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Elk Cove Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood from the Coe Overlook in late afternoon (Tom Kloster)
View to Owl Point from the Elk Cove Trail on former FR 2840-650 (bobcat)
Fireweed carpet on the Elk Cove Trail (bobcat)
Western pasque flower in bloom in early July (Tom Kloster)
Elk Cove Trail Map
  • Start point: Elk Cove TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Elk Cove
  • Trail Log: Elk Cove Hike/Log
  • Hike type: In and out
  • Distance: 9.3 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 2300 feet
  • High point: 5,475 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: July – November
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes—connects to the Timberline Trail
  • Crowded: At Elk Cove on weekends

Contents

Description

The Elk Cove Trail #631 is the longest approach trail to the Timberline Trail on the north side of Mount Hood. However, this is a much quieter alternative route to Elk Cove that avoids the crowds and bumpy access roads of the Vista Ridge and Cloud Cap approaches. The trail route was thoroughly scorched in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire, and the forest suffered crown fire for most of the trail’s length. That means there’s little shade, but there are more views (Mount Hood will be in sight for most of the hike), and you’ll be able to observe the recovery process from a severe forest fire.

The first 1 ¼ miles of the Elk Cove Trail follows decommissioned Road 6840-650 to the former trailhead. Past the trailhead signs, you'll step over a berm to cross Pinnacle Creek, which is usually a rock hop by mid-summer (the bridge here was destroyed a number of years ago). Then follow the road bed, which is being crowded by slide alder on this lower section. Up to the right are the snag-populated slopes of the Dollar Lake Burn. Where culverts were removed, you’ll need to drop into little dips. The road makes a sharp turn to the right and now young lodgepole pine and manzanita bushes grow on the verge. Views open up west to Vista Ridge and both Owl Point and Katsuk Point become visible. The Pinnacle stands out on Pinnacle Ridge, across the valley of Pinnacle Creek.

The route leaves the road at some downed trees, and passes a trail sign. Switchback up five times in a shady patch of Douglas-firs that experienced no crown fire, and then traverse up onto the crest of the ridge, which was thoroughly burned. A variety of sun-loving plants have colonized the burn here, including Scouler’s willow, bracken, western larch, lodgepole pine, chinquapin, and snow brush. Most of these will disappear when a dense canopy reestablishes itself in a few decades. Hike in and out of crown fire zones on the flank of the ridge, getting a clear view up to Mount Hood at times. Higher up, you can see east to the Mill Creek Buttes and Shellrock Mountain on Surveyors Ridge. Huckleberry, fireweed, and bear-grass flourish among the lodgepole pines here. Get another open view of Mount Hood before dropping to a saddle and then rising again. Now there are closer views of The Pinnacle to the west and the Hood River Valley to the east, while down to the left is the wide valley bottom of the Coe Branch.

A short spur leads left to a rocky outcropping, sometimes called Inspiration Point: this used to be the best vantage point for open views on the trail before the 2011 fire. Down in the valley below, the Coe Branch and Compass Creek come together, and you can see Canon Ball Falls, also known as Lower Compass Creek Falls. After the viewpoint, you’ll drop to another saddle and then wend your way upward again, swishing through patches of huckleberry and bear-grass. Young noble firs and mountain hemlocks have taken hold here: in 40 years or so, they will form the canopy. The forest of white tree skeletons is carpeted with fireweed in an area of intense burn, and then the trail drops for a crossing of Cove Creek, which blooms with monkey flower into September.

From the creek, the trail follows an old watercourse, or dry gully, and passes a campsite. Cross and recross what is now a shallow draw, passing another campsite, and pass into a stand of unburned mountain hemlock. There are more trailside camps near a sedge spring, which dries up in mid-summer. Hiking up a lush meadow, you'll see a longer spur leading left down to a secluded campsite. Finally, you’ll reach the junction with the Timberline Trail in the parkland of Elk Cove itself. Subalpine firs and mountain hemlocks form tree islands, and clumps of mountain ash glow with red-orange pomes (berries) in late summer.

Turn left on the Timberline Trail for a few yards for the most sublime view of the mountain rising above acres of wildflowers. The spectacular Coe Glacier dominates the north face of Mount Hood, and craggy Barrett Spur rises like a black wall above the meadows, framing the idyllic scene. Also be sure to walk to the west side of the cove, where an icy Cove Creek rambles through the meadows. Of the many wildflowers found here, none is as prolific as the western pasque flower, which blooms immediately after snowmelt, and thus before most hikers arrive. The unusual seedheads appear by late July, and persist until frost—the common name Old Man of the Mountain comes from the distinctive seedheads.

Backpackers should camp at one of numerous spots in the trees at the east or north ends of the cove, along the Timberline and Elk Cove trails, and not in the fragile meadows.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt Hood, OR #462
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail Map
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River Ranger District
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood Wilderness
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit; wilderness rules apply
  • Information kiosk at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking Mount Hood: A Year-Round Guide by Eli Boschetto
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon’s Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker

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.