The Cascade Lakes Highway corridor west of Bend is so choked with hiking options, sometimes it is hard to know where to begin.
Early in the season, as trails higher in the Central Oregon Cascades are still blocked by snow, the choices are a little bit easier.
The snow is melting fast now and most areas will soon be accessible, but last month we were looking for a trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness that was relatively snow-free.
And I mean RELATIVELY, because plodding through lingering snowdrifts was a pretty significant part of a hike to Sisters Mirror Lake with my 10-year-old son Mason.
While snow still clung to popular hiking trails such as Green Lakes, Soda Creek and Todd Lake, the Mirror Lakes trailhead appeared snow-free, located at about 5,500 feet in elevation just south of Devils Lake.
The trail gains just 600 feet on the way to the lake, so it makes for a good hike with youngsters or folks simply looking for a fairly easy hike in the wilderness near Bend.
On a cloudy Saturday, we started out from the trailhead, located about 30 miles southwest of Bend along Cascade Lakes Highway. About a quarter of a mile into the trek, the trail crossed a picturesque creek that was trickling serenely through the subalpine forest. A couple of small logs allowed us to cross the creek safely.
We hiked past mountain hemlock trees, dark-green moss clinging to them, and several areas of lava rock. About 2 miles into the 8-mile round-trip hike we encountered the first patch of snow. It was small and we did not think much of it, but in the back of my mind, I knew the snow patches would only become bigger and bigger as we climbed.
But we never lost the trail on the way to the lake, and Mason seemed to enjoy "surfing" along the top of the melting snow piles. Once hikers do lose track of the trail due to snow, it is time to turn around and head back to the trailhead before they get lost.
When we finally arrived at the lake, we found skirting the edge of the water a trail that was submerged in recent snowmelt. Still, we managed to walk around and up the bank on one side, finding other small lakes in the process.
According to oregonhiking.com, more than a dozen smaller lakes can be found in the meadows behind Sisters Mirror Lake. We explored two or three of them before deciding to turn back.
By walking around the southwest side of the lake, hikers can see the summit of South Sister reflected in the lake, according to trails.com. The problem was, there was just too much snow on the southwest side of the lake, and South Sister was shrouded in clouds anyway. So we settled for some peekaboo views of Mount Bachelor from the east side of the lake after checking out the smaller lakes.
For better Cascade views, hikers can return on a loop through Wickiup Plain, which features unobstructed views of South Sister, according to oregonhiking.com.
Another option from Sisters Mirror Lake is to take the Pacific Crest Trail south to 6,520-foot Koosah Mountain, which offers even more splendid views of Cascade peaks.
The trip back to the trailhead went quickly, as we once again traipsed through the snow to get back to dry ground.
The 8.2-mile hike required 3 hours, 40 minutes, and we climbed about 700 feet, topping out at 6,040 feet at the lake.
The snow that we encountered is likely mostly gone by now, so hikers for the rest of this summer should expect a clear trail on the way to Sisters Mirror Lake.
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