you’re in the National Forest, driving down Highway 126. Scuba enthusiasts can jump in the lake and explore the underground forest, and because no motorized boats are allowed on the water, it’s peaceful and calm for those who want to kayak, row, or paddle.

By Ryan Clark, Ripley’s Believe It or Notcast host and contributor for Ripleys.com


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