Perry Lake from Vista Ridge Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Vista Ridge Trailhead
- End Point: Perry Lake
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Hike Type: Out and back
- Distance: 6.4 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 1000 feet
- High Point: 4.934 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: Late Spring through early Fall
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: No
- Crowded: Only the trailhead - on summer weekends.
|Add-On Hikes:||Katsuk Point Add-on Hike||, Red Hill Add-on Hike|
This is a highly rewarding trip for hikers wanting a lot of mountain scenery for a modest effort. The route was a long-forgotten segment of the Vista Ridge Trail until 2007, when volunteers from Portland Hikers restored the route all the way to Owl Point. This effort involved clearing 178 logs from the trail that had accumulated over the past three decades, brushing out sections of trail that were so overgrown as to be impassable, and rebuilding the tread in spots where the elements had taken their toll. The trail rescue was in response to a USFS effort to turn this beautiful trail into a motorcycle playground, an idea that was finally put to rest in 2010, thanks to the involvement of many hiking advocates, including the Portland Hikers community. This is now a charming, historic trail saved from the brink of oblivion by volunteers and citizen advocacy. You can do your part by helping keep the trail clear, especially at the trailhead, where the trail is sometimes blocked with debris. Also, consider bringing along a pair of clippers to help trim brush along the trail. This is still a citizen-maintained trail, so depends on all of us to stay open.
The view of Mount Hood from this trail is a rare and gorgeous perspective, and the trail is much lower than the adjacent trails to Mount Hood, and thus open earlier in Spring (early June) and much later in the Fall (mid-November). This is an especially attractive hike in late afternoon, when the view from Owl Point is at its best, so it can also work as an add-on to longer trips to Elk Cove and Cairn Basin from the Vista Ridge Trailhead. The short spurs to The Rockpile and Owl Point follow informal trails that are usually well-marked, and easy to follow. But also print a copy of the map, below, to help you find trail junctions in the event that signage is missing. While this hike is usually open by late June, it is common for snow drifts to linger into early July along the last mile of the hike -- another reason to print a copy of the map, below, to help you navigate through snow.
A lot of the area got burned in the 2012 Dollar Lake fire so it's not so forested. Flowers are probably better though.
From the trailhead, continue one third mile to the Vista Ridge Junction (and wilderness registration). Turn left here, where the Old Vista Ridge Trail No. 626A is unsigned (except for a small, brown Forest Service signboard), but always obvious. After a short walk on the level, the trail begins to climb more noticeably, where you will see the many cleared logs that once blocked this portion of the trail. The route switchbacks once, then begins a traverse along the east side of Vista Ridge, heading north. There are some interesting views into the Clear Branch valley at a couple of spots, plus a forested boulder field and some attractive stands of mountain hemlock and noble fir. If you watch closely, you'll notice occasional traces of old phone wire from 1920s that once served area lookouts. There are also a couple of short spurs to overlooks, just off the trail, to the right.
Beyond the traverse section, the trail crosses a broad crest of open subalpine forest and huckleberry fields, passing a couple of scree slopes, then dropping to a small meadow. Here, the main route continues across the meadow, and in wet seasons the meadow can be quite marshy, but navigable with dry feet - just pick out the trail on the far side and work your way there. From the meadow, the trail passes a rustic log bench as it re-enters forest and then climbs to a low saddle, drops over the ridge line, and climbs again to another saddle, and the usually signed Rockpile Junction - watch for a notched log where the route to the Rockpile continues straight from this junction, in the event the signs are missing. The main trail turns sharply uphill to the left, here, while the spur to The Rockpile viewpoint continues through the notched log and into a pretty heather and huckleberry meadow,
To make the scenic side-trip to The Rockpile, continue past the notched log for about 300 feet into the meadow, then watch for a sign pointing right to "The Rockpile" (or, if the sign is missing, take a sharp right into an opening in the trees at the point where the meadow trail begins to descend). From the signpost, head cross-country through open forest and huckleberry fields for another 300 feet to the stunning viewpoint at The Rockpile. This beautiful stop, alone, would be a worthy destination for the hike. The cross-country segment is usually flagged, but is reasonably easy to follow using the map, below -- it's also the site of a geocache, so the route is becoming increasingly obvious.
To continue on to Owl Point from The Rockpile, retrace your steps back through the heather meadow, and turn uphill at the (usually) signed Rockpile Junction. The trail passes more talus slopes framed by more beautiful forests of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir before climbing to another gentle crest in deep forest, and the usually signed Owl Point Junction. Here, an obvious, informal path to Owl Point heads to the right, climbing first through the forested edge of a large talus slope, then emerging at the west edge of the rugged, rocky viewpoint. The path now circles along with wooded edge of the crest eastward for about 100 yards as the view unfolds, reaching Owl Point, proper. The view of Mount Hood from this spot is stunning, but you are also treated to views into Laurance Lake and down the cliffs of the Clear Branch Rim to the Upper Hood River Valley. This beautiful spot is a good turnaround point if you're not interested in the 500 foot elevation loss/gain entailed in the Perry Lake from Vista Ridge Hike, 0.8 miles beyond. For both The Rockpile and Owl Point, the best times for photography are early morning and late afternoon.
After soaking in the views at Owl Point, follow the informal path back to the Owl Point Junction on the main trail, turn right and soon descend to yet another viewpoint along the trail, Alki Point, looking north to Mount Defiance, with the Washington volcanoes floating on the horizon. The upper Hood River Valley is spread out below. From Alki Point, the trail leaves dense forest, becomes more rocky and drops quickly as it descends along the Clear Branch Rim, a long cliff and scree slope that continues east of Owl Point. The trail visits several viewpoints of Mount Hood along this section. Watch your step, it's an abrupt cliff. At 0.8 miles from Owl Point, the trail ends at an old road, where concrete foundations mark the site of the former Perry Lake Guard Station and lookout. The lake is a tiny, but charming pond, located another 0.2 miles down the road, on the left.
For the adventurous, there are also bushwhack options along this hike for visiting Red Hill and Katsuk Point, two additional viewpoints in area. Red Hill can be found by following a faint path west from the meadow, then working up the slope to the right until you see the obvious summit ridge. Katsuk Point can be reached by hiking past The Rockpile through alternating meadows and forest thickets to the rugged viewpoint. Katsuk is the Chinook jargon for "in the middle" and describes the location of this scenic spur in the heart of the Middle Fork country. Both trips are for advanced hikers equipped with maps and route-finding devices, only.
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