Skip the stiff climb up Larch Mountain and the crowded lower parking lots on the Historic Highway. This lesser-used route offers a more moderate ascent to the top of this ancient shield volcano and more quiet time on the trail. The hike starts 11.3 miles up Larch Mountain Road at a locked gate. Walk a quarter mile up the rocky service road to a junction with the Larch Mountain Trail #441. Bear left and descend through old-growth hemlock and fir; trillium, monkey flower and bleeding heart dot the ground.
Half a mile later, fork right onto Multnomah Spur #446. Nearly a mile in, cross Multnomah Creek, then immediately veer right onto Multnomah Creek Trail #444 and enter the “crater” of Larch Mountain, a boggy marsh carpeted with Indian hellebore. Past the crater, the ascent to the summit begins on easy switchbacks.
At mile 3.5, crest the ridge and turn right onto Oneonta Trail #424; the trail ends 0.9 mile later at Larch Mountain Road. Continue up the road 0.4 mile to Larch Mountain Park, and climb the stairs to the rocky promontory of Sherrard Point. You’ll find grand views over the Columbia River Gorge and Mounts St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood and Jefferson.
Finish the loop by heading back down the stairs and forking right at a junction to the summit proper, an open area in the trees (no views). Pick up the trail to the right and descend through a short stretch of snaggly forest, then back into the greener fir and hemlock. In no time, you’ll reconnect with the forest road; turn left for the short descent back to your car.
Note: Early season hikers may find Larch Mountain Road closed just past MP 10 and a small parking area on the west side. The walk up the road from this point is 1.5 miles. The trail can retain a lot of snow on the north-facing slopes above the crater well into early summer, making navigation tricky in some areas.
-Mapped by Eli Boschetto, Bosco Mountain Photo