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Portland, OR: Elk Meadow and Timberline Loop

or

Star Star Star Star Star

Distance: 19.3 miles


WARNING! Do not hike this 19.3-mile loop on Mt. Hood if you have aversions to the following: mountain meadows, streaming waterfalls, glacier views, big valleys, or gazillions of summer wildflowers.
  • Umbrella Falls
  • Newton Creek
  • Summer Meadow
  • Elk Meadow
  • Upper Crossing
  • Gnarl Ridge
  • Heather Canyon
  • Paintbrush

During wildflower season, the 2.5-mile hike to Elk Meadow on Mt. Hood's east side is one of the more popular destinations. But with so many trails in the area, why stop there? Explore this 19.3-mile lollipop loop and you’ll leave the crowds behind—and find spectacular views of Mt. Hood's meadows, valleys, glaciers, streams, and more wildflowers.

Start at the Timberline Lodge and hike northeast, then southeast to a crossing of the White River. From here, the route climbs northeast to a junction near Mitchell Creek. Turn right onto Trail #667 toward Umbrella Falls and begin a 12.3-mile loop. The trail descends through alternating forest and meadow and arrives at the base of cascading Umbrella Falls. Continue another 0.6 mile and fork right on Trail #667C, passing a spur to the Sahallie Falls viewpoint.

At the Elk Meadow trailhead, head north on Trail #645 for a nearly level mile through fir forest, sprinkled with July lupine and August huckleberries. Come to the crossing of Clark Creek, and a good, wooden bridge. After another half-mile, come to the wider Newton Creek crossing; look left for a sturdy log bridge. After crossing, the trail begins switchbacking up the valley wall for the next mile, with more flowers lining the route: paintbrush, tiger lily, cow parsnip, and columbine. Arrive at a 4-way junction with trails branching off left to Gnarl Ridge, and right to Elk Mountain. Continue straight ahead for another quarter-mile to the next junction, the Elk Meadow perimeter trail, and turn right.

The first half-mile of the perimeter trail offers peeks at pockets of meadows, and passes a very nice, large camp site, with a fire ring and log benches. At the next junction, veer left twice (note the second junction; this is where the loop continues to the right), cross a small creek, and arrive at the Elk Meadow shelter, and the wide expanse of Elk Meadow, with Mt. Hood above. In early to mid-summer, the meadow is filled with all manner of subalpine wildflowers: lupine, daisy, paintbrush, penstemon, and agoseris. Drop the pack for a spell, and just sit and enjoy (stay out of the fragile meadows).

Next, proceed back to the previous junction, turn left on Trail #645A, and continue on the perimeter loop to the next junction. Here, you'll break off from the loop trail, and head west on Trail #552A, the Gnarl Ridge spur. Start a moderate climb for the next mile through more shaded woods to an intersection with the Timberline Trail #600. Here, turn left and begin a mile-long descent to the upper crossing of Newton Creek. Where the trail enters the wide riverbed, look for cairns leading the way. This bridgeless crossing requires a quick ford across the rushing waters of upper Newton Creek. On the other side, follow more cairns up the opposite slope to regain the trail, pass the upper junction with the Newton Creek trail, more meadows and big views down the valley, then start another half-mile climb around a nameless ridge.

Cresting the ridge, begin a long descent on sandy trail into Heather Canyon. Find patches of penstemon and stonecrop on the otherwise barren slope of Heather Canyon's north wall. Near the bottom, cairns lead the way around a small washout. As you near the head, notice the large waterfall up the canyon; contour around another small ridge, then come to the upper crossing of Clark Creek just above a large cascade. Hop across, noticing the abundance of monkeyflower varieties, then begin a gentle climb up, out of the canyon on the other side.

Cresting the next ridge, the Timberline Trail now undulates across the slopes of the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort for the next mile. Ski slopes are transformed into long meadows, filled with wildflowers: mariposa lily, the ever-present lupine, stalks of blooming bear grass, and the rare magenta paintbrush. At the west edge of the ski resort, cross a service road and reconnect with WPT005. Continue straight and retrace the route back to Timberline Lodge.

PERMIT Northwest Pass required ($5/day or $30/year, fs.usda.gov/mthood) and wilderness permit (free at trailhead).

MAP Mt. Hood ($12, natgeomaps.com)

CONTACT (503) 668-1700; fs.usda.gov/mthood

-Mapped by Eli Boschetto, Bosco Mountain Photo

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