August is typically one of our busier hiking months but this year things are working out differently. We’ve both had things come up at work leading us to change our vacation plans, the date of our annual family reunion changed, there are forest fires closing large areas of both the Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters Wildernesses, and the upcoming solar eclipse essentially eliminated any realistic plans for hiking around the 21st.
We actually almost skipped our weekly hike this time around but knowing we’d later regret that decision we turned to Mt. Hood, which has thus far escaped the fire issues this year. Our plan was to take the Vista Ridge Trail up to the Timberline Trail and visit a few familiar areas – Eden Park, Cairn Basin, and Elk Cove.
We began at the Vista Ridge Trailhead.
We set off through the forest which was damp from a light mist that fell for most of the day.
It was actually really nice to hike in the cool temperatures and to see some moisture falling.
The trail enters an area burned by the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire near a registration box for the Mt. Hood Wilderness after a half mile.
The Vista Ridge Trail is probably best known for its displays of avalanche lilies in the burn area during July but we discovered that August provided an amazing display of its own.
The amount of fireweed was simply amazing.
With all the fires currently burning it was nice to be reminded that the forests will recover eventually.
With the misty conditions views were limited but Pinnacle Ridge was visible across the Clear Branch Valley and we spied a bit of Laurence Lake as well as Bald Butte further in the distance.
After two and a half miles we arrived at the junction with the Eden Park Loop Trail.
A few avalanche lilies were still blooming in this area.
We turned down the Eden Park Trail which descended through more burned forest filled with more fireweed and some small meadows with other wildflowers.
We also crossed several small wildflower lined streams flowing down toward Ladd Creek.
Eight tenths of a mile from the Vista Ridge Trail junction we arrived at Ladd Creek itself.
Just beyond Ladd Creek we arrived at Eden Park.
Beyond Eden Park the trail began to climb on its way up to the Timberline Trail at Cairn Basin.
We turned left on the Timberline Trail and took a short snack break in Carin Basin and visited the stone shelter.
After leaving Cairn Basin we recrossed Ladd Creek.
It was about a mile from this upper crossing to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail. There were lots of wildflowers along this stretch as well as some lingering snow.
Wy’East Basin lay just beyond the junction with more flower lined streams.
We continued on from Wy’East Basin heading toward Elk Cove. Despite not being able to see the mountain, just being on the Timberline Trail gave us that alpine feeling that only the mountains can.
We had passed several rock fields where we had listened and looked for one of our favorite animals, the pika, but had not had any luck. As we began the descent to Elk Cove though we heard the distinctive “meep” of a pika. It’s a sound that always brings a smile to our faces. We had stopped along the trail for a moment to look around and just as we started to resume hiking we spotted one sitting on the rocks ahead.
The descent to Elk Cove when hiking clockwise on the Timberline Trail is an extremely scenic section of trail when visibility is good. The clouds and mist took a bit away from the epic views but it was still an impressive sight.
The further down into the cove we went the better the flower display became.
We stopped at an empty campsite near a creek and took a seat while we took in the beauty of the surrounding area.
We could occasionally see some blue sky to the east which gave us a just a bit of hope that maybe we’d get a view of the mountain after all.
The blue sky looked to be just on the side of the mountain though and the clouds were continuing to blow in from the west.
After a while the combination of our damp clothes and the cool breeze became a little chilly so we decided to head back. It appeared that we were out of luck on a mountain view this time but as we were climbing out of the cove the clouds began to break even more.
We waited and watched as the sky cleared up just enough to reveal the mountain before swallowing it up once more.
It had lasted less than a minute and then we were back in the cloudy mist but it was the icing on the cake for what had already been a great hike. We returned to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail where we turned downhill, passing the Eden Park Trail junction in .3 miles and arriving back at our car in another two and a half miles. The total distance for the day was just over 11 miles with a little under 2000′ of elevation gain.
We were very glad we hadn’t skipped our weekly hike. Getting out on the trail was really just what we had needed. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Vista Ridge Trail
3 replies on “Vista Ridge Trail to Elk Cove – Mt. Hood”
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