If the fishing disappoints and the wind is chilly, take a 2-mile hike around the lake. This is a great hike for kids, as it is mostly level and has a series of fun catwalks through the marsh. While it is billed as barrier-free, there are some narrow spots in the trail as well as loose boards in the catwalks, so it is not universally accessible. Most people should be able to do the circuit of the lake, though, and the peaceful wetlands host a variety of songbirds and hawks.
Camping spots are highly sought after here. Most of the campground sites can be reserved ahead, and weekends generally find them full. There are a few tent sites near the dam (recommended if your plans include fishing or photography), but they are also filled during most weekends and are not as carefully monitored (in other words, you may not get much sleep if partiers come in). The campground officially closes Oct. 1, but as with many of the campgrounds in this area, if you can park legally and carry in your gear, you will be allowed to stay (please act responsibly and pack out your own garbage so that this rule will remain in place). Dispersed camping is available at a few spots on the southwest side of the lake (accessed from the road as it continues past the dam). If you don't need to be right by the lake, there are dispersed spots near where the access road branches; the open area is often used for late-night parties, but there are some small sites nearby that are a bit quieter.
This beautiful lake has only existed since 1960. Before the installation of a dam on Mud Creek, this was a mountainside meadow. Pioneers heading west on the Barlow Road knew it as Second Prairie, a good place to stop and rest hungry livestock after their long climb into the Cascades. The grueling drop down Laurel Hill lay before them; they would need all of their resources to make it to their goal, the fertile Willamette Valley. The meadow may be under water now, but much of the area's history remains to be discovered.
Drive Highway 26 past Government Camp and watch for the Trillium Lake SnoPark on your right (come snowfall, this gate is closed for the winter and the only access is by skis or snowshoes). One hundred yards down the paved lake road, there is a small, rough pullout for one car (or walk down from the parking area). Look for a thin path up the embankment on the right. Here you will find a trace of the Barlow Road. Worn down by wagon wheels, the original roadbed can still be followed, but it is cluttered by downed trees and very marshy in places. Across the paved road, the trace is fainter and ends under the edge of the parking lot.
Continue driving toward Trillium Lake. Soon you will come to a Y, with the left branch leading to the lake. Keep right through the dispersed camping area to find Summit Meadow ("Summit Prairie" to the pioneers, a welcome rest stop). The gravel road is prone to potholes, but the view of Mt. Hood over the meadow is worth it. This is a marshy area, and the wagons crossed the meadow on "corduroy" roads made of logs. As you begin to re-enter the trees, watch for a tiny cemetery on your left. On your right you will see the remains of the clearing where Perry Vickers, a tollgate keeper, built his cabin. Campers in the early years of the last century carved their initials on the boulders here, and they are still visible today.
Trillium Lake lies like a jewel in this microcosm of Oregon's past. Self-contained RVs park beside a lake where starving, trail-weary cattle once fed. Carefree tourists reel fish into plastic canoes. Nearby, depression-era vacationers walked down the Barlow Road to soak in Swim's mineral waters. Beside the meadow, Perry Vickers chopped down trees to build a roadway for tired pioneer wagons. In 1845, Sam Barlow hurried his plucky family through, searching for a passage as winter blustered in. Before that, Native Americans developed trails and recounted legends of the eruption of Wy'East. Through it all the mountain has watched, snow-capped and solemn, older than history.
|Although faint, it is still possible to make out initials carved into rocks over a century ago. Find these near Summit Meadow.