Chinidere Mountain Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Wahtum Lake Trailhead
- End Point: Chinidere Mountain
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Hike Type: Loop
- Distance: 4.4 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 1140 feet
- High Point: 4,673 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: Early Summer through Fall
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: Yes - connects to Gorge trail network, camping at Wahtum Lake
- Crowded: Peak summer weekends
This trip around stately Wahtum Lake is the classic mountain hike, featuring wildflowers, lake vistas, spectacular mountain views and even a rushing stream, all packed into an easy loop hike within the boundaries of the Hatfield Wilderness. The view of Mount Hood from the rocky summit of Chinidere Mountain is among the finest in the Columbia Gorge high country.
From the wilderness entry station, you will be presented with the first fork in a maze of trails that crisscross the Wahtum Lake basin. Skip the Wahtum Express route, and its endless string of steep wooden steps, and take the Wahtum Horse Route (no. 406H) to the right. This trail switchbacks once in an easy 0.4 mile descent to the Pacific Crest Trail (no. 2000), near the lake shore. Turn right on the PCT, and hike through attractive, mature stands of noble fir, mountain hemlock and white pine as the trail gradually curves above the lake, circling the east shore. Soon, the trail pulls away from the lake and heads through younger forest of noble fir and beargrass to a junction with the Herman Creek Trail (no. 406) at the 2.0 mile mark, where the PCT route turns left.
Continue on the PCT for a short distance to a junction with the mile-long Chinidere Cutoff Trail (no. 406M) on the left (your return route on the loop), followed almost immediately by the trail to Chinidere Mountain, on the right. But before heading to the summit, walk a few hundred feet farther on the PCT to a steep meadow with views into the Eagle Creek canyon, far below. In June and July, the wildflower display here is spectacular.
Next, return to the Chinidere Mountain trail, and begin climbing a series of somewhat steep, irregular switchbacks for 0.5 miles to the summit. As the route nears the summit, a couple of side trails head off to the right to more wildflower meadows that are worth visiting, and finally the trail circles the shale slopes of the summit before ascending the final few feet to the top. The view here is expansive, and includes the big Cascade volcanoes from Mount Rainier to Mount Jefferson, with Mount Hood taking center stage. Wahtum Lake shimmers far below, and the rugged peaks of the Hatfield surround you, including the massive ridge of Tomlike Mountain to the east, broad Indian Mountain to the south and looming Tanner Butte to the west. The broad, flat expanse of Benson Plateau rounds out the view to the north.
The return trip follows the summit path back down to the PCT, then backtracks the short distance to the Chinidere Cutoff. This trail was abandoned for many years, and still is a bit rough in places, but always easy to follow. The route drops quickly to a small stream crossing. Ignore the fork to the left after crossing the stream, and continue downhill through loose switchbacks that descend within earshot of the cascading stream. Soon the trail levels off in a traverse toward Wahtum Lake. You’ll find yourself walking along an old water supply line that once served a much more developed campground at the lake, then passing several marked campsites on both sides of the trail. Soon, the route reaches the outlet to the lake, which can be crossed by hopping logs.
On the far side of the outlet, the Cutoff trail rejoins the PCT at the 4.0 mile mark. Turn left, and follow the PCT 0.3 miles past more campsites and views of the lake before reaching the spur back to the trailhead.
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