While Mt. Hood is still encased in ice, wildflowers replace the snow surrounding the lower-elevation, forest-rimmed lakes on this 12-miler in the Clackamas Wilderness. Start at the Shellrock Lake trailhead and hike .5 mile north amid flowering rhododendron and beargrass (May to June for both) to the outlet of Shellrock Lake. Cross on small logs and curve around the lake’s southeastern shore to the junction with the Frazier Spur Trail.
Head north for 1.1 miles to a T-junction and head right (north) to the Serene Lake trailhead at the Frazier Turnaround. Turn left (west), descending through old-growth hemlock forest for .8 mile to the Rock Lakes junction. Fork left (southwest) here for a .7-mile out-and-back to Middle Rock Lake, sparkling in a forested basin below 5,397-foot Frazier Mountain. Return to the junction. After .1 mile, a side trail drops northeast to Lower Rock Lake with a single campsite if you’re ready to stop.
Back on the Serene Lake Trail, continue two miles. As you approach Serene Lake’s overgrown outlet, follow the spur to the lake’s north shore and an isolated campsite with front-porch views. Next day, find the Cache Meadow Trail beside a rotting, moss-covered picnic table on the western shore. Climb 700 feet in a mile before leveling out at a T-junction. Stay on the Cache Meadow Trail and climb a ridge to 4,983 feet and a northward view of four Cascade giants: Hood, Adams, Rainier, and St. Helens.
Descend to Cache Meadow. Just before the trail enters another meadow that edges Cripple Creek, turn left at an unsigned trail junction (look for a “517” plaque 20 yards up trail). Pass through another meadow and begin a climb to the junction with Indian Ridge Road. Go right (northeast) on this old logging road to the Frazier Spur Trail; Mt. Hood looms straight ahead and Mt. Jefferson rises to the southeast. Backtrack to Shellrock Lake, then back to your starting point.
GEAR UP REI, Clackamas Town Center; (503) 659-1156; rei.com
MAP Mt. Hood ($12, natgeomaps.com)
INFO USFS Zigzag Ranger District; (503) 668-1700; fs.fed.us/r6
-Mapped by Eli Boschetto, Bosco Mountain Photo