What makes Mirror Lake Trail such a popular hike? For starters, it is very approachable. The trailhead is just off Highway 26 by Ski Bowl West in Government Camp, Oregon. The creek-crossing hike through a forest of firs is appealing too. The main reason people are drawn to this 4.3-mile round trip hike (with 550 feet of elevation change) is sure to be the potential for postcard views of Mount Hood, rising tall over its own reflection in Mirror Lake. Don’t be deterred by crowds, this trek to a mountain lake is worth the effort, especially if the sky is clear and the winds are calm.
Start from the Mirror Lake Trailhead, which opened in Fall of 2018 on the west side of Government Camp (an easy exit off Highway 26 when driving from Portland). The trailhead parking area comes before the larger parking area of the recreation area at Ski Bowl West. Find bathrooms and a Mount Hood National Forest kiosk that outlines the trail.
Mirror Lake Trail is paved and downhill for the first 0.2 miles, but unpaved and uphill after that. The trail gradually descends 65 feet through a few switchbacks to a bridge leading to a wide dirt trail into a woodland paradise. Set forth across undulating forest slopes shaded by tall western hemlock, western cedar, and several types of firs.
When the new (current) trailhead opened in 2018, it came with 1.15 miles of added trail that connects to the previous trail up to Mirror Lake. Nine bridges were installed along this part of the trail (or ten if you count a short footbridge) wherever the route crosses streams and creeklets from mountain runoff and springs. Counting all the bridges can be a fun activity for kiddos (or adults) eager to chart the progress along the hike.
Cross the trail’s seventh bridge, half a mile into the hike (the early bridges are close together). Glance at the babbling water above and below each bridge as you pass. The bridges span green pathways of moss and ferns that run through the forest. As the trail progresses, the bridges become more spaced out. You won’t cross the ninth bridge until nearly a mile from the trailhead.
After 1.15 miles of hiking, swing left onto the older Mirror Lake Trail (labeled as Existing Mirror Lake Trail on the trailhead map). This isn’t actually a trail junction that you need to pay attention too, just a left bend in the hike where you can observe a bit of its past. If you look to the right as the trail transitions, a lower section of the old trail is visible that has been covered over with logs and is gradually returning to a natural state.
Notice the grade change from this point on. Things get steeper and you’ll climb an additional 400 feet to Mirror Lake. Recoup a small reward for the effort while rounding the end of a ridgeline, 1.25 miles from the trailhead, where the trees thin out enough to reveal views across the valley toward another fir-covered ridge.
Proceed up the trail, which launches into three long switchbacks on the final climb to Mirror Lake. Just below the lake, come to a split at the beginning of a half-mile loop around Mirror Lake. The junction is 1.9 miles from the trailhead. To the left, Mirror Lake Shore Trail crosses over a log bridge spanning the stream that flows from Mirror Lake. Turn left if you like, or proceed straight toward campsites along the lakeshore and a junction with Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain Trail.
If you stay to the right at the start of the loop, you will see the lake after just a hundred yards. The trail crosses a slope a little above the lake.
- Paths to the left descend to the shore. If you’re looking to wade into the water, the beach below is the lake’s best.
- Paths to the right rise to a half dozen campsites where backpackers can spend the night.
Mirror Lake is a small mountain lake framed by a pair of wooded ridges. A marshy area hugs the lake’s western shore. Don’t expect to see Mount Hood as soon as you get to Mirror Lake. Those views come later in the loop.
At the hike’s 2-mile point, come to a junction with Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain Trail. This trail branches to the right and climbs to Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain, which rises above Ski Bowl. Unless you’re extending this hike to greater heights, stay to the left on Mirror Lake Shore Trail.
Drop from the forest toward a marshy spot beside the lake. A boardwalk leads across this area, keeping hiking boots dry. A short spur off the left side of the boardwalk approaches the lakeshore and delivers the much-awaited views of Mount Hood along with an upside-down perspective of Mount Hood reflected in the waters of Mirror Lake.
