High Cascades Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon Trip report

McNeil Point

A week after visiting Mt. St. Helens we were headed to another of the Cascades volcanoes – Mt. Hood. We were meeting my parents in the morning for a hike up in the area of McNeil Point. The plan was to begin at the Top Spur Trailhead with them and hike together to an area below McNeil Point where ponds collect the melting winter snows. From the ponds Heather and I would head up to McNeil Point to visit the shelter there and continue up the ridge behind it toward Mt. Hood. We picked up my parents at McNeil Campground in the morning and were ready to set off on the Top Spur Trail just before 7AM.


The first section of trail led through a forest filled with huckleberries and blueberries. Tree roots covered the path in many areas making for an uneven surface for walking.

The Top Spur Trail joined the Pacific Crest Trail for a tenth of a mile before splitting off at a four way trail junction where the PCT and the Timberline Trail intersect.

We took the middle of three forks following the Timberline Trail toward the Muddy Fork River. The PCT continued down the far right-hand fork and the left-hand fork was the continuation of the Timberline Trail on its way toward Cairn Basin.

It would have been a little shorter hike if we had taken the Timberline Trail toward Cairn Basin which was the more direct way to get to the ponds below McNeil Point, but by heading toward the Muddy Fork we would pass through some open meadows on the south side of Bald Mountain where Mt. Hood would be visible. The meadows fill with flowers in early summer but were mostly passed now, however the view of Mt. Hood was still there.

After passing through the second (smaller) meadow on Bald Mountain the trail reentered the forest. We were now looking for a side trail that would take us over the top of the Bald Mountain ridge to the Timberline Trail on the north side. Heather and I had taken this trail in 2012. At that time it was an unmarked use trail up and over the ridge. We spotted a worn trail to the left in the area we expected and headed toward the ridge. I managed to lead us over a small ridge and right back onto the Timberline Trail that we had already been on. We had to walk back through the small meadow and look for a different trail. Just around the corner from where we had turned off the trail the first time there was another side trail. This one had a nice new sign indicating it was the Cut Off Trail. Apparently it was now an official trail and there was a similar sign on the far side of the ridge.

Now that we were back on track we headed uphill through the forest. More root covered trail awaited as we passed through some past-its-prime beargrass and headed up the ridge.


The trail climbed fairly gently up the ridge passing a couple of open views of the mountain.


In a typical year the flowers along this hike would have been at or near their peak in mid-July but this year the majority of them had already gone to seed. We did manage to spot a few late bloomers along the ridge though.



False Hellbore

Western Pasque Flower (seed-head)

After a few switchbacks the trail final leveled out some as it traversed a hillside where several branches of McGee Creek flowed across the trail. Additional flowers began popping up along this stretch but only the late blooming gentians and monkeyflower in larger quantities.
A branch of McGee Creek

Aster or fleabane





Another branch of McGee Creek

The trail passed below a pair of rock outcroppings below McNeil Point. At the second outcropping we found the first of the ponds completely dried up.
Passing the first outcropping.

Dry pond

Dry pond below the rocky outcrop and Mt. Hood beyond.

The second pond still had a little water and a nice view of the top of Mt. Hood.


We erroneously followed the trail leading away from the second pond believing it would reconnect with the Timberline Trail which had forked to the right after passing the dry pond. The trail we were on eventually petered out and we were left with a short bushwack to get back onto the correct trail. We popped back out of the trees onto the trail and turned left continuing toward the McNeil Point Trail and Cairn Basin. We passed a junction with the Mazama Trail, a trail we had hiked in 2013, and decided it was time for our party to split up.

Heather and I would go ahead at our own pace and head up to McNeil Point, and my parents would continue on toward Cairn Basin. We headed off amazed at the lack of flowers along the trail. On our previous visit to McNeil Point on 8/20/12 and Barrett Spur on 8/12/13 this section had been full of flowers but here we were a full month earlier than those visits and the flowers had long since passed. It was a clear indication of just how hot and dry this year had been. The good news was it was a clear day we had still had the views. In addition to Mt. Hood we could see three Washington snow peaks to the north.


Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier

Mt. St. Helens

We left the Timberline Trail at the sign for McNeil Point.

The trail up to the shelter begins on a ridge next to silty Ladd Creek.


Heather enjoying the day.

The trail then crossed a rock field where there is normally also a snowfield. Not this year though.

Once past the rock field the trail passed beneath hills that hid most the mountain. Here we began to encounter more flowers in bloom.






There was also a lovely little creek lined with monkeyflowers.



We faced a choice as we neared the shelter. We could head straight for the stone building or we could veer uphill and gain the ridge behind the shelter and then head up it. On our previous visit we had simply gone to the shelter and turned back there. (We had also visited Cairn & Wy’East Basins and Eden Park that day.) We decided to head directly for the ridge and turned uphill.

As we headed for the ridge Mt. Hood began to peek out from above it.

Heather spotted an interesting looking ladybug along the way.

We gained the ridge and could see our route laid out before us with a closer look at Mt. Hood being the reward.

As we were climbing and looking around at all the scenery I noticed something brown near the top of the ridge to our left. It didn’t look like it belonged there but we couldn’t make out what it exactly was at first.

Once again the 30x zoom on our camera came in handy and we were able to see that it was a good sized buck bedded down for the day.

The best flower display of the day was in a little basin below the ridge where the deer was. Lupine, Mountain Heather, Paintbrush, Partridgefoot, Bistort, and Pasque flowers were all present.




The buck kept an eye on us as we continued up a very steep section of the ridge. Looking back down near we could see the trail to the shelter below and beyond McNeil Point was Bald Mountain and the ridge we and climbed from there.

McNeil Point Shelter

We were near what looked like the end of the climb.

We were wrong and there was one more stretch of uphill ahead of us.

To our left was Barrett Spur where we climbed to in August of 2013.

To our right was Yocum Ridge which we visited later that same year.

On our right was also the Sandy Glacier which feeds the Muddy Fork, a branch of the Sandy River. The scenery around the Sandy is just amazing.






We stopped on on a rocky spine just before a saddle where it would have required a sketchy looking descent to continue on any further.

We took a couple of pictures then pulled out some potato chips for a snack.



There had been two small groups ahead of us but they had since headed back down so we had the view almost to ourselves.


We headed back down toward the shelter, our next destination. Along the way we spotted a few flowers we’d missed on the way up.
Yellow cinquefoil

Cats ear lily

Blue-bells of Scotland

We paid a quick visit to the shelter then continued to make our way back down.

A few small clouds had formed by the time we arrived back at the ponds.


And the gentians had opened up some in the sunlight.

It was another hot day so we stopped at a nice pool in one of the branches of McGee Creek to filter some cold mountain water into our Hydroflasks.

We had some great views on the way down the ridge toward the trailhead. This had been the first day we’d been able to pick out an ice cave on the Sandy Glacier.



We had decided to take the shorter path back opting not to go around Bald Mountain with its views again so we said goodbye to the mountain at the last viewpoint along the ridge before heading back into the trees of the Mt. Hood Wilderness.


We found my parents back at the car, having finished their hike about 15-20 minutes prior to us. They had made it to Ladd Creek on the Timberline Trail and turned back there. It was a great day to be on the mountain and we ended it with dinner back at my parents campsite. Happy Trails!


High Cascades Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon Trip report

Pinnacle Ridge to Elk Cove – Mt. Hood

One of the trails on our backpacking to-do list is the 39.3 Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. Until we get around to that trip though we settle for small sections at a time. We have managed to cover approximately 25 of those miles now with the most recent mile coming on our visit to Elk Cove and the Coe Branch.

There are a number of trails that lead to the Timberline Trail and for this hike we decided to try the Pinnacle Ridge Trail. This trail climbs just over 2000′ in 3.4 miles to the Timberline Trail between Wy’East Basin and Dollar Lake.

The trail passes through forest burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire. Vegetation is starting to return in some areas but the first section of the trail was still pretty barren.

A pleasant surprise was a small stream with a picturesque crossing.

We noticed a possible little waterfall downstream and left the trail to see what we could find. It turned out to be a lovely pair of little falls.

