- Location: Hagg Lake
- Start: Elks Picnic Area
- Distance: 13.9 miles
- Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes (breaks not included)
- Elevation gain: 520 feet
- Type: Loop
- References: Oregon Hikers
With my students’ piano recital coming up next Saturday, this past weekend was a busy one filled with preparation. We had hoped to make it out to Mount Hood again, especially since the weather was forecast to be absolutely gorgeous, but when we awoke Sunday morning, our bodies begged for more sleep and we submitted. Just after 7 am we were up again feeling more refreshed. I decided to research some alternative places to get in some long trail running miles since our original 15-17 mile route near Mount Hood was out of the question at this point.
We usually hit up Forest Park in situations like this, but we’d just completed a 9 mile route in the park the previous day, and our weekday trails runs are always in there. As much as we love Forest Park, on weekends we like to make an effort to escape the city limits entirely and explore new trails. Fortunately, the loop around Hagg Lake came up instantly on my search. Although we knew it was going to be relatively close to civilization, it seemed like the perfect place to get in the miles we needed outside of Portland. As an added bonus, I was able to fit in more recital prep time before we left since the lake is only about a half hour away!
We arrived just before 1 pm, but when we got out of the car ready to run, we couldn’t find the trail! I remembered reading something about the trail starting at Rainbow View in the hike description online. I wish I’d read it more carefully. We wanted to get started, so we headed down to the beach area and just started running in the general direction, hoping to hit the trail once we entered a forested section. About 0.3 miles in we finally found it and decided to follow it back to see where it began. It took us to a small pullout off the side of the road called Rainbow View. Apparently we needed to run a little ways down the road from where we parked to reach a trailhead. (This wouldn’t be the only time in the run that we’d have to do this) At least we could finally get started with certainty.
We headed northwest along the shore towards the first main recreation area, Sain Creek. The trail was in decent condition despite the recent winter storms. We were able to move relatively quickly. The trails stays pretty close to the beach area for the most part, so we almost always had a view of the lake on our right. At other times, the trail would cross through stretches of open meadow, bringing a little more variety to the landscape. In all honesty, I didn’t have high expectations for the place before we drove out, so I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the area.
The terrain continued to alternate between forest and open fields along the shore. Our first “checkpoint” came after we crossed Sain Creek (on a road bridge, not on the trail) and arrived at the Sain Creek Recreation Area, which is marked by a lovely covered pavilion that overlooks the lake. We continued down to the C-Ramp Recreation Area, running through the parking lot and past the fishing pier to pick up the trail again.
Hagg Lake is known for its mud run races. When we initially started, I didn’t really understand why. So far the trail had been in fantastic shape. Then, after the fishing pier, I was proven wrong. I can honestly say this section of trail is the messiest trail surface I’ve ever run on. The thick clay was ankle deep in some spots! Mack and I did our best to dance around them, but we still ended up with massive globs practically swallowing our shoes. It felt like I had five pound weights attached to my feet while I ran. There weren’t many areas to stop and clean up, so we waited until we were back on more solid ground.
After passing Scoggins Creek Recreation Area (and barely halfway done), we decided to choose our photo ops more carefully so we could keep moving. Since we started late, we wanted to make sure we finished before dark. The north side of the lake was particularly peaceful. We didn’t run into as many people, and the views here were an additional bonus.
The east shore brought both relief and frustration. It was exciting to look across the lake to realize how far we’d run at this point, but as we were making our way to the next inlet between Orchard Ridge and Cedar Grove we were met with a ‘trail closed’ sign due to a washed out bridge somewhere up ahead. The detour essentially had us double back above the section of trail we’d just run to get to the road. Ugh. More road running. At least it was the final major section of road running for the rest of the route.
Aside from the peaceful north shore with its stellar views of the lake, the section of trail through Cedar Grove was probably my next favorite spot. The forest was more dense in this area and made me feel like I was running in a more secluded rainforest.
The last couple of miles were surprisingly hilly. Compared to the routes we usually run, these hills were mild. However, because a majority of the route had been overwhelmingly flat up until this point, my body didn’t want to tolerate any elevation gain whatsoever. At least we were nearing the end. Once we reached the Dam Overlook parking lot and turned onto the road to cross the dam, I finally experienced that familiar surge of energy that only presents itself when I know I’m in the homestretch. My legs felt rejuvenated and I just flew across the dam.
Our final view of the lake made for a beautiful, scenic finish. We definitely stopped once or twice along the dam to take it all in. At the car, Mack’s Garmin read 14.5 miles (because he included the section that we ran before we found the start of the trail). Cassie’s longest run yet! She was so exhausted and ready to go home that she leaped into the car of her own accord (which she has NEVER done before). In addition to Cassie logging some crazy mileage, Mack broke his weekly goal of 50 miles for the first time! Hagg Lake may not have been our most adventurous run, but it sure hit the spot for long, fun miles and, in the case of Mack and Cassie, successfully meeting new goals.