Backpacking With Kids – Mirror Lake

This weekend we took our annual family backpacking trip. Because the kids are still young (5 and 2), we make it a one night excursion. That gives us plenty of time for adventures, while getting home before complete exhaustion sets in.


The first step is, of course, packing everything. We packed the night before we left, which was also the day I went to my cousin’s memorial service. Needless to say, I was not in the best state of mind at the time and made a few packing errors that were discovered partway into the trip. My goal was to not overpack, but in the process, I decided to leave my raincoat at home. I figured it’s summer and we’re practically in a drought. On our drive up the mountain it started raining! I also neglected to pack a sufficient amount of baby wipes and pull-ups. We made it through the trip without any disasters, but we were operating in conservation mode the entire time.

When all was said and done, we weighed our packs. We had a total of 81.6 lbs in gear. Split between us, the weight carried was Cory – 44.4 lbs, Jayme – 33 lbs, Jenna – 3 lbs, Connor – 1.2 lbs.


We chose to go to Mirror Lake on Mt. Hood for the second year in a row. This is a great destination because it’s not too far of a drive from home, the hike is a manageable distance for the kids, and it’s a great destination. It’s full of day-hikers on the weekends though, so we always try to stay Sunday night/Monday morning to avoid the crowds.


Connor was old enough this year that he didn’t get a free ride from mom and dad, although a third of the way through the hike he tried talking us into it. His little legs worked hard, and he hiked the whole way all by himself. Jenna was a trooper and is doing an awesome job working on her bravery. There were several times while hiking along steep sections of the trail, that she could be overheard giving herself pep-talks. “I know it’s really steep on the side of the hill, but you won’t fall and you’ll be okay…”

The key to a successful hike is to let the kids go (mostly) at their own pace; stop to explore your surroundings once in a while; pack plenty of snacks; and sing crazy songs to keep them distracted when they start to complain.


Every year we print out small hiking maps for the kids and work on teaching them how to use a compass and read their map. Connor isn’t too interested in it yet, but Jenna loves to help figure out where we’re going (even though the trail is extremely obvious the entire hike).

Like Father Like Son

There are several areas to choose from to make camp, and as soon as we chose where we wanted to stay, we set everything up and then relaxed for a bit. (Like father, like son.) We got these camp chairs last year for Christmas and they are worth the splurge! After a long day of hiking, it’s nice to be able to relax and not have to prop yourself against a tree or rock to get comfortable.


Cory does most of the work when we go camping… He filtered all of our water, cooked all of the meals, and washed all of the dishes!


There’s nothing better than macaroni and cheese in the wilderness!


We brought two tents because our backpacking tents are so small. The kids went to bed about 30 minutes to an hour after their normal bedtime, and even though it was still light out, they did a great job of falling asleep fairly quickly. We were beyond thrilled when they both slept until 6:30 am. Last year Connor was wide awake with the birds at 4:30 and that made for a very long day!


After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, we hiked down to the lake to do a little fishing. We used Jenna’s fishing pole with a fly and a bobber… And she actually caught a fish! The pictures are a little small, but the first is of her reeling in her fish, then she was trying to show it to me (it’s the flapping white blob in front of Cory), and then Cory is holding it out in front of her since it was too slippery for her to grab.


This was the view at the lake. It’s so beautiful and peaceful in the early morning!


Once the sun came out and it started to warm up a bit, we let the kids splash around in the lake. The bottom has a lot of boulders and we saw quite a few crawdads swimming around.

Sad Babies

Backpacking isn’t always smiles and fun. Connor was in knee-deep water when he fell down and got scared. Or, as he later informed me “Mama, ‘member in the lake when I drowned?”.

Jenna was giving me a sad face and showing me the hole in her backpack. Chipmunks attacked it during the night and chewed a hole through it. Apparently they were scared off (most likely from a toy she brought that would randomly shout phrases from toy story) before they could get through the three layers into the inside though.

Cory and I had our own struggles with having good attitudes and not getting grouchy when an unnamed 5 year-old kept claiming to have to poop. We would dig a hole, get her potty seat set up, and then she would sit down and inform us that “it went away”. (On a side note, the reason I like to bring the potty seat is because it’s easier to use that than have her pee on her pants and run out of clothes on the trip. I’m saving the potty-in-the-woods lesson for a later time.)


Backpacking with kids is dirty and hard work.


It’s also jam-packed full of adventures and quality family time. We all love being in the outdoors, exploring, and learning new things.


Every year as we hike along the trail, we get the same comments. “You must be really brave” or “I could never do that” and of course the unspoken “These people are crazy. Who in their right mind goes backpacking with kids?”

We have always felt it’s never too early to introduce kids to the outdoors. Jenna went on her first day hike with us before she was even 2 months old. Connor did his first overnight backpacking trip last year when he was only a 1 year-old. There is no secret trick… Just remember that it will be a lot of work. Hopefully as they get older, they will continue loving to do this and we can start having them carry their own weight and take longer trips!


We made it out alive and exhausted. The hike was 1.51 miles to the lake, and we hiked in the first day in 2 hours (with a moving time of 1 hour 19 minutes). The hike back to the car only took us 1 hour and 26 minutes (with a moving time of 51 minutes). Going downhill is obviously faster, and the kids were encouraged to hike fast because lunch was waiting for us at the car!


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