DAY HIKING MOUNT HOOD
10 Trails for Safe Social Distancing this Summer
With the COVID pandemic still sweeping the country (and cases in Oregon actually going up!), social distancing has become the new norm. With safety in mind, this is a good summer to avoid some of Mount Hood’s more popular trails, and discover some of the lesser-hiked routes. Here are ten trail selections from our new guide, Day Hiking Mount Hood, that will help you avoid the crowds while enjoying the wilder side of Oregon’s tallest volcanic peak.
A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW
The trails around Mount Hood offer spectacular views of jagged pinnacles, rugged canyons, and glorious alpine meadows. These views, justifiably, draw the summer crowds, where some trails turn into conga lines from the parking areas to the destination. This summer, to keep some social distancing from the herds heading to locations such as Bald Mountain, Lookout Mountain and Mirror Lake, try one of these lesser-traveled trails instead. Each offer similar big views, with much less crowding.
Hiyu Mountain/Buck Peak
TH Location: Lolo Pass | Distance: < 15.3 mi. | Elev. Gain: < 2900 ft.
While most hikers going to Lolo Pass are heading southbound on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to destinations like Bald Mountain, McNeil Point and Cairn Basin (all very popular and crowded), opt instead to hike the PCT northbound. This quiet and little-used stretch of trail starts by skirting the steep flanks of Hiyu Mountain, and offers a few wide views of Mount Hood and its northwestern ridges and valleys. It then turns into a pleasant rolling walk through shady, fern- and berry-filled woods as it enters the Bull Run Watershed. The junction with the Huckleberry Mountain Trail at 4 miles makes a good turnaround point for a half-day romp. For a big, all-day adventure, continue rambling northbound on the PCT for another 3.6 miles to 4730-foot Buck Peak. The view from the top takes in an impressive panorama of Mount Hood and some of Washington’s Cascade peaks.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hikes 75, 76
Bonney Butte & Meadows
TH Location: Badger Creek | Distance: < 5.7 mi. | Elev. Gain: 1840 ft.
Several miles south of the crowded White River Sno-Park recreation area, the Badger Creek Wilderness sees few hikers venture forth. Keep a sharp eye out for FR 4890 on the left (driving south), and follow this narrow, paved road 1 mile to a gravel intersection. Find the Bonney Meadows Trail hidden behind tall alder shrubs on the east side of the intersection, then just start heading upward under shady hemlock and fir forest. At 1.6 miles, turn left (north) and walk rough FR 4891 for 0.5 mile to the gated Bonney Butte road. Watch out for ORVs on this road! Take the butte road 0.5 mile to the 5580-foot crest and enjoy the view. In fall months, friendly volunteers from Hawkwatch International occupy the butte to monitor raptor migration patterns. Take a detour on your way back by turning into the Bonney Campground and take a romp around the Bonney Meadows and enjoy a few more nice views.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 45
Vista Ridge & Owl Point
TH Location: Lolo Pass Road | Distance: 4.2 mi. | Elev. Gain: 970 ft.
Abandoned in the 1960s, the lower portion of the Vista Ridge Trail got a second life when volunteers with Trailkeepers of Oregon began rehabilitating this wooded stretch of trail that leads to several fantastic viewpoints. And it’s far enough out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a long, gravel road, so as to dissuade most hikers looking for quick and easy trail access. Start with an easy 0.4-mile walk to the Vista Ridge junction. The upper portion of the trail was blackened by the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire. Now, nearly a decade later it’s recovering nicely, but still mostly exposed, hot and dusty. Turn left (north) on the Old Vista Ridge Trail and romp along through berry-filled woods and pocket meadows. The viewpoints come along at 1.9 and 2.1 miles, the first being The Rockpile, the second being Owl Point. Look and listen for cute little pikas while you’re enjoying the views.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 9
WHERE THERE'S WATER...
