I probably shouldn’t share this, but I think a few of my Mount Hood stories already have: the weekend after Labor Day can be one of the most glorious of the summer.
The past couple Labor Days, for us anyway, have been ripe with the first signs of the season to come: chilly, gray, damp; the kind of weather that makes it feel OK to stay inside for a change. But that transition can be a hard one to make, but at least the first weekend of it is usually just a fleeting reminder to get the rest of your summer in while you can.
And how we got it in this past weekend at Lost Lake. I won’t share exactly why this annual trip to the mountain’s Northwest side this time of year sits so high atop the list, but I think it’s plain to see.
It can be tough to get the popular lakeside campsites in the campground at Lost Lake, but luckily many of the other sites, tidy and surrounded by soaring Doug firs and lodgepole pines, leave little to groan about. Even so, it’s not really about being in the campground at Lost Lake. It’s all about being on the water.
And that goes for everyone.
Our escape to Lost Lake this summer found us there for three nights. The first two days on the lake were summertime at its best, with sun and swimming and heat and barely a care in the world. I thought repeatedly about doing the three-mile hike around the lake or the 4.6-mile one up Lost Lake Butte, which I’ve never done, but the lake just kept pulling me back and making me stay. Why leave the sunny shoreline when days like this are as numbered as they are?
As if on cue, Sunday morning dawned breezy and with an unexpected chill in the air. The trees swayed with high mountain wind and white clouds swirled with the blue sky. The sun shone, but it never warmed above 65 degrees — a difference of at least 15 degrees from the days prior. Out on the wrinkled lake, tiny whitecaps sprayed off the waves, and where, days earlier, scores of rowboats, canoes, kayaks, rafts and standup paddle boards plied the waters, now only a handful bobbed around. Still, we lingered all day, chasing the sunshine and crawfish, soaking in just one more view of the mountain and hanging on to what might have been the very last drop of summertime on Lost Lake.
I may have fibbed just a little, telling them the hike to my favorite waterfall on Mount Hood was two easy miles.
But I figured the scenery along the way — the mountain views, the river, a stream or two — and the promise of just how majestic Ramona Falls truly is, would be enough to mask the real effort enough that my kids wouldn’t notice. The hike is actually closer to 3.5 miles one-way. In my defense, however, it’s been long enough since I’ve done it that I didn’t really remember. What I did recall was that the effort was more than worth it.
So we set out up the trail on a Sunday morning, before 11 a.m. because we’d camped at the McNeil Campground the night before. I worried a little about the Sandy River crossing, as not only had the Forest Service not yet installed the bridge for the season, but someone actually got swept away there last summer during a flash flood of sorts. Not one to risk too much, I knew we would turn around if it was at all unsafe.
But when we got to the crossing, a natural bridge, complete with a handrail, greeted us, and so we crossed.
Some mixed messaging on the signage led us to take the somewhat longer leg of the loop, though in retrospect I don’t think it’s all that much longer. It’s about 7 miles roundtrip one way, 6.8 the other. When you’re low on water and trying to convince a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old that the most amazing waterfall is not that much farther, though, it seems like much more.
Even so, when we at last rolled up on the falls, they got it.
The first time I ever hiked to Ramona Falls, my first Mount Hood backpacking trip back in 1998, I remember how incredible the water from the falls tasted. Like the newest snow. Back then, we had a filter with us; this time around, we didn’t. It was a gamble, but we had played up the water to Madeline too much not to indulge; we filled our water bottles straight from the falls. It tasted just as I remembered.
The hike down was longer than the kids would have liked, but I enticed them with ice cream and a return to Trillium Lake to catch newts.
That sealed the deal for them, so the belly aching on the way back down was minimal. And yes, we went back to Trillium to catch even more newts than we’d caught the day before, so to them, it was worth it.
I, personally, was just glad that they got to take in Ramona Falls. It truly is an incredible sight to see. Two years ago, when I passed it on the Timberline Trail with a few writer friends, one of them, John Morrison, had described it as luminescent. Exactly.
And when, a few days later, Madeline took a drink from her water bottle on the way to her horse riding lesson and said she could still taste Ramona Falls, I knew our hike had made its mark.
