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Trillium Lake

Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

Trillium Lake at twilight

Location: Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake is located 7.5 miles southwest of the summit of Mt. Hood in the state of Oregon. From Portland, the drive takes about an hour and a half and climbs around 3,600 feet in elevation. The 63-acre lake is surrounded by a mixed conifer forest and has breathtaking views of the 11,249-foot-tall Mt. Hood. There’s a campground on the east side of the lake, as well as day-use facilities. Located in the Mt. Hood National Forest, Trillium Lake offers ample opportunities for hiking, canoeing and biking nearby. Mt. Hood also boasts one of the longest ski seasons in North America, so you could potentially shoot in the morning and ski in the afternoon. Government Camp is the closest town and has options for food and lodging.

Weather At Trillium Lake

The weather is relatively mild, with summertime highs in the 60s and lows in the mid-40s. Shooting in late spring and fall is slightly cooler but typically not extreme. Mt. Hood is completely covered in snow much of the year, but in the summertime months it can shed much of its snow cover. The campground is closed from Oct. 1 to the middle of May most years, but oftentimes the road is still open. Check with the Mt. Hood National Forest for road conditions prior to a visit. Make sure to bring warm clothes even in summertime; once the sun sets, the temperature drops quickly.

Photo Experience

This is a great location for wide-angle shots all the way up to moderate telephoto. On the southwest side of the lake, there are some fantastic rocks that can be used for foreground framing, and this area is often very calm for reflections. When shooting wide here, I try to stick around 18mm to 22mm so the massive peak isn’t diminished. As you move east along the shoreline, you’ll encounter some tall grasses in the water that can add depth to your shot. If the lake isn’t still, try shooting with a telephoto lens to isolate the peak and trees below. This is a perfect location for a “mountain portrait,” and there aren’t many locations where Mt. Hood looks more impressive. The wind and weather can change very quickly here, so make sure to watch the peak for any dramatic lighting, low clouds or incoming storms.

Best Times

The most idyllic conditions happen after one of the first snowfalls of the season while the lake is still open. Mt. Hood looks incredible when snow covered, and the conifer trees around the lake appear light and airy with fresh snow. The best chance for a shot like this is in early November, before the lake freezes. Early to mid-May can also be a very good time to shoot: the road is usually open, Mt. Hood still has its snow cover, and the area is very peaceful. During summer, the campground and day use areas can be very busy. If you decide to visit during this timeframe, I would suggest a sunrise shoot to get calm water on the lake, free of boaters and people. Sunrise and sunset both offer very nice side light on Mt. Hood, while twilight softens the contrast of the scene as the stars begin to twinkle above.

Contact: U.S. Forest Service,

See more of Max Foster’s photography at