Follow Hwy 22 to Detroit Lake (south of Bull of the Woods Wilderness) and turn on Forest service road 42 toward Britenbush Hot Springs. Only after a few miles turn left and follow signs to Elk Lake. (the roads are pretty bad once you turn off road 42 and it is essential to have a road map of the area with the forest service roads) Park at Elk Lake
This is a good lower altitude hike that you can push as long as the road is negotiable. It offers some great old growth forests, views, and very picturesque wooded lakes. My trip was done in 2 days, but I wish that I had pushed it to 3. The loop starts at Elk Lake and follows the elk creek trail up to Battle Creek trail junction. My route led me up an abandoned trail to atop the ridge overlooking the welcome lakes basin. I would recommend however continuing up the elk creek trail until the junction with welcome creek trail. From here I continued on the Big slide lake to camp, but another possibility if you have more time would be to continue to Lake Lenore, which I had hopes of reaching but ran out of daylight. The trail continues up to the ridge south of big slide lake and up to the Bull of the Woods Lookout. This vista offers great views from Rainer all the way down to the 3 Sisters. My route continued back down from the lookout south toward twin lakes, but an alternate route could take you down to Pansy and Dickey Lake if you have more time. Twin lakes is a great area with some awesome campsites available. From here the route climes up the ridge again to the slopes of battle Ax Mountain. I chose to climb this hill as well, but that led to a lot of climbing in one day and there is another trail that leads more directly back down to Elk Lake if you are looking to cut some mileage. The views from Battle Ax of Mount Jefferson are worth it though. Both the trails out leave you on the west side of Elk Lake so you will have to do a little hiking on the road to reach your car. When I did this trip in the fall of 03 the signage was fairly poor, so be sure to bring a map and try and know your trail numbers, as often that is all you will get on a sign. This wilderness area has many other trials that intersect with this loop so a number of trips using bits and pieces of this route are possible. It is also full of Rhododendrons and huckleberries, making it a great trip for the spring or fall.
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NOTE: there was no ranger Thelma, I made that up to represent the three women at the RS, none of whom could possibly have been on a hike in the last 25 years, if ever. It would have been better if they had just directed me to the mens room and said they knew nothing of any trails.
After stopping at the Detroit ranger station to ask about a round trip to Welcome Lakes via Elk Lake, I though I would add to Ranger Thelma's asseriton that all trails are open and clear (I assure you that Ranger Thelma thought we said scale, not trail, and has never spent a night anywhere near a tent)
My wife and I hiked from Elk Lake to Welcome Lakes on the route described above (abandoned trail 557) and then back along Elk Lake creek (trail 559) returning to Elk Lake. This was a 2 night, mid-July hike and I thought I'd add a few notes if anyone else is considering this hike.
The abandoned trail (557) is a gruelling hike that climbs 2200 feet in 2.2 miles without a switchback in sight. We had hoped that it would at least offer some views but its only diversion comes in the form of a meadow in the last 1/2 mile when we were too tired to enjoy it. We carried 40 - 50 lb packs and are in pretty good condition for mid-forties. It nearly killed us.
We spent the night at the smaller Welcome lake and I found it to be somewhat underwhelming for the work. The campsite is nice and flat and the drainage from the lake provides water nearby. The lake itself is shallow, buggy and hard to access.
Next morning, headed down trail 554 and expected to stop and see the larger of the Welcome Lakes. We never found it??? and continued down 554 until it intersected with 559 and then headed back towwards the Battle Creek Shelter (there is no shelter, just a 4x4 post that might have once been part of a shelter). Elk Creek Lake is beautiful and we stopped along the trail at a fabulous pool and swan and napped on a nice beach in the warm sunshine. The 559 trail is an easy hike except be aware that it crosses Elk Lake Creek twice, and Battle Creek once before you get the the Shelter. These are crossings as in very cold water up to knee level on slippery rocks. Fun if you know what you are getting into