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Bluegrass Ridge-Cold Spring Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as Off trail. The route or sections of the route may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
Mt. Hood and Lamberson Butte from the Bluegrass Ridge Trail (bobcat)
Rotting footbridge on the Elk Meadows Trail near the junction with the Bluegrass Ridge Trail (bobcat)
Cold Spring Creek at the Bluegrass Ridge Trail crossing (bobcat)
Scaly hedgehog (Sarcodon imbricatus) on the Bluegrass Ridge Trail (bobcat)
Elk Meadows from the Bluegrass Ridge Trail (bobcat)
The long loop using Bluegrass Ridge (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Polallie TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Elk Mountain (near Mount Hood)
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 15.5 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 3580 feet
  • High Point: 5,605 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into early fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

The Biuegrass Ridge Trail, on the very eastern border of the Mount Hood Wilderness, offers a rarely-used alternative to accessing Elk Mountain and Elk Meadows. The trail should be an easy, gradual uphill lope, but it has fallen into considerable disrepair and needs some attention. As of 2013, much of the blowdown was negotiable without much bother, but area of the 2006 Bluegrass Ridge Fire is a little more difficult, with overgrowth obscuring the trail in many spots and more tangles of blowdown. Here you will be in elk territory and visiting a ridge seen by only a handful each year. The return via the Elk Meadows Trail down the Cold Spring Creek valley is without much impediment and mostly downhill. Note that by adding a little over a mile to the hike, you can do a little loop from the Polallie Trailhead that takes in Tamanawas Falls using the East Fork Trail.

Cross the highway and find the trail heading up the slope. Switchback twice to the Elk Meadows-East Fork Trail Junction. Go right here on the Elk Meadows Trail #645. The trail turns up a ridge with Polallie Creek rushing down the deep valley on your right. Pass a use trail leading right to an old forest road. This trail is cleared every year, but the dry, diseased woods of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, grand fir, western hemlock, western white pine, western larch, and ponderosa pine are carpeted with blowdown. Vanilla leaf, twin flower, pipsissewa, boxwood, and huckleberry form the understory. Walk along the north side of the ridge and switchback up the side of a gully. Hike along the wide crest of the ridge as noble fir and silver fir enter the forest mix. Reach the Elk Meadows-Tamanawas Falls Tie Trail Junction and keep right.

A few yards later reach the Wilderness permit station among stands of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Sign in here and gently rise in an open forest carpeted with bracken and vanilla leaf. At the edge of the ridge, you can here Tamanawas Falls thundering below. The trail drops and then ascends once more to reach the newly signed Elk Meadows-Lamberson Spur Trail Junction. Keep left and drops through a boxwood understory to cross an aging footbridge over a spring area. Reach the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge Trail Junction and go right.

You will probably begin stepping over blowdown right away. The good news is that most of the downed trees are small. The trail drops along a mossy creek and then crosses it on a single-log footbridge. After this, soon reach the Cold Spring Creek Crossing. There is no longer a footbridge here, so look upstream for a good log crossing or ford the creek, which still runs about 18 inches deep at the end of summer.

From Cold Spring Creek, the trail rises and you get a glimpse of the top of Mount Hood. Make two steep switchbacks up at an outcropping of platy andesite. Bend right on the ridge crest and keep rising, noting the matchstick-like carpet of blowdown in the mountain hemlock, silver fir, Douglas-fir, grand fir, western larch forest. Get more brief glimpses of Mount Hood through the trees. Pass through small glades of glaucous penstemon, sidebells pyrola and tongue-leaf rainiera. Reach another penstemon/pearly everlasting clearing sprouting with grand fir and western larch saplings. Note the thick ash layer that you are hiking on, deposits from Mt. Hood’s Old Maid eruptions of 200-250 years ago.

Now enter partially burned forest from the 2006 fire and hike through a sea of bracken on the crest of the ridge. Begin to get views to the east of Surveyors Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The trail here may be maintained by much elk and deer traffic. Sometimes the tread is lost among the dense growth of fireweed. Rise gain and then hike on the level at the ridge crest. The trail ascends gently again and passes a small spring after a view of Mount Hood.

