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Cairn Basin from Vista Ridge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Fields of lupine on Vista Ridge (Tom Kloster)
Wildflower swale near Cairn Basin (Tom Kloster)
Summer sunset from Vista Ridge (Tom Kloster)
Eden Park from below Cairn Basin (Tom Kloster)
Cairn Basin Trail Map—from Vista Ridge Trailhead
  • Start point: Vista Ridge TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cairn Basin
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 7.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1560 feet
  • High Point: 5,920 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult, due to Ladd Creek Crossing
  • 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

Contents

Description

This hike combines visits to three of Mount Hood’s alpine “parks”: idyllic Eden Park, rugged Cairn Basin and starkly beautiful Wy'East Basin. Each was named by a Mazama Club expedition in the early 1900s, helping lead to the construction of the Timberline Trail. The scenery on this loop is some of the finest on the mountain, with lush wildflower displays in July and early August. Note that much of the trail below the Timberline Trail was burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire. Compensating for the lack of a forest canopy, the wildflower displays in the understory are impressive.

From the Vista Ridge Trailhead, the route initially follows a rocky, overgrown roadbed before entering deep forest and finding a softer trail surface. At 0.4 miles, you'll come to the Vista Ridge Junction and a wilderness registration kiosk. This trail leading left is the original alignment of the Vista Ridge Trail which starts at a former trailhead near Perry Lake, now designated the Old Vista Ridge Trail #626A. Trailkeepers of Oregon maintains this trail as far as Owl Point.

For this hike, fill out your wilderness permit at the registration station and follow the Vista Ridge Trail to the right, as it gently climbs through forest for 1.8 miles at a surprisingly easy grade. Then there's a bit of steeper climbing, but it's less than a quarter mile. The top of the steep section is marked by a junction with the Eden Park Trail and the first of many fine views of Mount Hood. Turn right here, following the sign to Eden Park. The trail drops in short switchbacks from Vista Ridge, soon passing several steep meadows with views that include Lost Lake, nestled in the forests far below. After traversing a pair of flower-lined swales, reach rushing Ladd Creek. Like most glacial streams within the Mount Hood Wilderness, the crossing is bridgeless and can require some ingenuity. After finding your way across, look for the resumption of the trail a bit further downstream, and after a brief walk through open forest, reach the north end of Eden Park at 3.3 miles, with picturesque views of Mount Hood towering over the meadow.

From Eden Park, the trail climbs an open slope for a half-mile in a series of short switchbacks before reaching the Timberline Trail at 3.9 miles. Turn left, and immediately enter Cairn Basin at 4.0 miles, with its stone shelter and handsome, wildflower-framed mountain views. The trail is lined with rocks through the heavily used camping area adjacent to the meadow to help you follow the route. Continue straight where an informal trail heads to the stone shelter on the right, and soon reach a second, upper crossing of Ladd Creek. This crossing can be more difficult than the lower ford, so use care.

From Ladd Creek, the route traverses through still more steep meadows and a high, rocky swale that provides a fine view of the mountain. Soon the route rounds Vista Ridge and reaches an excellent viewpoint at 4.8 miles that includes Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, as well as farms in the Upper Hood River Valley and the entire Vista Ridge route far below. After taking in the view, follow the Timberline Trail a short distance to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail just west of Wy'East Basin at 5.0 miles. Take a moment to go right for a few yards to get a nice view of the basin. There is an excellent tent site in the trees on the far side of the meadow, just below the trail. The primitive trail to Barrett Spur continues up from Wy'East Basin.

To complete the hike, retrace your steps back to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail, just west of Wy'East Basin, following the sign pointing downhill to Eden Park. From here, the route passes through a rugged swale that traces the east foot of Vista Ridge, then drops to the Eden Park Trail junction at the 5.5 mile mark. Keep right, and follow your original path the remaining 2.4 miles to your car.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Vista Ridge Trail #626 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt Hood, OR #462
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag 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 Wilderness
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks

  • Oregon's Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon's Best Wildflower Hikes: Northwest Region by George Wuerthner
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • Around Mt. Hood in Easy Stages by Sonia Buist & Emily Keller
  • Around & About Mount Hood by Sonia Buist with Emily Keller
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 62 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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.