Mt. Hood Lake Guide: Where to swim this summer

Getting hot in the city? These lakes around Mt. Hood will get you refreshed during Oregon’s hot summers. The months of July, August, and September sometimes get too hot to think about any outdoor activities. Then the clear lakes around Mt. Hood are the ideal destination to escape the city, go for a dip, and cool down while floating with the views of snow-capped Mt. Hood in the distance.

Trillium Lake – Reflections of Mt. Hood

While Trillium Lake is popular for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, stand-up paddling, kayaking, fishing, and picnicking are the most popular activities during the hot summer months. Even without getting active yourself, Trillium Lake is worth a visit: The view of Mt. Hood is just incredible. If you are lucky to catch a day with calm waters, you can get a picture-perfect shot of Mt. Hood reflecting in the blue lake.

Trillium Lake Mount Hood National Forest
Trillium Lake with Mt. Hood in the distance

Local’s tip: Trillium Lake is very easy to access from Highway 26, so don’t expect to be there entirely on your own. If you don’t mind sitting in the sun, drive a bit further towards the last possible parking area at the dam and find a spot there. It´s much quieter there than close to the day-use picnic area and the boat ramp. There is a 2 miles (3 km) trail around Trillium lake, which you can walk before cooling down in the water.

Trillium Lake Mt. Hood National Forest framed by wildflowers
View of Mt. Hood and Trillium Lake framed in wildflowers

Timothy Lake – Swimming, hiking, camping

At the 1.261 square miles large Timothy Lake everything is possible: From hiking, fishing, picnicking, paddling, swimming to horseback riding. If you are camping in this area, Timothy Lake gives you countless options to make the most out of your day. The Pacific Crest Trail also crosses close by. Several campgrounds allow plenty of space to settle in for the entire day. There is a day-use area as well. But get there early to find your preferred spot, especially on weekends!

Road to Timothy Lake Mount Hood National Forest from above
The road leading to Timothy Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest
Timothy Lake panorama view
Timothy Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest
Road to Timothy Lake Mount Hood National Forest
Parking lot Timothy Lake

Clackamas Lake – Oregon’s Little Okavango-Delta

This beautiful, small and quiet lake, surrounded by wetlands is only 3 km (2 miles) away from the much bigger Timothy Lake. Both are connected by the Clackamas River. In summer, when the water is at its highest point, you can take a kayak or canoe to paddle from Clackamas to Timothy Lake. Clackamas Lake´s water is very cold as it comes straight out of a mountain spring, which doesn’t make it the perfect lake for swimming near Mt. Hood. But it’s a lovely location for sunsets.

View of Clackamas Lake framed with flowers
Waiting for sunset at Clackamas Lake near Mt. Hood

The access to the lake is only a 5 minutes walk from Clackamas Lake Campground. So grab a beer and enjoy the tranquility of nature before putting up your campfire and preparing dinner. The view of Clackamas Lake from above is even more breathtaking and reminds me a little of the magnificent Okavango Delta in Africa.

Clackamas Lake Mt. Hood National Forest
Clackamas Lake from above
crystal clear Clackamas Lake, Oregon, from above
Crystal clear water of Clackamas Lake
Clackamas Lake Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon bird's eye view
Clackamas Lake’s waterways look like Africa’s Okavango Delta
Pacific Crest Trail runs through Mt. Hood National Forest
Pacific Crest Trail runs through Mt. Hood National Forest

Little Crater Lake – 50 Shades of Blue

If you want to give your eyes a special treat you should definitely visit Little Crater Lake! This tiny lake is an oddity by geologists and there are different theories about its formation.

Lakes Mt. Hood - perfect summer destination
Bird’s eye view of Little Crater Lake in Mt. Hood National Forest

The 45 ft / 14 m deep lake is fed by a small underground spring what makes the crystal clear water appear in turquoise blue shades. The reflection of the lush green meadows and pine trees around make it a lovely photo motif.

Tree reflections in Little Crater Lake, Oregon
Reflections of pine trees in Little Crater Lake

Caution: Swimming is not permitted at Little Crater Lake! I guess you wouldn´t feel like going for a dip anyway, as the water temperature is only 1°Celcius (34° Fahrenheit) all year round.

birfd's eye view of Little Crater Lake Oregon
Bird’s eye view of Little Crater Lake surrounded by lush meadows and pine trees

Did you know: Little Crater Lake was named after Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park, which is also known for its crystal clear water and deep blue color.

