My Cyclone Hike Weekend on Mount Hood: Lessons from the Trail – OregonLive | Gmx Pharm

As 5 pm last Friday approached, I watched the traffic build up on I-5 outside the office windows and felt increasingly restless. Throughout the workday, a plan had formed in my head.

  1. Pack a bag and a cooler.
  2. Drive to Mount Hood.
  3. Hike as much as possible.
  4. Return to work on Monday morning on time.

I’m not from Portland: I’m going to college in North Carolina, where my family lives, and I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before this summer. So while I’m practicing here at The Oregonian, the goal has been to juggle it all (or at least try to). But my time was up and I hadn’t met Hood yet.

Here’s what I did, what I learned, and what you should do too.

Saturday Morning: Barrett Spur Hike from Vista Ridge

Length: 9.8 miles, 3,477 feet of elevation gain

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This hike seemed like a great way to get as high as possible (Barrett Spur measures 7,851 feet) and close to Mount Hood without embarking on a hardcore mountaineering expedition. AllTrails reviews from back in July proclaimed the trail “almost entirely snow free.”

After a scenic drive to the Vista Ridge Trailhead (the last few miles of Forest Service Road 1650 are rutted gravel, so AWD is a good idea), I walked a few miles up a moderate incline through pine trees, conspicuous burned forest courtesy by the Dollar Lake Fire and lots of wildflowers.

At about 5,000 feet I hit snow – deep snow. It turns out that unlike the previous July months, many of Oregon’s major peaks are far from dry this late snowy year. Undeterred, I put on my microspikes and trudged on.

It wasn’t more than a mile before I found myself on a snowy ridge steep enough that I felt unsafe without an ice ax, so I turned around, still two miles from the summit. I hated jumping, but took solace in Ed Viestur’s mountain maxim: “Getting to the top is optional. Dismounting is mandatory.”

The judgment: If you don’t have mountaineering experience, gear, and a buddy, save yourself climbing the Spur for later this summer. It’s still worth venturing up Vista Ridge to see a variety of vegetation and practice planing—but bring microspikes and GPS (ie, AllTrails) if you plan to venture out into the snow.

Saturday Afternoon: Cool Creek Trail to Devil’s Peak

Length: 8.0 miles, 3248 feet elevation gain

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I didn’t originally plan another hike on Saturday, but I needed some elevation before the end of the day, so I headed to the Cool Creek Trailhead. Warning: Apple Maps directs you to a road closure on Route 32; Instead, use Google Maps to drive in via Still Creek Road.

The first few switchbacks are daunting, but don’t let that put you off; this is the steepest part. (Granted, the entire trail is on the steeper side of Mount Hood—my knees would have appreciated a couple of sticks for the descent.) I trotted through groves of rhododendrons and trees cloaked in hanging moss, past many Castile and fascinating mushrooms.

At the very top, I was excited to find an ancient fire scout with a ring of fire. This makes Devil’s Peak a fantastic campground for a backpacking trip around the area if you’re willing to climb the peak early to beat other people with the same idea. I walked past the ring of fire down a small trail to an overlook with a great view of Mount Hood and the Salmon River Valley.

Eventually I realized it was 7pm and headed back, breaking jogs with breaks to bask in the fading light filtering through the hemlocks and Douglas firs.

Essentials: Bug spray and hiking poles

Sunday morning: Ramona Falls

Length: 7.1 miles, 1035 feet elevation gain

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The road to Ramona Falls offers beautiful campgrounds for scattered camping, most of which have rings of fire. I slept in one of them, so all I had to do was put my valid Recreation Pass on my dashboard and walk to the trailhead, which also has a large parking lot. The last few hundred meters to the car park are rough for low clearance vehicles: drive slowly and be careful.

I filled out my Wilderness Permit (the rangers check!) and made my way to the river crossing. The Forest Service no longer installs a seasonal footbridge, allowing hikers to either cross the river or cross the large log at the main crossing. It’s wide and there’s a rope attached for balance — but sliding across or koala-riding is understandable, and I’ve seen plenty of it from other hikers.

At the fork I went counter-clockwise which meant I started on the poorly shaded south side of the loop. (If you’re dying to do the loop, go counter-clockwise to save the fairy wonderland on the north side of the loop for your return trip. Otherwise, skip the south side altogether. It’s hot.) This hike is gentle with a gentle incline throughout .

Ramona Falls was breathtaking – and its cool spray felt wonderfully refreshing after all the sweat I’d been making. The surrounding area offers welcome shade and plenty of space for a lunch break.

The north side of the loop was magical. To my left a babbling brook and a lush carpet of moss; To my right rainbow cliffs rose hundreds of feet high. “Those rocks look… out of place,” one man said to his partner as I walked past them. They did. Wonderful.

Crossing the river again, I found the flow of people had at least tripled, and returned to my car for a snack and another ride.

Bring away: Starting early is the move if you want to beat the crowds

Sunday Afternoon: Elk Meadow & Gnarl Ridge Loop

Length: 9.1 miles, 1925 feet elevation gain

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Starting at the Elk Meadows Trailhead (which also requires a valid Recreation Pass—and has an actual restroom!), I took the Elk Meadows Trail through woods and up a gentle incline until I got to Newton Creek, where a short , wide tree trunk provides an easy way across.

After the junction I climbed some steeper switchbacks and then turned left to walk up the Gnarl Ridge Trail. Gnarl Ridge offers a beautiful, extremely close view of Mount Hood. Where the Gnarl Ridge Trail meets the Timberline Trail, I wish I’d continued to the top of Lamberson Butte like the field guide suggests – after the other hikes I’d done, it was underwhelming on the Timberline to stay trail.

I went back down Gnarl Ridge and rounded Elk Meadow. It was nice. And maybe the late evening light didn’t do him justice. But after the weekend I had I wasn’t blown away. If you don’t feel up for the rough and tumble to Lamberson Butte, or have time to do all four, I’d recommend scrapping this one in favor of the others listed here.

The judgment: butt or bust

There’s nothing quite like the sheer relief of seeing your car at the trailhead—especially when it’s the only one there. I hopped in and headed straight for the nearest Dairy Queen, catching a glimpse of the pink-orange alpenglow atop Mount Hood in my rearview mirror.

How lucky I was this summer to live just an hour away from a gem like Mount Hood. When I’m back home on the east coast this fall, I’ll be dreaming of Portland and all the wonderful travel destinations that are so close. So go out and enjoy it.

— Zella Hanson was an intern in the Life & Culture team this summer.

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