The winter here in Portland had been pretty mild for us at this point, mostly cloudy and with the occasional shower but not really too cold. Our days had been consumed with fixing up our friend’s house where we’re living, applying and interviewing for jobs, getting registered for school and in my case working. As we came to the end of the first month in our new city we had accomplished so much, and yet there was so much more to do.
I was hired for a wonderful new job but it didn’t start for about two weeks. Though perhaps not ideal financially, this was a huge load off of my shoulders. It gave me some freedom to settle in further, get more work done on the house, and perhaps even enjoy some time in the mountains before getting back to working full time. Plus I would be starting school the following month so I was about to be quite the busy bee!
On this particular day we woke up to the sun streaming through our window, and though the air was brisk the sky was clear and blue. We lazed around for most of the morning, not wanting to leave our warm bedroom to brave the rest of our freezing house. It just looked too inviting outside though, so Jeremy suggested that we take this opportunity to head out towards Mt. Hood and check out a trail. We hadn’t had the opportunity to hike in Oregon yet, and this would be my first hike since my disappointment at Little Si in Washington.
He recently picked up the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald at Powell’s Books, so he looked over some of the trails in the area we wanted to go and we settled on the Mirror Lake Loop Trail. It is a popular trail (i.e. often crowded) as it is considered easy and you’re rewarded with a beautiful glacial lake and view of Mt. Hood. We got our gear together, grabbed some snacks, and headed down Highway 26 into the Mt. Hood National Forest.
We do not yet have an annual pass, which would normally be required to park at this trailhead, so we stopped by the Zigzag Ranger Station to grab a day pass. The parking at the trailhead is currently closed which means that you have to park about a mile further up Hwy 26 at Ski Bowl and walk back down, which instead requires a Sno-Park Pass. (Side note: It is cash or check only for the passes at the Ranger station, otherwise gas stations, convenience/grocery stores, and plentiful sporting goods stores in the area sell the passes.)
The drive up was beautiful, first passing through dense trees and then slowly ascending towards Mt. Hood as it grew steadily closer until it loomed over us.
We parked at the first Ski Bowl parking lot, on the right hand side of the highway, and made the trek down to the trailhead. There is a small bridge which takes you onto the trail.
I am not positive on the actual distance of this trail, All Trails put it at just over 4 miles round trip while the Forest Service lists half that, and Oregon Hikers meets in the middle and calls it 3. It definitely felt like more than a mile going up, but coming down was very quick so that may not be the case.
Once you cross the bridge you’re immediately enveloped in the forest, and though you can hear the sound of cars passing on the highway at first there is still an immediate sense of disconnection from the hectic world. As I mentioned this is a popular trail, however we only came across a handful of people during our visit. It remained peaceful and quiet, save for our run in with a happy little Pomeranian named Peanut.
There had been snow on the side of the road, but we weren’t really expecting much on the trail. We were excited to find some still lingering off and on, particularly as we came closer to the top. And the melting snow along the way also gave us plenty of small waterfalls to enjoy.
My legs were aching not only from the 700ft elevation gain, which for me is still quite a bit for such a short distance, but from balancing on the hardened snow and ice in some areas. My Keen boots aren’t exactly made for snow, but they held up pretty well and my feet stayed dry!
So we finally reached the top where you find the split. Either way takes you around the lake, but to the right you can also set up camp or continue on to climb Tom Dick and Harry Mountain.
We opted to follow the trail to the left, crossing the bridge to head to the lake.
Once we rounded the corner out of the trees we were greeted with a most beautiful site: the lake had frozen over! With so much of the snow having melted already and it not seeming too cold we didn’t even consider this as a possibility. It seemed magical with the sun shining down on the solid white lake.
And then as we continued our trek around the lake, Mt. Hood came back into view.
Mirror Lake is known particularly for its reflection of Mt. Hood, but given the state of the water we weren’t expecting the opportunity to see it. Yet somehow this small section of the lake that we came across had melted, and it perfectly aligned to give us the mirror image. What a gift from nature!
I took this opportunity to rest, breathe the fresh air, and just take it all in. The water seemed completely still yet I could hear the faint babbling of small streams and waterfalls as the melting snow poured into the lake. My legs were burning from the climb but I couldn’t be bothered with the discomfort, feeling too much satisfaction at having made it to the top.
As I stared at the breathtaking sight before me, I took a moment to remember why I love hiking and why I push myself. There were a few moments on the trail when I was feeling exhausted and I almost let my negativity take over, that voice in my head trying to shame me into quitting. So as I stood here I reminded myself to stay positive even when it gets difficult, whether on the trail or just in daily life. We had been feeling a lot of stress during this move, and though we were still stressed out this was a much needed reminder to not get so wrapped up in our temporary problems, and to always remain focused on the big picture.
At this point we made our way back to the other side of the lake. Part of the trail consists of boards that lead over the marshy areas, however these were covered in snow at some parts which led to a fun guessing game as we tried to find the boards while balancing on those that sunk into the marsh under our feet. Luckily we made it back around with no incidents, and with our feet dry.
From this section of the trail we were given a clear look at Tom Dick Harry, rising above the trees and still dusted with snow. The sun had set behind the ridge line, so after some time just admiring the scenery it was time to head out.
On the way down we got a great view of the mountains below, and a glance of where we would be heading as we descended back into what they call the “real world”.
We took about an hour and half to get to the top (from the trail head to the split), stopping for photos and for me to catch my breath, and the hike back down was probably closer to half that. So we spent roughly 3 hours or so on this trail total, and traveling from Portland the entire trip was probably close to about 5 hours. It was much quieter than we expected but this could have been due to the fact that we went mid week, and we were certainly enjoying the peace. During the spring and summer this trail is apparently quite busy, as many head up to the lake for a nice cool swim. Tom Dick and Harry is also popular so many use this trail and continue on past the lake to the peak, which is definitely something I hope to do in the future.
As for today though, it was a gorgeous day in the mountains that provided us with just a small glimpse of the beauty that Oregon has to offer, and building anticipation as to what trail we would explore next. With every passing day I am more content with the decision to move here and days spent like this only amplify this joy.
If you live in Portland and haven’t hiked this trail, or you’re visiting and are looking for a fun day trip into the mountains, this is one I would recommend.