Updated: Nov 10, 2022
A large man-made lake with many recreation options in Mount Hood National Forest.
Lake Name: Timothy Lake Lake Coordinates: 45.1192, -121.7857 Lake Elevation: 3200′ Access: Trail or Drive Up Distance: 12 miles (+ 1 mile for Little Crater Lake) Trail Type: Loop Trails: Timothy Lake Trail #528, Pacific Crest Trail, Shoreline Trail #529 Note: There was a lot of wind fall across the trail when I went. A Northwest Forest Pass or a $5 day use fee to park at the recreation areas around is Timothy Lake is required. Date hike was done: 5-29-20
I’ve come to Timothy Lake during the summer for years. Most of the times my family went we would either go kayaking or just float on inner tubes in the water. The best area for boating and swimming access is on the South Shore. There is a designated swimming area near the dam. A lot of people come to Timothy Lake to go fishing and to camp at one of the many campgrounds by the lake. It’s a rather popular summer weekend/holiday spot.
I decided I wanted my first long hike of the summer to be in an area I’m very familiar with and Timothy Lake was my top pick. On May the Forest Service opened up recreation areas that had been closed due to COVID-19. It was supposed to be a warm, sunny day on the mountain and I knew I just had to get out.
I left my house around 8 am and arrived at Timothy Lake around 9 am. I wanted to start out earlier in the day to avoid the heat and get there before more people would start to show up at the lake. There were only a few cars in the West Shore Day Use Area parking lot. I got my backpack and trekking poles out of the car and set out to hike the lake clockwise. I was a little nervous about hiking on my own, but I had been giving myself a pep talk since the day before and was high on my excitement.
It was a little cool out, but I could feel it was definitely going to be a warm day. There was quite a bit of wind fall (fallen trees across the trail) I had to climb over all around the lake. The trail hasn’t been cleared since the closure. I was just glad I wasn’t mountain biking the trail because if I was I’d have to get off very frequently to lift my bike over the downed trees. I didn’t see another soul until right before North Arm Campground.
It was a bit more difficult to follow the trail through the campground, but I made it through just fine. The first part of the trail from the dam to the campground had a dirt/sandy shore. Right before the campground it got rocky and steep, so I wasn’t really able to see the campground shore area.
The section right after the campground is sort of boggy. There were some really pretty wild flowers and I heard a wood pecker in the distance. Soon after, the trail ended where it met up with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT follows the east side of the lake. The sign showed that to the right was Timothy Lake and to the left it said Little Crater Lake was only 1/2 a mile. I’ve been to Little Crater Lake multiple times, but I’d never approached it from the PCT side, only from the campground near it. I felt a pull to go there.
Little Crater Lake is a very small, 46 foot deep lake and the water stays a consistent 36 degree temperature year round. There was a lot of deadfall on the PCT section before the turn off for the Little Crater Lake trail. The lake was beautiful as usual, but what really caught my eye was the huge marshy, meadow before the lake. It was bright green and so beautiful. The lake wasn’t as blue as it has been when I’d been there before.
I stopped at the lake briefly then made my way back to the sign where my detour started. The detour only added 0.94 miles (round trip) to my hike. I crossed a bridge where a river feeds the thin handle part of the lake. I continued down the east side of Timothy Lake until I found a nice place to sit and eat my lunch. I was hungry, a bit fatigued from pushing off eating for so long, and my feet were really hurting. I stopped at 12:30 pm for a lunch break.
I ended up stopping at an unoccupied campsite (#32) and sat on some large rocks along the shoreline. I soaked my feet in the cold water and ate my lunch. I journaled a bit and took pictures with my cameras. I truly am my father’s daughter… yes, cameras plural is correct. I also enjoyed just soaking in the moment and taking in the beautiful landscape in front of my eyes. As I was sitting there I heard a weird noise. When I looked up, a crow was flying along the shoreline directly above me. I could hear the hum of its wings in the wind. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced moments like this, but it felt like everything slowed down and I was watching it fly by in slow motion. I wonder sometimes if maybe those are the moments where I am in awe and truly just present. I don’t have a sense of time that’s making everything feel controlled and safe. The moment is just there with no recognition of time.