There’s nothing quite as delightful as spending a warm summer day lounging by a lakeside, or enjoying a refreshing dip. Unfortunately, that’s what everyone else thinks too, which makes Mount Hood’s watery destinations—Mirror Lake, Burnt Lake, Salmon River, etc.—magnets for masses of visitors. Save these locations for a safer time, and venture instead to one of these remote locations where you can enjoy a secluded forest pool or a backcountry waterfall, sans lots of company.
TH Location: Sandy River | Distance: 11.2 mi. | Elev. Gain: 3590 ft.
Tucked away near the Riley Horse Camp, on the way to the overcrowded Ramona Falls trailhead, the route to Cast Lake climbs steadily—almost relentlessly—into Mount Hood’s western Zigzag Mountain country. The route is pleasant, if viewless, most of the way. Instead you can hunt for all manner of forest flowers, berries and fungi along the way. When you finally crest the ridge on the north flank of Zigzag Mountain, around 4.8 miles, Mount Hood suddenly bursts into view in a glorious panorama. This view alone makes all the climbing worth the effort. Pushing on another 0.6 mile leads to pretty Cast Lake, in a high, wooded cirque. There’s good spots to picnic on the south shore of the lake, and a handful of dispersed primitive campsites scattered around the north shore. There aren’t any outward views in the lake basin, but the still waters create fantastical reflection mosaics on cloudy days.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 15
Timothy Lake via Little Crater
TH Location: Little Crater CG | Distance: < 12.4 mi. | Elev. Gain: < 660 ft.
There’s nothing secret about Timothy Lake, and summer draws hoards of recreationists to its many beaches and campgrounds. The good thing is that the 12.4-mile loop trail around the lake gives plenty of space for hikers to maintain some social distancing. The better thing is that you can “back door” the trail from the remote Little Crater Campground, and not hassle with the overcrowded parking and recreation areas on the South Shore. Wear your mask until you’re past the Little Crater Lake viewpoint, then relax and watch the crowds fade into the distance. At the wide PCT junction, turn left (south) to a well-signed fork. Here you can take the west shore Timothy Lake Trail, or east shore Pacific Crest Trail, and go as far as you like. Either side is equally nice as the trail gently rolls along under shady woods with plenty of lake views. Keep your mask handy if you go all the way to the crowded South Shore.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hikes 49–51
TH Location: Hood River Meadows | Distance: 9.6 mi. | Elev. Gain: 2130 ft.
Known more for its outstanding backcountry skiing, Heather Canyon, on the north side of the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area offers some fine hiking as well. The start of this view-packed loop starts at one of the busier trailheads on Mount Hood. But while the crowds flock to Elk Meadows, you can veer off this trail superhighway and head into higher, more rugged country. At the back of the canyon, a fantastic waterfall spills over a high, rocky precipice—and the trail hops right across the top of it! From the Elk Meadows Trail, proceed with a steady climb along Newton Creek to connect with the famous Timberline Trail. Turn left (west) and contour though the canyon, over the waterfall, then through the ski area’s upper slopes. These become colorful wildflower meadows in peak summer. Close your loop by returning via the Umbrella Falls Trail; skip the busier and more popular Sahale Falls Trail.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 53
GET AWAY FROM IT ALL
With social distancing being the name of the game this summer, it’s a great time try some of Mount Hood’s more rugged and remote trails. These are typically longer, and often in poor repair, but are great for leaving the crowds behind for some big adventuring. As most of these trails are higher on the mountain, they’re typically not accessible until midsummer. When you go, pack along plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen, and enjoy the solitude.
Paradise Park via Kiwanis Camp Rd
TH Location: US Hwy 26 | Distance: 13.9 mi. | Elev. Gain: 3670 ft.
