Even if you’ve never been to Trillium Lake, you’ve probably seen a few pictures of it.
The scenic lake on the flanks of Mount Hood – home to one of the most iconic views of the mountain – is a summer destination for campers and boaters, replaced by cross-country skiers and snowshoers once the snow starts to fall.
By mid-fall, the road that leads to Trillium Lake is closed to vehicle access, becoming a wide snow-covered trail used for all kinds of winter recreation. The easy access makes it one of the most popular, and often most crowded places in the Mount Hood National Forest each winter.
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Before heading out make sure you’re equipped with proper winter weather supplies, like extra layers and proper footwear, as well as basic necessities like water, food and first aid. Also make sure to keep social distance from other hikers, and wear face masks when distance isn’t possible to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On Thursday, with only a few inches of fresh powder from the previous weekend, Trillium Lake attracted dozens of skiers, snowshoers and walkers, traversing the trail packed with snow. At least one snowmobiler showed up as well, joining the crowd at the Trillium Sno-Park parking lot, found just off the side of U.S. 26 east of Government Camp.
From the parking lot, the road-turned-trail runs downhill through a quiet forest, where evergreen boughs are dusted in snow. Marked side trails give an opportunity for additional exploration, while other user-made trails tromp concerningly into the woods at random intervals.
The only major junction comes about a half mile in, where signs direct visitors to the left and right for the Trillium Lake Loop. The quickest route to the lake is to the left, though skiers may want to take the counterclockwise route to the right, which appears to be a little less traveled. Walkers and those who are there just for the main attraction should stick to the main road on the left, which leads another 1.5 miles to the south end of the lake.
The road makes a final swooping turn as it reaches the lakeshore, where the view of Mount Hood comes suddenly, stunningly into view. The snow-peaked volcano lords majestically above the icy reservoir, framed by firs and surrounded by open sky.
After getting your fill of photos, you have a few options before you. For a quick and easy day, simply turn around and climb the long hill back to the parking lot. Those who want more can tackle the Trillium Lake Loop Trail from either direction, but staying to the right past the day-use area ensures more good views of the mountain.
It should be noted that the Mount Hood National Forest has officially closed a portion of the Trillium Lake Loop Trail, calling it impassable due to damaged sections of boardwalk on the north side of the lake. Forest officials said that signs and barricades at the closure appear to have been removed by visitors. On Thursday, a single orange cone on the south end of the boardwalk was the only warning that anything was amiss.
The loop trail appeared to have been heavily traveled since the closure, with clear boot and ski tracks all the way around. Hikers routinely passed through the closure area, which became much easier to cross with so much snow on the ground.
“In the winter the boardwalk and trail become covered in snow, so the risk of falling through/injury is likely much less,” forest spokeswoman Heather Ibsen said Friday. “We discourage traveling the trail loop to reduce the risk of someone getting hurt.”
To avoid the closed section of the trail, hikers can branch off on a marked side path on the north end of the campground, marked by blue signs with white arrows. The side trail, which in the warmer seasons is used by mountain bikes, runs about one mile to the big junction on the main road.
Whether you explore the many trails or just enjoy a great view of Mount Hood, a trip to Trillium Lake makes an excellent day trip from the Portland area. If you can accept the crowds (or go on a quieter weekday morning), it’s a perfect winter excursion on Mount Hood.
TRILLIUM LAKE HIKE
Distance: 4 to 6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate (snow, uphill walk)
Amenities: Large parking lot, vault toilet at the lake
Start at the Trillium Sno-Park, found on the south side of U.S. 26 about two miles east of Government Camp. Here, you’ll need to display a current Sno-Park Permit from the Oregon Department of Transportation ($4 for one day, $9 for three days, $25 for a year; buy online at dmv2u.oregon.gov or at local sporting goods stores and other retailers; passes are not available at the sno-park).
Head to the north side of the parking lot and take the closed road south to Trillium Lake. A sign indicates that skiers should stay to the right, and walkers to the left. Try not to walk in any ski tracks.
After a half mile, the road forks. A longer loop more popular with skiers is to the right, but hikers and snowshoers can reach the lake much faster and easier by staying left.
After another 1.5 miles, the road emerges at the south end of the lake. Before crossing over the dam, walk toward the lakeshore and find the narrow trail that leads past the day-use area.
In .2 miles, the trail emerges at a boat launch. To the left is a fishing platform where you can get more good pictures of the lake. To the right is an open vault toilet.
Head down the boat launch toward the lake to find the trail. Follow it past the campground until you find a side trail marked with arrows on small blue signs. Go right to take Trillium Bike Trail back to the main road, where it emerges at the first major junction. Follow the sign and head uphill to return to the Trillium Sno-Park.
If instead you go left at the junction after the campground, you’ll soon reach the trail closure just before the damaged boardwalk at the north end of the lake. From here, the Trillium Lake Loop Trail eventually circles back around to the dam on the south end of the lake, meeting back up with the main road that heads back uphill to the parking lot.
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