We got a late start on Mother’s Day this year. Not for brunch or lunch or a walk through the gardens, but for the mountain. I’m lucky, and so are the kids, that Amy is an adventurous mother, one who I think would rather be out skiing, climbing a mountain or creating some other kind of memorable experience on Mother’s Day — or any day.
This year’s plan was to chuck the canoe on the car, load up the fishing gear and head for Timothy Lake, a sprawling expanse of mountain lake that sits in the far off southeastern shadow of Hood. We didn’t hit the road until after 11 on Sunday morning, and with a stop at Joe’s Donuts, we weren’t looking to hit the water until well into the afternoon.
But our agenda was open, the day was clear enough and the hours of sunlight this time of year mean you can linger plenty long. With that in mind, we decided not to head straight for Timothy Lake, but to instead scout out a lake we’ve cruised passed countless times over the years but never stopped to see. Called Frog Lake, it’s just off Highway 26 past the Highway 35 junction. Though it’s a little more subtle than some of the other lakes around, Frog Lake has its own unique beauty, and a view of Mount Hood that’s all its own.
We didn’t stay long, but now we know Frog Lake.
Off we headed toward Timothy Lake, first veering a few miles off the route to grab a look at a fascinating little Oregon wonder: Little Crater Lake. This picture does it no justice — I’m not sure a smartphone will ever really be able to capture the true, natural turquoise and blue hues of this incredible spring-fed lake — but I grabbed a shot just for the record.
It’s been years since we’ve been back to Timothy Lake. In fact, we’ve yet to take the kids there, so it seemed like a good time to refresh ourselves and introduce them to it. I wasn’t expecting any surprises, but as we were driving around the lake’s southern shores looking for an easy access for the boat, what should tumble out of the forest but an honest to goodness black bear. Now, I’ve been all over the Mount Hood National Forest in my 18 years in Oregon, but I’ve only seen one bear in that time. That one was running up the Forest Service road ahead of a tour bus I was on during an exploration of the Bull Run Watershed back when I was researching for On Mount Hood. This one bounded right out of the trees about 50 feet in front of us, galloped across the road and plunged back into the woods. He was in view just long enough for all of us to see him and for me to drop a reactionary profanity underscoring my amazement. Crazy how exhilarating that 10-second snapshot was.
Out on the lake, we were among just a handful of like-minded folks who decided that Mother’s Day was a great day for Timothy Lake. And it was.
The kids didn’t catch anything — no one did — but we didn’t need to. Being out on the lake, with the mountain in the background and the sun breaking through just enough to warm was plenty. We paddled back on the edge of a thunderstorm, loaded up and pointed homeward. But we had one more new experience to add to the day still: dinner at the Skyway Bar and Grill, a funky roadside attraction that, like Frog Lake, we’ve been passing for years but have never explored. We were told that It’s named after the famed Mount Hood Skiway, an old city bus converted into a cable tram that ran from Government Camp to Timberline for a few years in the 1950s.
After some incredible barbecue, fries and macaroni and cheese in front of a crackling fire, we’ve found a new mountain favorite.
And that was Mother’s Day 2015 — an adventure all around.
Pretty sure I already wrote an end-of-summer-on-Mount-Hood post, but that was before we went to Lost Lake a few weeks later. It’s been a few weeks since that trip even, but let me tell you, from crawdads and newts to sunlit hikes, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and fishing, summer was alive and well on Lost Lake well into September.
Because of the snow still piled on the Timberline Trail and the looming high clouds above, and just maybe because of the far-off thunder in the distance, I had my eyes focused on my GPS, which was supposed to be guiding us toward Dollar Lake, a tiny tarn tucked into the northwest shadow of Mount Hood. It’s a lake I’ve always wanted to explore but that in 18 years of traipsing all over the mountain, I never have. It’s not that hard to find, but it’s not super straightforward either. No matter, I had my GPS and we would find it.
“There’s a cairn right back there,” said my friend, Wyatt, pointing out a tidy pile of rocks marking a side trail that I’d just completely blown past, Hmmm. Yeah, that’s probably the way.