Now drop along the east slope of the ridge. This section, carpeted with Cusick’s bluegrass, is generally clear of blowdown because the burned snags are sparsely distributed. Pass above an-elk frequented spring protected by a thicket of Sitka alder. Note the elk wallows near the trail. The route now ascends the slope and passes through an unburned stand of subalpine fir. Traverse up a grassy slope blooming with penstemon and paintbrush. Rise steeply and then traverse around the east side of the ridge to reach the crest in a carpet of grouseberry with much blowdown. Soon reach the best viewpoint on this hike, an andesite outcropping with views down to Elk Meadows and across to Lamberson Butte on Gnarl Ridge and Mount Hood.

Descend from here through a carpet of common juniper and pinemat Manzanita. The route is now marked by cairns and there is significantly less blowdown. Pass through ridgetop meadows and reach the Bluegrass Ridge-Bluegrass Tie Trail Junction. From this junction, the trail rises in the burned forest and continues through many small meadows. Get some views left of Lookout Mountain, Gumjuwac Saddle, and Gunsight Butte. The trail here was the firebreak for the 2006 burn, with unburned mountain hemlock woods on the right. Reach the Bluegrass Ridge-Elk Mountain Vista Trail Junction and go left.

The trail drops through bear-grass with the southern edge of the burn on the left. Rise to the site of the old lookout here and get views south to Bonney Butte and Mount Jefferson and across to Lookout Mountain and Gunsight Butte. Look for an old bed frame and other lookout relics in the brush.

After returning to the junction, head down the Bluegrass Ridge Trail in unburned mountain hemlock/silver fir woods with a bear-grass, huckleberry and grouseberry understory. This gradual descent reaches the four-way Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge-Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction. Go right here and drop to the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter South Trail Junction, which is the beginning of the loop around Elk Meadows. Go right and cross a creek. The trail levels. There’s a great campsite to the left with access to the meadows and a view of Mount Hood. Keep dropping gradually and pass the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Tie Trail Junction.

The trail drops to the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter North Trail Junction. Go left and, in 25 yards, come to an unmarked junction. Turn left here to pass a large meadow blooming with asters and groundsel, cross Cold Spring Creek on a broken footbridge, and keep left to reach the Elk Meadows Shelter and campsite in a copse of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Enjoy the great view of Mount Hood here across the expanse of Elk Meadows. A sign warns hikers not to walk on the meadows. Return to the Elk Meadows Trail and go left.

Huckleberries and grouseberries line the trail, and Cold Spring Creek runs to the left. Several times the Bluegrass Ridge Burn of 2006 reached the trail but didn't cross it. A spur leads left to a meadow. The trail rises and drops high above the creek. This is a little-hiked trail, so you may see no human tracks, just the spoor of deer, elk, and coyote. Pass two lush springs and step over a brook. After this, the trail runs through dense young forest. The path reaches Cold Spring Creek and crosses it on a two-log footbridge. Keep descending gently and pass above a skunk-cabbage spring. Traverse high above Cold Spring Creek and cross a tributary on a footbridge. Pass the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge Trail Junction. The trail uses a boardwalk, and heads up to the Elk Meadows-Lamberson Spur Trail Junction. From here, it’s about 2.3 miles back to the Polallie Trailhead.

Note: Another option is to do the Bluegrass Ridge Trail as a hike/bike. Chain your bike to a tree near the Hood River Meadows Trailhead and then begin from the Polallie Trailhead as described above. Hike to Elk Mountain and descend to the four-way Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge-Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction. Here go left and descend the Elk Meadows Trail to your bike and cycle the nine miles back along Highway 35 to the Polallie Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required
  • Self-issued Wilderness Permit

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt. Hood, OR #462
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail Map
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Hood Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River Ranger District
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 62 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.