Sometimes you complete a hike and you feel like you’ve conquered the world. That hike could be 3 miles, 6 miles, or 20 miles – whatever the length, it’s a huge feat when you have completed something you didn’t think you were capable of.
That’s how I felt about the hike to Mirror Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It was the hardest hike I probably will ever do, not only because of its length, but the elevation gain of ups and downs throughout the hike. However, it will also most likely hold the title of most beautiful hike in my first 26 years of life. I almost turned around so many times because my legs were hurting, my feet were tired, and I didn’t feel like I could physically do the hike; but I did it.
- Starting Elevation: 8,345 feet
- Ending Elevation: 10,328 feet
- Net Elevation Gain (because of ups and downs): 2,507 feet
- Round Trip Length: 14.8 miles
- Trailhead: Monarch Lake Trailhead (GPS coordinates: N40 06.651 W105 44.781)
- Time: 8 hours
- Fee: 5 dollars (or free if you have a National Parks Pass)
- Dogs allowed?: Yes
Our hike began fairly easy, following Monarch lake for approximately 1.2 miles. We were told that Moose frequent the area, although we may have been there a little late in the day because we didn’t see any (so be on the lookout if you do go).
At 1.6 miles, there is a T in the road where you keep going straight to continue to Mirror Lake – (going right will take you around the Monarch Lake loop). Note: the signs will all say Crater Lake, but our destination was Mirror lake, so something to keep in mind if you do this hike. The trail continues to rise through a series of steep switchbacks with a fair amount of exposure – so making sure we brought adequate water was important. After about a half a mile of switchbacks the trail leveled out to a beautiful wooded forest that followed a stream for another mile.
After crossing a bridge at 3.6 miles, the trail starts to get steeper again, rising a couple hundred feet before crossing another long bridge (pictured below).
The first official destination on this hike is Cascade Falls (there is a lower and an upper). The lower was a perfect spot for us to stop for lunch, not only because we had already gained 1,000 feet of elevation; but because there was some shady areas to escape the heat and refuel.
After we refueled, I was building up the courage to continue as I saw how steep our next ascent looked. We followed the trail on the right side of the waterfall and at about 5.0 miles we walked out to see the views of Upper Cascade Falls.
Continuing on our adventure, half a mile after the falls the trail opens into a meadow for a short while before beginning another series of extremely steep ascents. Here we took several breaks, as it’s rocky and has high sun exposure (don’t forget the sunscreen). At 6.5 miles the trail comes to a T, turn right here to continue to Mirror Lake. When we got to the 6.9 mile marker, the trail crossed another long bridge, before opening up into another beautiful meadow – we were finally in the home stretch!
We had 0.5 miles to go, and I was so excited…we were so close! Following the meadows, we completed our LAST steep ascent of switch backs to Mirror Lake, gaining roughly 150 feet in the last 0.2 miles – it took all of my energy to push through that final ascent. After the last switch back, we turned the corner and there it was: Mirror Lake with Lone Eagle Peak in the background, and it was the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. We sat and had lunch looking at the most beautiful view, wishing we could stare at it forever because it was so perfect.
One of the puzzling things about this hike for me was that I found it hard to tell which peak was actually Lone Eagle Peak. I have seen the iconic picture with the reflection, but for some reason it was difficult to figure it out in the moment. I found this to be one of the most rewarding and frustrating parts of the hike; I was exhausted and couldn’t tell where we were even going until we were about 1.5 miles away. I think that was better though, despite being confused and feeling like we would never get there, because it left the best surprise for the end.
Instead of turning around, I am so thankful to my boyfriend for his encouragement (and patience) while I just wanted to give up but he kept pushing me along. With every step completed, I was one step closer to accomplishing something I didn’t think my body could physically handle. When we got back to the car my legs were shaking and I could barely walk, but it was worth every step. I realized on this hike that the only limits I have are those I put on myself; and if you think about your hike step by step instead of as a whole, you will be able to climb the seemingly ominous mountain.