The trail enters the Mt. Hood Wilderness just after passing a small rock slide and shortly after we got our glimpse of The Pinnacle, the rock formation the trail is named after.

The forest began to get greener as we passed The Pinnacle. The trees had still been burned in the fire but a series of springs and bogs created a green undergrowth.

After making our way around a particularly muddy area we started encountering some unburnt forest. Mountain heather and avalanche lilies greeted us along with some hungry mosquitoes.

The bugs were pretty bad for a short stretch but when we met the Timberline Trail they relented. We had been on this portion of the trail on our trip to Barret Spur last year. We retraced our steps from that visit passing the side trail to Dollar Lake and continuing around a ridge end to one of the more impressive views we’ve seen from the Timberline Trail. One minute the mountain is hidden and the next you are staring straight at it.

The flower display along this portion of the trail was very impressive.

Melting snow feeds several streams that help keep Elk Cove full of color. The contrast of Mt. Hood looming over the green meadows is breathtaking.

We followed a small trail along the largest creek up through the wildflower filled meadows toward the mountain. The flowers along the creek were especially colorful.
I managed to get up to the snowfield that was feeding the stream. Where the view back down at the meadow was filled with western pasque flowers and paintbrush.

We returned to the Timberline Trail and began to make our way through the rest of Elk Cove. There were several meadows, each with it’s own variety of flowers and view of Mt. Hood.


Our original plan was to continue on the Timberline crossing over the Coe Branch and continuing on to Compass Creek Falls where we would turn around. On the far side of Elk Cove we reentered the trees where there was still an impressive amount of flowers.

As we came around a ridge end we got our first glimpse of the Coe Branch as it flowed down from the Coe Glacier.

Even from up above we could tell by the sound that the Coe Branch was flowing very swiftly. When we arrived at the water we discovered it was already swollen due to the rapid snow melt caused by a very hot morning. We scanned for a good crossing point and found a couple of possibilities but in the end decided to call it good and make this our turn around point.

Since we hadn’t made it to Compass Creek we did a little exploring down the Elk Cove Trail, another possible route to the Timberline Trail. Camping is prohibited in the meadows of Elk Cove but there were several nice campsites a short distance down this trail that had views and surroundings like this:

After checking out several campsites we headed back up the Timberline Trail and out of Elk Cove. We decided to take the quick .2 mile side trip to visit Dollar Lake at the last minute as we passed by the hard to spot trail.

The return trip from Dollar Lake was pretty uneventful. The mosquitoes had apparently had enough of the heat and left us alone for the most part. We did spot a very focused swallowtail butterfly that didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned with it’s picture being taken.

When we arrived back at the parking area we got one last look at Mt. Hood.
Another day hiking on the Timberline Trail had only reenforced our desire to tackle the whole loop someday. Happy Trails!


High Cascades Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon Trip report

Barrett Spur via the Mazama Trail

After a short break following our vacation in Central Oregon we were back on the trails exploring the north side of Mt. Hood. Our scheduled hike was the Mazama Trail which climbs to the Timberline Trail along Cathedral Ridge. From the Timberline Trail we would head clockwise around the mountain passing through Cairn and Wy’East Basins to a viewpoint overlooking Elk Cove. Then the plan was to head up to Dollar Lake then on to the 7300′ knoll on Barrett Spur and go cross-country back down to Wy’East Basin and back to our car, possibly visiting Eden Park on the way back. If that sounds like a lot it’s because it was. 🙂

The forecast called for isolated thunderstorms beginning at 1pm so we made sure we got our usual early start. There had been a nice storm that came through the previous night and clouds lingered near the mountain as we drove toward the trail head.

Mt. Hood from Lolo Pass Rd.
Mt. Hood from Lolo Pass Rd.

When we arrived at the parking area a group from the Mazamas was camped there. We found out they had been doing trail maintenance for 4 days. One of the group informed us that Search and Rescue had come down the trail the day before looking for a hiker that was missing from the Ramona Falls area and that we should keep on the lookout (We found out later that he was found after the S&R team had spoken with the Mazama group). From the trail head we had a great view of Mt. Hood with Barrett Spur just below and to the left and Cathedral Ridge to our right.

