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Mount Mitchell-Cottonwood Meadows Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The rimrock at the spectacular Mt. Mitchell Viewpoint (bobcat)
Rock penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), Mt. Mitchell Viewpoint (bobcat)
Mt. Jefferson from the Mt. Mitchell Viewpoint (bobcat)
Cottonwood Meadows Lake (bobcat)
Dilated bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata), Cottonwood Meadows (bobcat)
The trails to Mt. Mitchell and Cottonwood Meadows (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Rimrock TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Mount Mitchell Viewpoint or Cottonwood Meadows
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 5.0 miles (Mt. Mitchell Viewpoint)
  • Distance: 9.7 miles (Cottonwood Meadows)
  • Elevation gain: 830 feet (Mt. Mitchell Viewpoint)
  • Elevation gain: 1995 feet (Cottonwood Meadows)
  • High Point: 5,015 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Late Spring into Fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes, to Mount Mitchell Viewpoint
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

One of the best, and most unsung, viewpoints in our area is from the high rimrock of Mt. Mitchell over the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River in the Roaring River Wilderness. From here there are expansive views up and down the Cascades from central Oregon to central Washington. It's an easy walk to get here, so hikers are encouraged to add variety to their day by continuing to tramp east on the Rimrock Trail to another viewpoint, and then pick up the Cottonwood Meadows Trail, which descends in short order past two small meadows and then reaches a large boggy expanse teeming with mosquitoes, but also brimming with bog-loving wildflowers in mid-summer.

The Rimrock Trail #704 begins on the left side of the road near a clearcut. Drop gradually in mountain hemlock, silver fir, Douglas-fir, red-cedar, and noble fir woods passing a trail sign and reaching a spiraea/huckleberry/twinberry choked crossing of the South Fork Cripple Creek where it exits a swamp and shallow lake. There are stepping stones to help you across. After this, the trail heads up in dry woods. There’s a view to the left down to the lake. The trail drops over a ridge and rises to a short spur leading right to a viewpoint looking south to Mount Jefferson and Olallie Butte. The trail continues to rise in woods with a huckleberry, bear-grass, silver fir sapling understory. Where the trail makes a sharp left, pass, if you notice it, the turnoff for the abandoned Milepost 3 Trail, which descends steeply to FR 4635. Hike on the level, and take note of a view left through the trees to a clearcut and a logging road. Pass a faint trail to the right, which may be marked by orange flagging, which leads to seasonal Good Spring. The Rimrock Trail rises to the signed Rimrock-Mount Mitchell Trail Junction.

Go right on the Mt. Mitchell Trail. A sign on a tree says the viewpoint is half a mile. The trail heads up, becoming steeper for a stretch. The old telegraph wire is still tangled in the underbrush by the side of the trail. You may encounter some blowdown on this section as this spur trail is not regularly maintained. The path reaches the rimrock with splendid views and you can wend your way through the stunted mountain hemlocks to the Mount Mitchell Viewpoint for stunning vistas all the way south across the Oak Grove Fork to Olallie Butte, Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, the Three Sisters, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor. The north side of the point gives views of the Shellrock Creek drainage and a large scree slope. Cottonwood Meadows and lake are below. North are High Rock and Wolf Peak, Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier. Bright pink rock penstemon blooms in profusion here in mid-summer.

This gentle hike to a spectacular viewpoint may be enough for some, but those wishing to make the drive worth their while can add a lot more variety and, incidentally, elevation gain, by descending to Cottonwood Meadows. Return to the Rimrock-Mount Mitchell Trail Junction, and go right. The trail heads up to a bermed road, goes left for a few yards, and heads back into the woods at another berm. After rising a little, the trail makes a level traverse to a viewpoint above a talus slope squeaking with pikas. One can see east to Sisi Butte, and scrambling right affords one a view north to Mount Hood and High Rock. From this viewpoint, the trail drops steeply down the rim, making two short switchbacks. Then, the tread winds down among noble fir, silver fir and mountain hemlock interspersed with huckleberry patches. The tread descends steeply again and then levels past a seasonal tarn. There are three more switchbacks down a steep slope and you come to a wilderness permit box. The trail crosses gravel road FR 5830 to the Cottonwood Meadows Trailhead.

Taking the Cottonwood Meadows Trail #705, enter woods of mountain hemlock, silver fir, western white pine and Douglas-fir. Huckleberries dominate the understory. The trail passes a dry tarn down to the left, rises over a low ridge and drops to cross an old road bed and then a shallow seasonal lake scuttling with tadpoles. Follow the spiraea-cloaked shore around to the right to pick up the trail on the other side, right opposite the entry point. The trail crosses an abandoned road and drops into dry woods of larger trees. There’s a switchback at a large mountain hemlock. Also notice the big noble firs here. The trail switchbacks again down to lush meadows blooming with bog orchids, paintbrush, white false hellebore, long-stalked clover, arrow-leaf groundsel, mertensia, marsh-marigolds, and cinquefoil. The path heads to the right and is barely discernable in the lush meadow as it leads along a corridor between willow thickets on the left and the dry hillside forest on the right. It reenters the shady woods and heads above the shore. From here, there are a few access points to the lake.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Sign in at Wilderness Permit box

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Rimrock Trail #704 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: High Rock, OR #493 and Fish Creek Mtn, OR #492
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Off the Beaten Trail by Matt Reeder
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain

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.