Sign showcasing the formation of Little Crater Lake in Oregon
Formation of Little Crater Lake in Oregon

Things to know before you go

When to visit Hood National Forest?

Visiting the lakes for the activities described above, the hot summer months July and August are best. Trillium Lake and Timothy Lake are also great winter destinations for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. But camping is only possible during summer. Even then the nights can get chilly as the mountain lakes are located at an elevation of around 3.200 feet (975 m).

Smile4Travel sitting on edge of Trillium Lake
Enjoying the views of Mt. Hood at Trillium Lake
Mt. Hood National Forest with peak of Mount Hood in the distance
The peak of Mt. Hood appearing in the distance of Mt. Hood National Forest

How to get to Mt. Hood’s lakes?

All the lakes listed here are located in Clackamas County, Oregon, and can easily be reached within a 1,5 hours drive from Portland, just following Highway 26. There will be a sign to Trillium Lake at the Highway on your right. To access Clackamas Lake, Timothy Lake, and Little Crater Lake, you need to take the Skyline Road Exit, 12 miles (20 km) beyond Government Camp, and follow the road until you get to the specific signs.

Driving through Mount Hood National Forest on Highway 26  with Mount Hood appearing in the distance
Highway 26 leads to lakes in Mt. Hood National Forest

Where to stay? Lodging & camping near Mt. Hood

There are so many lakes and trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest, that there will always be enough space for everybody. Nonetheless, especially in the summer peak season and on weekends the campgrounds can get crowded. Better be prepared, plan ahead, and make sure you reserve a spot before heading out!

Clackamas Lake Campground

We stayed at Clackamas Lake Campground, a basic campground in the woods of Mt. Hood National Forest. It doesn´t offer much (no showers/washrooms, only basic earth squat toilettes), but every spot provides a large picnic bench and a fireplace. So it´s definitely a place to chill out and enjoy nature.

Clackamas Lake Campground Mt. Hood National Forest
Sign for Clackamas Lake Campground
Camping in Mount Hood National Forest
Camping in Mt. Hood National Forest
Campgrounds Mount Hood National Forest
Camp vibes at Clackamas Lake Campground

Timberline Lodge – great views & creepy encounters

This famous mountain lodge, located at 1.830 meters / 5.960 feet AMSL is within easy access from Highway 26. If you are around Mt-. Hood’s lakes you shouldn´t miss making a stop, even if you don’t plan to stay overnight. At Timberline Lodge you will get a close-up of snow-capped Mt. Hood and a breathtaking view of the Mt. Hood National Forest with Mt. Jefferson in the distance.

Walking towards Timberline Lodge with view of Mount Hood in the distance
Walking towards Timberline Lodge with the backdrop of Mt. Hood
close-up view of Mt. Jefferson from Timberline Lodge
View of Mt. Jefferson from Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood National Forest

Insider tip: Did you know that the exterior of Timberline Lodge was the filming location for the “Overlook Hotel” in Stanley Kubrick’s Horror-classic ‘The Shining’ feat. Jack Nicholson? So I guess there are enough reasons to stop by this quaint lodge, before driving back to Portland.

Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon - filming location for "The Shining"
The exterior of Timberline Lodge was the filming location for ‘The Shining’
Sign at Timberline Lodge, Oregon
View of Mt. Jefferson from Timberline Lodge
Views of Mt. Hood ski lift in summer

Fun fact: While Mount Hood National Forest offers countless hiking opportunities, Mt. Hood itself is a popular winter sports destination all year long. As parts of Mt. Hood are covered in snow year-round, snowshoers and skiers flock to this part of Oregon not only during the winter months.

There are ski signs everywhere and while driving up the mountain on a hot summer day this might feel a bit ridiculous. As soon as you get to the parking area, you will have encounters not only with hikers and bikers but also with snowboarders and skiers. Actually, a fun experience, considering you just come up after a cooling swim in the lake.

Summer skiing and snowboarding at Mount Hood, Oregon
Summer snowboarders at Mt. Hood

Ready to explore the region around Mount Hood or even heading to other parts of Oregon? Check out this 7-10 days itinerary.



Have you ever been to Oregon and explored the lakes and woods of Mt. Hood? Do you like the article, have questions, feedback, or recommendations? Leave me a comment and feel free to share this article with your friends!


Lakes near Portland, Oregon

Mt. Hood Lakes



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