The Mazama Trail was reconstructed by the Portland Mazama Club and they also maintain the trail. The group that had been doing the recent trail work had done an excellent job and the trail was in great shape. The trail sets off in a forest of Rhododendron but quickly comes to a rock slide which it switchbacks up through. After reentering the forest a second series of switchbacks ensue. This may have been the most switchbacks we’ve encountered in such a short distance but they made the climb a bit easier than it would have been otherwise. Near the bottom of the switchbacks we met a snowshoe hare on the trail.
Once we had completed the switchbacks the trail climbed more gradually sometimes through burnt forest and others in the green trees. The previous days rain kept the dust and ash from being an annoyance in the burnt sections and the 4.2 miles of the trail went by surprisingly quickly.

When we reached the Timberline Trail we took a left and headed for Cairn Basin. We had been on this section of the trial the previous year when we had hiked up the Top Spur Trail to McNeil Point. It was interesting to find that even though we were visiting almost two weeks earlier in the year the flowers were already at a later stage due to the low snow pack and early Spring. Still the displays were impressive.

We crossed Ladd Creek, passed through Cairn Basin, crossed another branch of Ladd Creek, and made our way to Wy’East Basin.

Aster field in Wy'East Basin
Aster field in Wy’East Basin

It would have been possible to head up to Barrett Spur from here, but we were unsure of the path so we decided to go on to the Elk Cove viewpoint and then up past Dollar Lake and try and come down to this point instead so I marked it on the Garmin for later reference.

The “unofficial” trail to Dollar Lake is approximately .7mi from Wy’East Basin, but we wanted to check out the Elk Cove viewpoint which was just an additional .2mi according to William Sullivan’s description. I didn’t do a very good job of reading his description though so we walked past the viewpoint and continued down the Timberline Trail toward Elk Cove a ways before I realized we had dropped further than we had intended. We consulted our topo maps, the garmin, and Sullivan’s book and climbed back to the correct viewpoint then walked back to find the path to Dollar Lake just as it was described in the guide book. The saving grace of the extra descent and subsequent climb was a nice field of western pasque flowers and paintbrush with a mountain view.

We took the path up to Dollar Lake and easily spotted the trail heading up Barrett Spur on the opposite side. We took the sometimes faint path up along the edge of Elk Cove’s Canyon. Flowers dotted the ridge adding color to the climb and below in Elk Cove a vibrant display of flowers surrounded a patch of melting snow.
At one point we heard an odd noise that we couldn’t place at first. We paused looking back down toward Elk Cove where the sound had come from when we heard it again. This time it was clear as a bell as it rose up the canyon walls, it was a Bull Elk bugling. 🙂

As we neared the knoll, clouds began to cover Mt. Hood and by the time we had reached the wind break atop it we were in the clouds and Mt. Hood was hidden.
We settled in at the wind break to have lunch and hopefully have the clouds pass which they quickly began to do. As they lifted we were gifted with some spectacular views of the mountain.

When it was time to head back down we could see the Timberline Trail below and after once again consulting our maps we decided on the correct ridge to follow down to Wy’East Basin. On the way up we’d spotted a small cairn that seemed to mark a possible path we could follow so when we reached it we veered left. A series of cairns led us along the ridge past several snow fields. Clumps of lupine and paint managed to grow amid the rocks in the gully.
We followed the path down through the gully and wound up right where we had hoped in Wy’East Basin.

Back on the Timberline Trail I threw out the idea of taking a slightly longer return route by dropping down into Eden Park. We decided a different path was worth the extra .7 miles and took the Vista Ridge Trail for .3 miles and then turned right on an unmarked trail toward Eden Park. More floral displays greeted us along the way and Eden Park did not disappoint.

From Eden Park we climbed back up to the Timberline Trail at Cairn Basin and hung a right to get back to the Mazama Trail. This time the trail felt all of the 4.2 miles despite the fact we were going downhill. When it was all said and done we had covered 16.2 miles and climbed a cumulative 5089′. The weather had remained nice despite the forecast and we still had a good view of the mountain as we prepared to drive home.
Happy Trails.

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