Though Mirror Lake is accessible all year, there are some good arguments to be made for why winter is the best season for a visit. The crowds that access this lake in the warmer seasons are significantly reduced to a few snowshoers and the occasional skier. Likewise, it would be uncommon to encounter campers around the lake in winter. Any traces of the heavy use the area receives in the summer are blanketed in snow, giving this popular site a more remote and pristine appearance. Finally, there are the stunning, close-up winter views of Mount Hood to the north and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain to the south.
Remember to keep all of these excellent advantages in mind as you make the drab commute from your car to the trailhead, because there is no winter parking at the Mirror Lake trailhead, and visitors have to park at the Skibowl West Sno-Park and walk west along the highway for 0.8 miles to the small bridge that marks the beginning of the trail.
This short beginning section of the trip is the only downside to Mirror Lake’s winter access. In no time you'll find yourself in the middle of a dense collection of western red cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir, and the roar of the highway will quickly fade away. The trail crosses a small creek and proceeds to climb through a few switchbacks and gentler sections before meeting the lake in a little more than a mile. Most of the trail is in thick woods, but there are a few clearings for views to the west.
This is a great intermediate trail, as the climbs and distance are challenging but not overwhelming on snowshoes, depending on the conditions. It's easy to complete a rewarding snowshoe trip to the lake, a leisurely appreciation of the scenery, and quick downhill return, all in the span of a half-day. The trail is a little steep and narrow for a comfortable ski, however, so opt for snowshoes if you can. And don’t let the easy access lull you into complacency; always check your backcountry avalanche conditions before heading out.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.