5 PCT Hikes for the Holiday Weekend
Looking to get in some trail time over the long holiday weekend? There are several sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon that make for easy weekend getaways. Each of the following locations are easily accessible, often have few crowds, and can be hiked in two to three days.
Cascade Crest: Tipsoo Pass
Spend your weekend bagging the highest point that the PCT reaches in all of Oregon and Washington—7,560-foot Tipsoo Pass. The pass offers limited views, but a short hike to the summit of 8,034-foot Tipsoo Peak presents big panos of Oregon’s southern Cascades.
DAY 1: Start at the North Crater trailhead on OR 138 and hike east to connect with the PCT. Turn north and hike 8.1 miles into the Mount Thielsen Wilderness, where the trail rounds the jagged spire to Thielsen Creek Camp. Set up your basecamp for the weekend. DAY 2: Dayhike 4.6 miles north on the PCT, flanking Sawtooth Ridge and Howlock Mountain; the trail crosses pleasant pocket meadows with plenty of nice views. When you reach the pass, marked by a posted sign, look for a bootpath that strikes off northwest toward the red, cindery peak. Connect with the Tipsoo Pass Trail for the final ascent to the view-packed summit. When finished, return to your camp. DAY 3: Retrace your steps on the PCT, now south, to head back to your starting trailhead. If you want another big view, consider scrambling to the top of 9,182-foot Mount Thielsen, affectionately known as the “lightning rod of the Cascades.”
Round trip: 27 miles
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Willamette Pass: Diamond Peak Loop
Spend your weekend on a half-circuit of this stunning and remote wilderness area. You’ll take in gurgling streams, forested lakes, parklike meadows, old-growth forest and one of the most spectacular mountain traverses in all of Oregon.
DAY 1: Start at the Willamette Pass trailhead on OR 58. Walk back to OR 58, cross carefully, then jog east to OR 5810; proceed down the road for 2 miles to the Shelter Cove Resort. Pick up the Whitefish Creek Trail (part of the old Oregon Skyline Trail; OST) on the west side of the road and begin climbing through lodgepole forest alongside Trapper Creek. The trail proceeds west, then south, for 5 miles to picturesque Diamond View Lake. Soak in the scene and find a place to drop your gear for the night. DAY 2: Pack up and continue south on the OST for 1 mile to the Crater Butte Trail; turn right (west) and begin steadily gaining elevation for 5 miles to circuit Crater Butte and connect with the PCT; turn right (north) on the PCT and continue gaining elevation for another 1.4 miles to a hairpin turn with a great view south over Summit Lake. Now proceed to traverse the view-packed, exposed lower slopes of Diamond Peak for the next 4.3 miles to a large pond, where a few campsites can be found hidden in the trees. Pick a spot and call it a day. DAY 3: Continue heading north on the PCT for 8.6 miles. You’ll descend through forested Cascade Lakes country, skirt Mount Yoran and cross Pengra Pass. Proceed across OR 58, then take the spur trail down to the trailhead and your waiting vehicle.
Round Trip: 27 miles
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Willamette Pass: Rosary Lakes
For a quick and easy PCT getaway, this chain of pretty lakes situated under 6,384-foot Pulpit Rock is ideal for all experience levels. There’s plenty of camping to be found at each of the lakes, and you can venture up toward 6,180-foot Maiden Peak Saddle to an impressive viewpoint.
DAY 1: Start at the Willamette Pass trailhead on OR 58. Hike the short spur trail to connect to the PCT and turn right (east). Contour 2.6 miles up through dense forest to the foot of Lower Rosary Lake; there are numerous campsites along the trail around the east side. If the lower sites are full, proceed another 0.8 mile to the large camp area between Middle and North lakes. There are also a few hidden sites around the west side of Middle Lake. Choose your weekend home and set up camp. DAY 2: If you can tear yourself away from whichever lakeside you’ve made your home for the weekend, wander north on the PCT for 1 mile from North Lake to Maiden Peak Saddle. There’s not much to see at the saddle, but if you continue just another 0.2 mile you will find an obvious side trail to a viewpoint that looks over the Rosary Lakes directly below, and far south over the Diamond Peak Wilderness. DAY 3: With just a few miles to return to your starting point, retrace your steps south at your leisure.
