Hiking Kayaking + SUP Mt Hood & Gorge

7 Best Mt Hood Lakes for Kayaking, Hiking, & Camping

July 3, 2023

Last Updated:

Mt Hood National Forest is full of gorgeous lakes. From hiking to kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, camping, backpacking and more Mt Hood lakes are some of my favorite destinations – in all seasons. So here are my favorite lakes near Mount Hood. And a map that includes a bunch more obscure lakes in the Mt Hood National Forest.

Best Lakes on Mt Hood:

While there are dozens of lakes, and small bodies of water, in the Mt Hood National Forest, here are our favorites! Most of these sites require a NW Forest Pass $5/day or $30/annual to park for day use parking, or a camping reservation.

1. Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake Sunrise - Favorite Mt Hood lake
Trillium Lake sunrise

The most popular lake near Mt Hood and Government Camp is Trillium Lake. This lake can feel like bumper to bumper boat traffic on a hot weekend or summer day. But it’s popular for a reason! It’s one of the closest Mt Hood lakes within driving distance of Portland, doesn’t require a long drive down bumpy gravel roads, or a hike to get to. And with views of Mt Hood from almost every spot on the lake, you’ll see why this is one of Oregon’s most loved lakes and one of our favorite spots to kayak near Portland. And in winter time, the roadside sno-park parking area fills up quick on the weekends and is a prime destination for snowshoeing!

Trillium is also one of the most popular Mt Hood lakes for fishing. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks Trillium Lake with rainbow trout.

Trillium lake snowshoeing
Trillium Lake in winter

Parking: Trillium Lake Day Use ($10 day, unless you have a NW Forest Pass)
From Portland: 1 hour, 15 min
Best for: kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, camping, snowshoeing in winter

2. Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake Mt Hood
Mirror Lake sunset

Mirror Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the Mt Hood National Forest. It’s family friendly, no huge drop offs, fairly short (2.1 miles up, so 4.2 round trip with almost 700′ elevation gain), and you’re rewarded with epic views. Plus those wanting a longer hike can continue up Tom Dick and Harry Mountain. But go in off-peak hours if you want to skip the crowds. This is also a great lake for swimming and floating.

Parking: Mirror Lake Trailhead
From Portland: 1 hour, 10 min
Best for: hiking, swimming, floaties

3. Frog Lake

Frog Lake one of the many lakes with Mt Hood views
Frog Lake Mt Hood views

Frog Lake is one of the most fun lakes for kids. It’s the next lake past Trillium, doesn’t require a hike to get to. There’s both a campground and a day use area. And most importantly, depending on the season – you’ll find FROGS! From little tadpoles to teeny tiny frogs jumping around the shore. It’s also a much smaller and shallower lake so great for families. Note: if you plan to camp, you will hear Hwy 26 road noise since it’s so close to the highway. It’s not a dealbreaker, but worth mentioning. When Trillium Lake is full, travel on to Frog Lake.

Parking: Frog Lake Day Use
From Portland: 1 hour, 20 min
Best for: families, frog spotting, kayaking (when water isn’t too low)

4. Little Crater Lake

Little Crater Lake Oregon
Little Crater Lake on the PCT

Before the age of Instagram this was one of Mt Hood’s best (worst?) kept secrets. Right on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) near Timothy Lake, you’ll find Little Crater Lake. It’s 45 feet deep, and one of those cold water phenomena lakes (otherwise known as a geologic oddity) – a spring fed lake. And 34 degrees, year round. It’s tiny and amazing! There is also a campground here. Remember: be respectful – no swimming!

Parking: Little Crater Lake Campground
From Portland: 1 hour, 30 min
Best for: hiking, photos, camping, add-on to another lake visit, PCT

5. Timothy Lake

Timothy Lake is the largest lake in Mt Hood National Forest. It also has the most campgrounds – you have your choice of North Arm, Hoodview, Oak Fork, Gone Creek, and Pine Point and even some dispersed camping areas. The 13 mile trail that circles the lake is great for hiking, trail running, and biking. Note: a small portion of the loop on the north/east side of the lake is also the PCT – which you are required to walk your bike on, instead of ride. Timothy Lake is also a popular spot for fishing!

Timothy Lake Mt Hood National Forest
Timothy Lake

Check out my post on Bikepacking the Frog Lake Loop that visits four of these lakes – Frog Lake, Clear Lake, Little Crater Lake, and Timothy Lake!

Parking: Timothy Lake (many campgrounds and day use here)
From Portland: 1 hour, 40 min
Best for: boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, biking, fishing

6. Clear Lake

Clear Lake is another of Mt Hood’s larger lakes. Not to be confused with the McKensie River Trail Clear Lake in Linn County. Mt Hood’s Clear Lake is a reservoir – not a natural lake. It also has a forest service campground on site.

Clear Lake is one of the areas where you can visit in winter and stay at a mountain fire lookout tower. The Clear Lake Lookout sits to the south of Clear Lake and is a 3.5 mile trek in from the Skyline snopark off 26. This is another lake on ODFW’s trout stocking list – so a good spot for fishing.

Clear Lake Lookout tower in winter
Mt Hood & Clear Lake from Clear Lake Lookout Tower in winter

Parking: Clear Lake
From Portland: 1 hour, 20 min
Best for: boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, fishing

7. Lost Lake

Photo courtesy of Lost Lake Resort

Lost Lake and the Lost Lake Resort may just be one of the most popular lakes in Mt Hood for a vacation. Most lakes in Mt Hood National Forest aren’t as commercialized with stores and lodging, like you find in some other areas of Oregon. Lost Lake is also close to Hood River. And you’ll find cabins, camping, store, cafe, rentals, and a day use area.

Parking: Lost Lake Day Use
From Portland: 1 hour, 40 min
Best for: vacations, boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, hiking

Mt Hood Lakes

In summary, here are some of the best lakes on Mt Hood. The seven highlighted above plus 11 more!

  1. Trillium Lake
  2. Mirror Lake
  3. Frog Lake
  4. Little Crater Lake
  5. Timothy Lake
  6. Clear Lake
  7. Lost Lake
  8. Twin Lakes
  9. Wahtum Lake
  10. Burnt Lake
  11. Lake Harriet
  12. Rock Creek Resevoir
  13. Shellrock Lake
  14. Hideaway Lake
  15. Middle Rock Lake
  16. Laurance Lake
  17. Badger Lake
  18. North Fork Reservoir (Clackamas River, Estacada)
best mt hood lakes

What’s your favorite Mt Hood lake?