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Rho Ridge Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" 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.
View down the Collawash to the Clackamas, Mt. Lowe, Rho Ridge (bobcat)
Round Meadow, Rho Ridge (bobcat)
Cabin, Hawk Mountain, Rho Ridge (bobcat)
Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), Rho Ridge (bobcat)
Mt. Hood view, Mt. Lowe, Rho Ridge (bobcat)
The northern section of the Rho Ridge Trail (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
The southern section of the Rho Ridge Trail (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Rho Ridge Southern TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Rho Ridge Northern Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Traverse (Car shuttle or hike and bike)
  • Distance: 12.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2985 feet
  • High Point: 5,334 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

Rhododendron Ridge runs north-south and separates the Collawash and Clackamas drainages on the southern border of the Mt. Hood National Forest. The area used to see much greater human activity than it does today. Native Americans hunted the meadows and harvested the bountiful berry fields. Then came the trappers, followed by the sheep men. A guard station was built at Rhododendron Meadow and lookouts were constructed at either end of the ridge. The Skyline Trail took advantage of the entire ridgeline. Loggers cut in squares and strips and then all became rather quiet.

Hikers are attracted to the ends of the ridge: Hawk Mountain Lookout in the south and Mount Lowe in the north. The Rho Ridge Trail #564, about 11 miles in length, connects the two prominences and is best done as a shuttle or hike and bike: leave a bike at the Rho Ridge Northern Trailhead and drive FRs 4670 and 6350 along the east side of the ridge to the Rho Ridge Southern Trailhead to begin the hike there. The trail is designated “multipurpose,” meaning ATVs are permitted to travel it, but, unless the trail gets magically cleared of fallen trees, dirt bikes will be unable to use the route.

Shorter hikes on the ridge include the Hawk Mountain Lookout Hike and the Mount Lowe Hike. Between these two points, the trail can sometimes be indistinct and could have more windfall than most hikers want to deal with. For this reason, I've tagged the route as a 'Lost Hike' although, as of 2015, it was fairly easy to follow.

Look back down the road for a view of Mount Jefferson and then start into a bear-grass carpeted clearcut regenerating with mountain hemlock, noble fir, and lodgepole pine. As you rise up a grassy slope, you’ll get expansive views to Olallie Butte, Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, and the Three Sisters. Pass below a vine maple thicket. The trail levels and then drops down a slope into unlogged montane forest with a huckleberry understory. Begin rising and cross a makeshift bridge over a marsh-marigold fringed brook. Pass a wire insulator on a tree and then notice a mossy creek running to your left. Near the trail a rusting spout issuing from a springbox issues a refreshing ice-cold drink. Pass by Round Meadow, blooming with buttercups and shooting stars, and cross a creek. The trail rises on a rocky tread and comes to the Rho Ridge-Hawk Mountain Trail Junction.

Go right here on Trail #564A. Hike up a slope in mountain hemlock, silver fir, and noble fir woodland. The trail curves to the right below the ridge crest and then proceeds up the crest through huckleberries. Reach the Hawk Mountain Lookout site with its iconic cabin, which is usually unlocked. A 60-foot lookout tower also once stood here. The summit rock garden is dominated by desert parsley, lupine, paintbrush, woolly sunflower and common juniper and offers an outstanding view to Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters.