Also called Wy’east, Mount Hood is tallest mountain in Oregon and the fourth tallest mountain in the Cascade Range, rising to 11,249 feet. Residents of Portland and other areas of Oregon will easily recognize this snow-covered mountain. From Mirror Lake, the top of Mount Hood is just 7 miles away (and over 7,000 feet higher), so this vantage presents a great perspective of the many features on the south side of the great mountain.
No clouds. No Breeze. You’re in for a treat! Even if the conditions aren’t ideal, you may catch glances of a cloud-clad Mount Hood. In the worst-case scenario, if the mountain isn’t visible at all, you will still have a lovely little lake right in front of you.
Continue across the boardwalk through the small lakeside marsh and return to solid ground. Straying into the wooded area off the left side of the trail will lead to additional looks at Mount Hood above Mirror Lake.
Proceed on Mirror Lake Shore Trail around the east side of the lake. The low brush around the trail exposes more views back over the small round body of water. Wildflowers may decorate the path as well. Toward the end of the trail, find a southward perspective toward basalt bluffs on Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain.
The shore trail eventually leaves the lake and dives into the forest, descending to a fun log bridge with a single handrail. Cross the bridge at the outlet of Mirror Lake to find yourself back at the junction where the loop began. Turn right and hike down the switchbacks and over the bridges to return to the trailhead, completing this 4.3-mile lollipop loop with 550 feet of elevation change.
Bikes are not allowed on Mirror Lake Trail. Hikers are welcome to bring dogs. During the snowy months, Mirror Lake Trail is open to snowshoes. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead in Mount Hood National Forest (May 15th through October 1st). A National Forest Day Pass or an America the Beautiful public lands pass can be used in place of an annual Northwest Forest Pass. During winter months, a Sno-Park Permit is needed to park at the trailhead.
The basic directions for the hike to Mirror Lake are:
- Start from the Mirror Lake Trailhead by Ski Bowl West (0 miles)
- Hike down pavement to the first bridge on Mirror Lake Trail (0.2 miles)
- Follow the unpaved trail over 9 bridges and transition onto the steeper Existing Mirror Lake Trail (1.15 miles)
- Stay right at a junction where the loop around Mirror Lake begins (1.9 miles)
- Pass campsites and admire Mirror Lake (1.95 miles)
- Turn left at a junction with Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain Trail (2 miles)
- Look at Mount Hood from the boardwalk on Mirror Lake Shore Trail (2.05 miles)
- Cross a log bridge at the outlet of Mirror Lake and turn right at the junction where the loop began (2.4 miles)
- Return to the Mirror Lake Trailhead (4.3 miles)
- To hike around another lake with Mount Hood views, visit nearby Trillium Lake Trail
To get to the trailhead: From the west, take Highway 26 to Sandy. Drive another 27 miles up Highway 26 (Mount Hood Highway) and turn right at the Government Camp / Ski Bowl West exit, which is the first exit on the approach to Government Camp (if you see signs for Ski Bowl East, you went too far). As you take the exit off the highway, turn right into the parking area for the Mirror Lake Trailhead, which comes before the parking area for Ski Bowl. The trailhead is at the west end of the trailhead parking area.
From the east, at the merger of Route 35 and Highway 26, take Highway 26 west toward Portland and Government Camp. Pass the exit for Timberline Lodge after 2.4 miles. Continue on Highway 26 through Government Camp for another 1.7 miles. Then take the exit on the left for Ski Bowl West. Drive through the ski area’s parking lot to reach the parking designated for the Mirror Lake Trailhead, just past the eastbound exit from Highway 26.
Trailhead address: Mirror Lake Trailhead, 87000 US 26, Government Camp, OR 97028
Trailhead coordinates: 45.3026, -121.7775 (45° 18′ 09.4″N 121° 46′ 39″W)
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