After about 50 minutes I packed up my stuff and got back on the trail. I still felt pretty worn and I was feeling the heat a bit. I kind of expected that the east shore would be more flat and beachy. Boy, was I wrong. It was the exact opposite — steep and rocky! But it really was such a beautiful hike. Towards the south end of the east side right before leaving the PCT to rejoin the Timothy Lake Trail 528, there was a huge rock slide area that dropped off down to a river at the bottom. I could see part of the lake in the distance. It was so unique because the rocks were black. Most of the rock slides around lakes that I’ve been to so far in the area are grey in color. The black rocks had a volcanic look to them. It was pretty cool.
I had to stop to put some moleskin on my feet where they were rubbing. I had blisters on the sides of my big toes and I felt like my two pinky toe nails were going to fall off. I had to wear my running shoes instead of my hiking boots. I am waiting for the new inserts for my hiking boots before I can wear them again without them hurting my feet. The blisters were bad enough and my pink toes were hurting bad enough that the moleskin didn’t do much to help.
I hiked down to the river and on the other side is where the Timothy Lake Trail #528 and South Shore Trail #529 trail start. I decided to try following the South Shore Trail for the first part since it followed along the shoreline and the Timothy Lake Trail went inland. It passed by campgrounds and more beach-like areas. There were a lot more people in this section. The two trails would meet up again and then break apart so I decided for the second split I’d follow the Timothy Lake trail to avoid all the people.
I thought I got to the place where the trails met and followed the sign that said it went to the Timothy Lake Trail, but it wasn’t it and I got a little lost. I ended up in a campground and pulled up the app Gaia GPS to see where I was at. Turns out the trail hadn’t met up yet, so I walked through the campground and found the South Shore Trail again.
I was getting worn out and my feet were really hurting. I found an awesome view of Mt Hood. Tip: the best places for a view of Mt Hood are along the south side of the lake. I found the actual turn off for the Timothy Lake Trail and just as I started to make my way up it, I realized I had just run out of water. I only had about 1 1/2 miles left, so decided I’d be okay. I had a water filter, but the area at the lake that was near had a lot of algae in it so I didn’t want to filter water from there. I’m used to knowing when my water is low based off the weight of my pack, but I had so much other stuff in it on this hike that I hadn’t noticed the weight reduction.
The trail veered away from the lake. The trail crossed to the other side of the main road and weaved through the forest. I didn’t see anyone else on that part of the trail. I was thirsty, hot, fatigued, and sort of wanted to cry because my feet hurt so bad. I made it to the dam and then walked through the day use area. I was so relieved when I finally got back to the car. I got some water and drank some gatorade. I switched into my sandals and let my feet just breathe.
Even though my shoes made the last section pretty miserable, I still had a really great time. This was my first hike of the summer and I did it all on my own. I felt so light and was so proud of myself. It’s so crazy to me that last summer I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to work up to doing an 8-mile trail and now long trails are no problem.
I’m so thankful I have the ability to do this kind of thing again. No matter how painful or miserable a hike may be, I’m always so thankful that I’m able to do it. I didn’t exactly have a favorite section of the lake. I didn’t love the handle part, but it was still a beautiful and unique experience. If you’ve only ventured to the day use areas on the south side of the lake, maybe consider going to the west or east sides sometime. It’s a totally different feel in the less populated areas than in the well used recreation areas.
How to get there (from Estacada, OR)
Take Hwy 224 out of Estacada for 24 miles. Turn left on to FS 57 and continue for 7.4 miles until the road Y’s. Stay to the right and go down FS 57 for 7.3 miles. Turn left before the dam into the West Shore Day Use Area. *It took me 55 minutes to drive to the lake.
Timothy Lake Coordinates: 45.1192, -121.7857
Little Crater Lake Coordinates: 45.1482, -121.7508
Zigzag Ranger District map location: T5S R8E S23
Trail Map (at TH)
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