The Erma Bell Lakes Loop is a 8.9-mile loop, popular with hikers, runners, and horseback riders. It features six mountain lakes, as well as a waterfall in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.
The trail starts at Skookum campground, and right away you see a sign with a few different running trail options. Whichever you pick you must first run 0.6 miles on Erma Bell Lakes Trail #3563
until you come to the Otter Lake and Erma Bell Lakes junction. If you take a left here, you'll have a chance to see Otter Lake and then make another split to Irish Mountain. If you want to do the Erma Bell Lakes loop, continue on to the right.
For the next mile you'll be going slightly uphill until you come to Lower Erma Bell Lake. Lower and Middle Erma Bell Lakes are connected by a stream. As it gets closer to Lower Erma Bell Lakes, it forms a roaring waterfall which you can hear from the trail. From Lower Erma Bell Lake to Middle Erma Bell Lake it is 0.4 miles. There are a few spots here where you can set up a tent and camp if you're doing an overnight since this beach is not nearly as rocky.
From Middle to Upper Erma Bell Lake, it is 0.7 miles, and you'll have to follow a small path to your right to get to the Upper Lake. This lake is a bit more secluded than the first two. Fishing is allowed here with an Oregon fishing license. The shoreline of Upper Erma Bell Lake, has plenty of logs to sit on, and space to camp if you are inclined to do so.
About 0.5 mile from Upper Erma Bell Lake, you'll see a split in the trail. If you are backpacking, you could go to the right on the Judy Lake Trail and check out Mud Lake, Edna Lake, and the Taylor Burn cabin, but this will add significant mileage to your run, so if you are a day tripper, it is not recommended. Stay to your left to complete the Erma Bell Lakes loop.
After another mile, you'll reach a trail junction that is a bit confusing. The trail you are on continues straight and another trail goes to the left. If you have crossed a creek, you have missed this trail junction. A sign that says Erma Bell Lakes Trail continues straight, which is what most people would assume to do, but this is NOT how you finish the loop. You must go left and within a few feet of stepping foot onto this new trail you'll see a sign that says Williams Lake Trail.
After running through some marshy areas, the terrain dries out significantly and becomes very rocky where only lodgepole pines and beargrass seem to want to grow. Within 0.4 mile of the trail junction, you'll see Williams Lake. This lake is spectacular, and there are many great spots to camp here as well.
After checking out the glassy waters of Williams Lake, you'll make your way up and over a small hill, running through sparse lodgepole pine forest, and even crossing a creek. During the summer/fall months, this creek should be no problem to cross. During the spring, it can be quite roaring and you might have to use a log farther upstream to cross. The trek from Williams to Otter Lake is 2.7 miles. Otter Lake is also quite stunning, with a larger area to camp among big trees that shade the lake shore. Otter Lake offers hundreds of lily pads that bloom with yellow and white flowers in mid-July.
At the junction take a left onto Irish Mountain Trail #3588
. This takes you past Otter Lake and back to Erma Bell Lakes Trail #3563
. A right onto Erma Bell Lakes Trail #3563
will take you back to the parking area.