Return down the slope to the trail junction and continue hiking north. You’ll pass along a boggy linear meadow and then a creek running to the left. Traverse up a slope; the trail steepens a little and reaches a crest. Hike on the level and then reach the crest again at a clearcut. Swish through the bear-grass here and get a view of Mount Hood. Drop to reach a decommissioned logging road. Go ten yards to the left and resume the trail. Hike through unlogged woods with a dense huckleberry understory. Keep dropping: you’ll probably be faced with blowdown to negotiate as the trail is infrequently maintained. Rise gradually to hike along a broad ridge crest. You’ll descend a little and then hike gradually up. Traverse down a slope to pass a large old western hemlock and then ascend to cross another abandoned logging road. Descend again, catching a glimpse of Sisi Butte’s silhouette through the trees. Cross another road bed and traverse down through a thicket of rhododendrons. Pass lush Fawn Meadow, which positively bursts with shooting stars in late spring, on the right. The trail swings right to cross a draw and then rises to pass over another old road among Douglas-firs and mountain hemlocks. Continue along the broad ridge in a grouseberry/bear-grass carpet and reach another clearcut. Just before you enter the cut, you’ll encounter a massive noble fir, the biggest tree on this trail. Pass through the clearcut in a bear-grass meadow and then veer left to cross another road bed. Make a level traverse in old clearcuts and drop to reach another decommissioned road. Enter a clearcut and descend through 25-30 year-old conifers. The trail makes a wide switchback to the left and reaches the large gravel parking area at the Graham Pass Trailhead.

Walk across the parking area to a four-way junction. Keep straight up FR 4670 for about 50 yards. The signed trail departs into the woods on the right side of the road here. Cross a decommissioned logging road in a carpet of strawberries and keep rising in an old clearcut. Then enter dense young silver fir woods. The trail now parallels FR 4670 and soon reaches it. Walk up 4670 about 225 yards to reach the Rho Ridge-Rho Creek Trail Junction, where a spur road leading down to the old Rho Ridge Guard Station leads off to the right. The Rho Ridge Trail commences on the left side of the road here.

Hike up a slope and then a broad ridge crest in montane woodland using the wide path of the old Skyline Trail. Cross a windfall corridor and enter shady mountain hemlock forest. Come to another windfall corridor and drop through a bear-grass/grouseberry carpet. The trail makes a long level passage along the ridge, offering glimpses ahead to Mount Lowe and southeast to Sisi Butte, Olallie Butte, and the Pinhead Buttes. The trail comes close to FR 4670 again on a brushy slope, where you can get more views. Pass through a thicket of serviceberry and continue up the forested ridge. Negotiate a couple of brushy clearings and then reach the southern slope of Mount Lowe, which is clear cut. Hike up through the bear-grass and switchback to get views down the Cascades to Mount Jefferson and beyond. Switchback again at the ridge crest and enter mountain hemlock/silver fir forest. Pass below a rock outcropping and hike above a talus slope. Snatch a brief view of Mount Hood and then reach the short side trail leading up to the top of Mount Lowe. The summit of Mount Lowe has more memorabilia of the lookout days than most of these sites, including stone steps, rusting metal sheets, window glass carefully collected and put in cans, and part of the stay cable. A couple of wind shelters face north towards the views over the Collawash to the Clackamas River valley. Despite a fringe of trees on the east side of the summit, the Cascades, from Mount Hood to the Three Sisters, are laid before you.

After enjoying your moments at the summit, drop down in silver fir/mountain hemlock forest and switchback twice. Pass through a regenerating clearcut on a saddle and cross a road bed. Rise through the bear-grass and traverse the next prominence on its western flank. Pass around another point on its east slope and drop along a rocky crest. Before you descend the slope to the west, get a great look at Mount Hood and Mount Adams from a viewpoint. Descend the spine of the ridge and then hike up through a carpet of pinemat manzanita and common juniper, getting clear views to Olallie Butte. Pass across another rocky knoll and descend to the Rho Ridge Northern Trailhead.

If you’re doing the hike and bike, from Mount Lowe to the Graham Pass Trailhead, there’s a short uphill and then a long, freewheeling downhill. From the pass to Cachebox Meadow, the bike ride is more of a chore as it is mostly uphill or flat, entailing a lot of pedaling on loose gravel. Nonetheless, you will economize on time and effort and are likely to encounter few, if any, vehicles.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Unmaintained trails: carry a saw and/or pruners to do a little maintenance as you go along

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Rhododendron Ridge Trail #564 (USFS) – southern section only
  • Green Trails Maps: Breitenbush, OR #525
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking the Oregon Skyline by Charles M. Feris

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.