We’d decided to hike to Dollar Lake on Sunday as a way to have a cooling destination to counter the heat that’d been baking the metro region for the prior few days. Thanks to a quick change in the weather, we didn’t really need the cooling off, but we headed for Dollar Lake anyway, setting out up Hood’s Vista Ridge trail, one of the classic access points to the mountain’s northwest reaches.
The trail slopes up a scenic ridge marred by the 2012 Dollar Lake fire — marred, or rejuvenated, depending on how you look at it. There were just a few avalanche lilies on display.
Higher up, we ran into plenty of snow and some ominous clouds, but they were high and the mountain was out, so we pressed on, determined to find the lake.
The GPS pointed us in the right direction, and Wyatt’s keen observation found the trail up to the lake. It was just a ways beyond a sign that brought back a very clear memory from our hike on the Timberline Trail last year. I’ve not written about that yet, but it’s coming.
We thought the lake might have still been frozen over or buried in snow. It was, but only partially. In fact, the lingering snow and ice actually made it even more of a sight than we’d expected.
The views of the mountain from up near this little lake are also pretty amazing.
Oliver, too, seemed to enjoy it. I knew he would. He always does.
We didn’t tarry, though. Not only were the mosquitos happy to see what might very well have been their first meal of the season, but the looming clouds and thunder ceased to loom and actually started to rumble. There wasn’t much else we could do other than high-tail it back down the ridge to the car, where the lightning cracked, the hail pelted and the icy lagers refreshed.
I knew they were out there, but until a couple weeks ago, I don’t think I ever came across one. Then, while we were down in the Sisters area for two On Mount Hood book events at the Paulina Springs book shops, I got one back in a handful of change from the general store.
There’s nothing incredibly valuable about this quarter. It’s simply part of the United States Mint’s “America the Beautiful” quarters program, which kicked off in 2010. Through the program, the Mint is releasing 56 different quarters — five a year through 2021 — depicting national parks and other sites from all over the country.
The Oregon quarter showcases the Mount Hood National Forest through a view of Mount Hood over Lost Lake. For a little reference, here’s the vista in real life:
Most trips to my favorite lake on Mount Hood — Lost Lake — are full of the same kinds of experiences: stunning views of the mountain, refreshing swims, quiet paddles out into the middle, and plenty of newts.
For good reason, Lost Lake is almost always kind of full of other people, too. But there’s something about the crowds at Lost Lake that actually adds to the experience somehow. All the people swimming and playing, fishing and boating — having fun and enjoying life out there on the water — combined with the lake’s rustic cabins and painted rowboats, gives it a classic summertime feel; like summer camp as a kid.
All that said, however, it’s also nice to have Lost Lake on a beautiful day almost all to yourself. That’s exactly what happened a couple weeks ago, when my family was out from Ohio, school was still in, and the weather was perfect for a day on Lost Lake.
Sure, it can be a little crowded — popular might be a better word — and a touch loud close in near the boat ramp, but there is something about Lost Lake on Mount Hood that absolutely spills out summertime.
Part of it is the nostalgic air of the rustic resort (which just sold for $1.2 million to some lucky someone who will hopefully maintain its endless charm), the rowboats, the campfire smells, the chill lake — just brisk enough to refresh, just clear and calm enough to lounge about in for a while.
A simple stroll encircles Lost Lake as well, and despite the crowds on hot summer days, it still seems that you’re always able to find a spot here or there to set up for the afternoon and soak it all in. We did as much a couple weeks ago on one of the warmer Oregon weekends, and relished not only the lake, but trail-side huckleberries and salmon berries, squirt guns, elusive crawfish and newts, and a laid-out tree that invited all kinds of exploration.
Essential to a great day on Lost Lake, however, is actually getting out on the water. People do it in any number of ways, from renting rowboats and canoes from the resort to bringing their own boats, tubes, rafts, and even a few air mattresses. There is simply nothing better than being out on the water on days when the temperature and the sun are relentless, the air still and warm. Get on the water, and all of a sudden all is chill and forgotten.
But what makes Lost Lake the quintessential Mount Hood lake for kayaking, swimming, soaking in the rays, and simply enjoying a real summer day near the mountain, is the unmistakable view you take in from the middle of the lake. There’s no mistaking it. Summertime at Mount Hood.