When I first heard of the Cascade Creek Trail to Mirror Lake and Crater Lake hike, I knew it was a challenge I wanted to take on in 2022. The scenery looked so surreal and picturesque that I set a goal to experience this hike for myself before the summer was over! The hike to Crater Lake is about 7.5 miles one-way, and most people opt to camp overnight before making the return trip. Unfortunately, all of the camping permits were booked up for days I was free to camp, so I decided to take on the additional challenge of doing the entire 15 miles in one day (and I dragged my husband and dog along as well). With around 2300′ of elevation gain in total, I figured the hike would be challenging but doable if we got an early enough start – and it ended up being quite the adventure!
We decided to car camp at the Monarch Lake Trailhead the night before so we could get a full night’s rest and a super early start. Monarch Lake Trailhead is located in Indian Peaks Wilderness, and you will need to purchase a parking pass in advance or at the trailhead itself. Our dog, Willie Nelson, kept us up part of the night so we didn’t get as much sleep as we were hoping for, but we still managed to hit the trail around 6am.
The first 1.5-2 miles are relatively flat and a great warmup for the rest of the trail. You’ll meander through forests as you skirt around Monarch Lake before the trail gradually begins to ascend switchbacks as it follows Cascade Creek. There are a number of river crossings and waterfalls along the trail which made the entire journey super scenic – and our pup loved the constant supply of water!
At around 4.5 miles you’ll encounter Cascade Falls, an especially impressive waterfall that is a great place for a quick break. The last 3 miles or so of the trail are a bit more challenging as you alternate hiking through forests and meadows. The last mile to Mirror and Crater Lakes is steep, but so worth it as the lakes and Lone Eagle Peak come into view. The jagged mountains and crystal clear water were so unreal to see in person. There’s even fishing allowed at the lakes, and my husband managed to snag a small trout at Crater Lake!
We made really good time on the hike to Crater Lake, averaging 25-30 minutes per mile. After an hour-long rest at the lake we refueled wth snacks and water, reapplied sunscreen and bug spray (a definite must) and began the journey back. We continued to make great time for the first 5 miles or so on the way back to the car, but the last 3 miles really dragged on because the sun was beating down on us and our feet (and Willie’s paws) were starting to get sore. The last push around the edge of Monarch Lake seemed neverending, and we rejoiced once we finally stumbled upon the trailhead.
All in all, this hike was definitely a challenge, but so worth it. I haven’t done a day hike of this length in several years, so I was really happy that we made such great time. The elevation gain is challenging in some sections of the trail, but overall fairly moderate. I would have definitely loved to experience camping at Crater Lake, but this hike is very popular and permits tend to book up pretty far in advance. If you haven’t checked out Cascade Creek Trail to Mirror Lake and Crater Lake, I highly recommend paying it a visit!