Deal 719: Mirror Lake Trail

The Mirror Lake trail is one of the local wonders that should be experienced. Rising from the floodplain of the Tuxedo river, the trail leads the way past a wide range of geography with opportunities for amazing vistas and chances to spot the local wildlife in their natural habitat. Plan for five miles of trail total for the round trip. The trail itself is well marked, maintained and improved, but is not particularly accessible on wheels.

Begin at a nearly unmarked turnout from the highway just after milepost forty-two. Parking is available at the turnout for a limited number of cars, and overflow parking about a mile further along.

From the parking area, go a short ways south to a viewpoint that overlooks the entire valley. From there, follow signs to locate the actual trail head where it leads generally northeast. At the viewpoint, you have a chance to meet one of the local Ravens who faithfully guards the valley. Legend has it that the valley’s guards are a single very long lived family of Ravens. We don’t know for sure. They are remarkably intelligent and fiercely beautiful birds, and don’t tolerate much skeptical activity. If you do meet a Raven here on further on the trail, be respectful and they may reward you from their cache of wisdom.

The trail will wind down slope into the valley, taking you from the relatively arid conditions at the valley rim into the lush near rainforest conditions at the valley floor. You will bypass the infamous peat bogs and finally reach the Tuxedo at the one mile marker near the foot of the Spatula Falls. The falls are best experienced from a variety of positions, and the trail will take you through several of the better spots. Your first glimpse will be from about the mid-elevation where the trail meets the river, overlooking the cauldron worn by the falls over millennia. Be careful at that first viewpoint, all attempts to build safety rails at the cauldron’s edge have met with disaster. In the dry season, you will have a decent view into the cauldron, with the falls a moderate stream.

Don’t be tempted to swim, the currents are largely unmapped, and there is no safe point to climb out of the roiling water. Most who have fallen in from this point have been drowned, and it may take more than one season for their bodies to wash out and be recovered downstream.

The trail continues around the cauldron’s edge, to a series of steps that lead up the cliff face. The stairs are well maintained, if a tad treacherous in appearance. In the rainy season when the river is running high, the steps will be slippery and wet from spray. If you do slip and fall, remember not to fall off the stairs. Once you leave the trail at this point, you will have little choice but to obey gravity and eventually end up, rather bruised, in the water below.

From the stairs, you will have several chances to spot nests of the local ground owls. If there are eggs or young in the nest, both male and female owls will be fiercely territorial and protective. They have been spotted nesting on the stairs directly. If you find such a nest, cautiously skirt the edge for the stairs and make your way past without threatening the young. Most visitors who pay attention to this hazard have no trouble at all from the owls.

Several viewing platforms are provided both nearly within the falls as well as further away from the stream. From the third platform up, you will notice that the first hand holds and a trail of placed and maintained climbing aids can be reached from the platform. That direct route behind and beyond the falls is not recommended for anyone other that highly skilled technical climbers. Once mastered, there is a climbing path behind the falls that can take you down to the water and into a cave system that reaches into the local limestone formation and has not been fully mapped.

After climbing the stairs, you will once again reach a viewpoint with a vista overlooking the entire valley. Turn away from the view, and follow the now calm river upstream for a mile. There will be several spots where the river is safe to enter, but if you choose to swim be very aware of the falls shortly downstream. You don’t want to go over. The fish found in the river are isolated to this stretch by the falls below, and generally don’t go far up or down stream.

There are several species of snake that are found in the water here, some of which have been seen using the stairs. If encountered, do not aggravate the snake. All confirmed species are venomless. But there are persistent rumors of a highly venomous cobra, usually reported along this stretch of the trail. Rumors are difficult to confirm because the snake is aggressive, and seems to delight in attacking before it is spotted.

A further half mile of trail follows the river up a whitewater segment, to the lake that forms its headwaters. While tempting, these rapids have claimed several lives of unlucky hikers that attempted to ford the river at its narrowest point. The water here is dead clear and running in a near-perfect laminar flow. It is very fast and very deep.

Mirror lake comes into view as you complete the last switchback and reach the upper plateau. The lake would be an ideal destination for kayak and canoe, except for the lack of easy access. The origin of the name will be obvious as the lake is nearly dead flat and calm in all but the most violent of weather.

If you turn back at this point, you can return to the trailhead parking lot after covering very close to exactly five miles of trail. If fit, there is a five mile trail that will take you around the lake shore to a point on the other side of the river. Note that since there is no easy crossing of the river, however, that this is not a loop trail. Plan accordingly.

Camping is allowed at several marked campgrounds around the lake. Available amenities are limited at the campgrounds, but safe and sanitary pit toilets are provided. Please do use them.

We hope you enjoy your visit to our lake.

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