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Cast Creek-Horseshoe Ridge Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Hood from the Zigzag Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Footbridge on the Cast Creek Trail (bobcat)
View to Cast Lake from the Zigzag Mountain Trail (bobcat)
View to the Horseshoe Creek bowl from the Horseshoe Ridge Trail (bobcat)
Washington lily (Lilium washingtonianum), Horseshoe Ridge Trail (bobcat)
The confluence of Lost and Cast creeks, above the crossing on the main branch of Lost Creek (bobcat)
The loop hike from Lost Creek to the crest of Zigzag Mountain (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS)


Hike Description

Avid hikers will enjoy this loop that takes you 2500 feet up forested slopes to the meadows, bogs, and viewpoints at the crest of Zigzag Mountain. The loop begins at Riley Horse Camp and is described in a clockwise direction, taking the Cast Creek Trail up to the Zigzag Mountain Trail, with the more interesting Horseshoe Ridge Trail being used as a descent. At a crest viewpoint, you’ll get vistas up and down the Cascades from Mount Rainier to Mount Jefferson, with the west face of Mount Hood exposed in its entirety.

From the Cast Creek Trailhead in Riley Horse Camp, follow the trail across lichen and moss carpeted Old Maid Flat to join a wide trail, where you turn right. If you’re beginning at the alternate trailhead, you have two options: (1) hike decommissioned FR 1825-380 up to where the Cast Creek Trail crosses it; or (2) follow the wide sandy path, ignoring trails coming in from the horse camp on the right, to cross a small tributary of Cast Creek, which you can hear but not really see. Then head up a shady slope of Douglas-fir and hemlock to cross the overgrown road bed of FR 1825-380.

You’ll need to fill out a wilderness permit at the station. The gently graded trail proceeds upward through the salal to switchback above a gully. The route winds around the head of the gully, where you’ll see some larger Douglas-firs. Note also the rotting old snags in the forest, reminders of a long ago fire. The trail crosses a footbridge over a stream and then makes eleven switchbacks up to round the nose of a ridge. The rhododendrons here will be blooming in July. On the crest of the ridge, the trail drops before rising again in five long switchbacks. Keeping near the crest of this ridge, the path becomes bordered by bear-grass and bunchberry, making more switchbacks and a couple of longer traverses. As the tread steepens, you’ll switchback up through a bear-grass/rhododendron corridor and arrive at a high crest with a mixed forest of lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, cedar, mountain hemlock, silver fir, and noble fir. Here, there are your first clifftop views past East Zigzag Mountain to Mount Hood; Mount Adams should also be visible. Lupine, paintbrush, and penstemon bloom in the small clearings. The trails drops and, five miles from the horse camp, you’ll come to the Zigzag Mountain-Cast Creek Trail Junction.

An added excursion here means turning left and hiking 0.7 miles to the wildflower slopes of East Zigzag Mountain. Otherwise, turn right and drop to a lush, boggy flat of lodgepole pine, willow, and spiraea as well as many mosquitoes! There’s a junction with a Zigzag Mountain Trail next to it: turning right takes you half a mile down to Cast Lake.

The Cast Lake Trail #796 rises to a saddle and then drops to level in a wet meadow with willows, shooting stars and buttercups. The path makes a final short drop to the marshy lakeshore area. Marsh marigolds, shooting stars and violets are bloom down here in early summer. A small creek enters the lake and you can pick your way all around the shore if you have an inclination. There are several campsites. At Cast Lake, there seem to be fewer mosquitoes than in the bogs above.

Return to the Zigzag Mountain-Cast Lake Trail Junction, and keep heading east through brushy bogs of willow, spiraea, false hellebore, and white rhododendron. At the junction with the Devil’s Tie Trail #767, make a sharp right and hike uphill in montane woods of mountain hemlock, silver fir, and noble fir. Avalanche lilies bloom in damp pockets along the trail. A series of short switchbacks takes you steeply up to the beginning of a level traverse. The actual summit of Zigzag Mountain is to your left: you may be able to find the scratch of an ascent route that will take you to the top. On the main trail itself, you’ll get a couple of views down to Cast Lake through a screen of vegetation. After this, views begin to open up to the north and you may be able to sight Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens. Then the trail drops and there are more great views to Mount Hood. As you swish through the huckleberries and bear-grass, look for a short spur to the right which will take you to the exposed rocky outcrop of Peak 4877. This is a great lunch spot, with views west down the Sandy River valley and up and down the Cascades. A bench below the summit offers a great perch from which to gawk at the rugged western slopes of Mount Hood.

After you’ve had your fill of the vistas here, continue west on the Zigzag Mountain Trail a short distance, passing through flowering bear-grass meadows with more views of Mount Hood. When you come to the Zigzag Mountain-Horseshoe Ridge Trail Junction, make a right turn. The Horseshoe Ridge Trail traverses an open rocky slope below Peak 4877. Lupine, paintbrush, and fool’s huckleberry bloom here, and you’ll look across to the steep forested bowl that shelters the headwaters of Horseshoe Creek. Mount Saint Helens can be seen to the northwest. Then the trail enters the woods to switchback down twice before making a long traverse in same-age silver fir/noble fir forest. Round the nose of a ridge and continue hiking through a lush carpet of oxalis, inside-out flower, vanilla leaf, and Solomon plume. The wide burrows of mountain beavers sometimes undermine the trail. Make another switchback to traverse through thickets of devil’s club. Another seven switchbacks take you into the Douglas-fir/hemlock realm of the lower slopes, and you’ll pass below a massive rock outcropping.

The trail exits the Mt. Hood Wilderness and drops in seven long switchbacks to the decommissioned road bed of FR 1825-388. Walk 20 yards to your right to resume the trail, which descends in an open understory, making five switchbacks down to reach a wilderness permit box and map sign. Cross overgrown FR 1825-380, and hike along the crest of a ridge to descend in a few switchbacks and pass below a sheer andesite cliff face. A small grove of gnarly chinquapin trees is an unusual sight. The trail continues to descend and pass over the ridge crest to make a lengthy traverse down to the lush bottomland of Lost Creek, where lady fern and sword fern overhang the tread.

The footbridge over Lost Creek was destroyed a few years ago, and there’s more than one braid of this pretty stream to make. There should be a log over the first channel; otherwise, it’s an easy ford. A second muddy channel should be a rock hop. The last crossing is the main channel; there should be a couple of sturdy logs here, but the creek is shallow and a ford, ideally using trekking poles for stability, is not difficult.

The trail then passes through a carpet of moss under cedars, Douglas-firs, and hemlocks. Salal and Oregon grape are the main understory plants. Pass a skunk-cabbage/lady fern bog and hike along the drier plain of Old Maid Flat, where lodgepole pines shade a carpet of reindeer lichen, moss, and kinnikinnick. Keep left at a sign for Riley Horse Camp, and cross a gravel road. Keep left where a spur leads to the creek, and reach the campground road (FR 1825-380) at the Horseshoe Ridge Trailhead.

Turn right to pass the beginning of the Sandy River Trail and cross Lost Creek on the road bridge. Hike into the campground and walk around to your car at the Cast Creek Trailhead.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Government Camp, OR #461
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood Wilderness
  • Adventure Maps: Mount Hood Area

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Restrooms in Riley Horse Camp (if it’s open)

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Hiking Oregon’s Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 62 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • More Oregon Trails and Horse Camps by Kim McCarrel

More Links


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.

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