“Paradise Park, are you kidding?!” This is definitely one of the more popular hiking destinations on Mount Hood. But if you backdoor the area from the little-used trailhead on Kiwanis Camp Road, west of Government Camp, you can avoid the masses that normally start this hike from the historic Timberline Lodge. The first 6 miles are a long, uphill slog through mostly dense, viewless woods—hence the lack of crowds on this route. The slopes are covered with gobs of rhododendron and huckleberry, so it’s not entirely unsatisfying. Once you reach the intersection with the PCT, the payoff for all your effort starts to materialize bigly, with views and flowers aplenty—and it’s wide-open enough to adhere to good social distancing from other hikers. Continue straight up Mount Hood’s flank to the large knoll above the park area, or hop onto the Paradise Park Loop for a stroll through the meadows.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 25
TH Location: Cloud Cap Rd | Distance: 5.5 mi. | Elev. Gain: 2000 ft.
Known more for its winter ski trails than summer hiking trails, this quiet corner of Mount Hood affords some spectacular mountain views. The hike begins at an easy-to-miss trailhead near where the Cloud Cap Road turns from pavement to gravel. Start by heading up the Tilly Jane Ski Trail into dense, soggy woods. About 0.7 mile up, at a signed junction, turn left (south) and proceed up to the lower portion of Polallie Ridge. The trail traces the Ridgeline straight up toward Mount Hood. Where the trail exits the cover of tall ponderosas, start bushwhacking your way up through overgrown mountain ash and chinquapin. The views get impressively bigger and wider the higher up you go, until you reenter shady woods and arrive at the historic Tilly Jane A-frame. Go for a change of scenery—and less brushy scrambling—by heading back down on the Tilly Jane Ski Trail.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 62
TH Location: Laurance Lake | Distance: 9.4+ mi. | Elev. Gain: 2970+ ft.
If you’re willing to make the journey, the remote north side of Mount Hood offers some spectacular scenery that sees very little crowding—but you have to work for it. The trail to Elk Cove is long, somewhat steep, and crosses wide swaths of burned forest. The trade-off as you work your way up are some sweeping views of Mount Hood in one direction, and a wide horizon showcasing all of Washington’s volcanic peaks in the other direction. Your trek culminates in a sprawling green valley filled with wildflowers, and crowned by the Coe Glacier. It’s a pretty awe-inspiring sight. Start at the trailhead off FR 2840, south of Laurance Lake CG. Pack extra water, and apply lots of sunscreen, then start climbing through a profusion of beargrass, huckleberry and mountain ash. Where the route ends at the Timberline Trail, around 4.6 miles, turn right (west) and proceed another 0.1 mile into Elk Cove.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 7
Pinnacle Ridge & Barret Spur
TH Location: Laurance Lake | Distance: 9.1 mi. | Elev. Gain: 3800 ft.
There’s a reason not many people hike the Pinnacle Ridge Trail—it sucks. The first 3+ miles are dry, dusty, and mostly viewless amid badly burned woods. In midsummer, it can get scorchingly hot and, due to lack of regular maintenance, some portions are heavily overgrown, requiring some bushwhacking and routefinding. But if you’re willing to suck it up and work for your solitude, the payoff is huge. Where the Pinnacle Ridge Trail finally ends at the Timberline Trail, turn right (west) and proceed 0.3 mile to Wy’east Basin. The sprawling wildflower meadows create a kaleidoscope of color in midsummer, and the gurgling creek running through the area is a delight—a perfect place for a picnic with a view. For even bigger views, head up the basin to Barrett Spur, where you can get a huge, in-your-face view of the Coe and Ladd glaciers, and Mount Hood’s rugged north face.
MORE INFO: Day Hiking Mount Hood, Hike 8
Don’t Forget Your NW Forest Pass
Many of the established trailheads on and around Mount Hood require visitors to display a Northwest Forest Pass for parking. With ranger stations still closed, passes can be purchased online or at select vendors. Passes are $5/day, or $30/year, plus a nominal service charge. Passes are not available on site, so be sure to purchase your pass before you head up the mountain.
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