Elk Cove from Vista Ridge Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Vista Ridge Trailhead
- End point: Elk Cove
- Trail Log: Elk Cove from Vista Ridge Hike/Log
- Distance: 8.8 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 2000 feet
- High Point: 5,800 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: July - November
- Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
- Backpackable: Yes - follows the Timberline Trail
- Crowded: Summer weekends
|Add-On Hikes:||Barrett Spur Add-on Hike||, Dollar Lake Add-on Hike|
If you’re looking for an easier hike to Elk Cove than from Cloud Cap Trailhead, this is a fine option. The well-graded, moderate climb to timberline is through attractive forests, and the stunning approach to Elk Cove from “99 Ridge” is one of the most spectacular mountain vistas anywhere. The route also crosses through several wildflower-filled meadows and avoids fords of glacial streams, and the dusty canyon traverses that usually go with these crossings.
A lot of the trail below the Timberline Trail got burned in the 2012 Dollar Lake fire so it's not so forested. Flowers are probably better though.
From the trailhead, the route follows a rocky, overgrown roadbed before entering deep forest and a softer trail surface. At 0.4 mile, you'll reach an obvious wilderness registration sign. Less obvious is a sign reading "Trail Not Maintained" marking the start of a trail to the left. This is the original Vista Ridge Trail, which started from a trailhead near Perry Lake. When the newer road and trailhead were constructed, the original path was left to fall into disuse. Recently, volunteers including Portland Hikers members have restored this trail to use.
For this hike, though turn right (uphill) onto the Vista Ridge trail. Climb this evenly graded route for 1.8 miles of easy climbing. After that, there are two short switchbacks to final 0.2 mile steep stretch and your first views of Mount Hood at the junction with the Eden Park Trail. Continue straight (left) here, and enjoy ever-increasing mountain views as you climb another 0.4 mile to the well-marked Timberline Trail. Turn left on the Timberline Trail, and follow the easy grade as it enters Wy'East Basin, a peaceful, green glade with Mount Hood peering over the ridgeline. There is a primitive, unmarked trail up to Barrett Spur to the right, and acres of meadow to explore to the left.
Continue across the meadow at Wy'East Basin, passing a tent site on the east edge where the trail re-enters trees. From here, the route dips in and out of several lush swales filled with summer wildflowers, before starting a broader swing around the base of Barrett Spur. Pass the Pinnacle Ridge Trail (no. 630), then the short, unmarked, half-mile side trail that leads to tiny Dollar Lake, a scenic side trip. Watch closely for this path, which disappears to the right through a thicket of mountain hemlock where the trail curves through a small draw. If you reach an open scree slope, you've passed the Dollar Lake junction by a short distance. The Dollar Lake area is detailed as the Dollar Lake Add-on Hike.
Continuing on the Timberline Trail from the Dollar Lake junction, the route turns sharply around the east shoulder of Barrett Spur to a stunning view of Mount Hood, framed by rocky cliff, ancient mountain hemlock and steep fields of western pasque flower (known as “old man of the mountain” for it’s distinctive bearded seed pods in late summer). As the trail descends through steep meadows, Elk Cove is visible below, and the rugged Langille Crags form the east horizon. Mount Hood towers above, dominated by the massive Coe Glacier and Barrett Spur.
Once at Elk Cove, the trail crosses parallels photogenic Cove Creek, then crosses the stream before cresting a low rise and reaching the junction with the Elk Cove Trail. For backpackers, several campsites are located to the left, a few yards down this trail. The best mountain views are from the main meadows, just a few yards beyond this junction, and more campsites are located on the east edge of the meadows.
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