Round trip: 9.5 miles
Three Sisters: Cascade Lakes Loop
If wandering among myriad pools of placid water is your cup of backcountry tea, then look no further than the Cascade Lakes region of the Three Sisters Wilderness. The only hard thing about this hike will be not wanting to stop and camp at each and every one.
DAY 1: Start at the large trailhead across from Elk Lake Resort on OR 46. Veer left onto the Island Meadow Trail and climb 1.3 miles west to connect to the PCT. Turn left (west) on the PCT and amble through mixed forest for 5.4 miles to skirt Island Meadow to Dumbbell Lake. Continue south past Island Lake and Reserve Meadow for another 3 miles to the Porky Lake Trail junction, near a large rock mound. Turn left (east) on an unmarked path for 0.2 mile to Cliff Lake, where a backcountry shelter can be found near the lakeshore. Set up camp, kick back and enjoy the view while listening to pikas chirp in the talus slopes. DAY 2: Pack a lunch and spend the day frolicking among numerous lakes and ponds. Dayhike back to the Porky Lake Trail and proceed west for 1.4 miles to Mink Lake. Circuit Mink Lake on a 2.2-mile loop, or add Plumb, Corner and Goose lakes on a larger 6.1-mile loop. Whichever you choose, return to this junction, then your camp via the Porky Lake Trail. DAY 3: Backtrack 1.5 miles north on the PCT to the Six Lakes Trail, near Reserve Meadow, and turn east. Descend 1.9 miles to a junction and veer left (northeast) for 3.3 miles to a trailhead on OR 46. Along the way, you’ll pass Doris and Blow lakes. Walk the shoulder of the highway for 2 miles back to your starting point.
Round Trip: Up to 28 miles
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Mount Hood: Timothy Lake Loop
With its proximity to the throngs of Portland-area hikers, you’re likely to have company on this trail. But with plenty of camping opportunities, you’re likely to still find a secluded nook or two to hang out and enjoy a peaceful weekend outdoors.
DAY 1: Start at the Little Crater Lake trailhead in the Little Crater Lake Campground on FR 58. Hike west 0.3 mile, passing the curious and intensely blue Little Crater Lake to connect with the PCT. Turn left (south) and proceed 0.3 mile to a large trail junction. Veer right onto the Timothy Lake Trail and begin your counterclockwise circuit of the large lake. The trail proceeds effortlessly along the lakeshore for 3 miles to Meditation Point. Take the side trail out onto this peninsula, choose a campsite, and chill out lakeside for the rest of the day. DAY 2: Pack up, return to the Timothy Lake Trail, and continue your circuit by proceeding 1.3 miles to the Timothy Lake Dam. Cross over, then turn left (east) on the Southshore Trail. Continue your loop, remaining lakeside, for another 2.5 miles as you pass several large campgrounds—and maybe enjoy distant views of Mount Hood. Cross the bridge over the Oak Grove Fork and reconnect with the PCT. Turn left (north) and continue along the lakeshore, where you will find numerous primitive campsites. Choose the one that suits you and spend another afternoon lakeside. DAY 3: Complete your loop by ambling 3.7 miles (from the Oak Grove Fork junction) on the PCT to the large junction from earlier. Now just backtrack on the PCT and Little Crater Lake trails to your starting point.
Round Trip: 12 miles
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Remember, as you’re out there this holiday weekend, you’re likely to have plenty of company wherever you go, as lots of hikers will be looking to squeeze in one more trip before the season turns. Be sure to practice trail courtesy and Leave No Trace so we can all enjoy being outdoors. Have a great weekend!