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Elk Cove from Cloud Cap Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood from Elk Cove in early August (Tom Kloster)
View to Barrett Spur from the Timberline Trail (bobcat)
Western pasque flower in bloom in early July (Tom Kloster)
Western pasque flower "growing whiskers" in mid-July (Tom Kloster)
"Fully bearded" western pasque flower seedheads in mid-August (Tom Kloster)
The Timberline Trail from Cloud Cap to Elk Cove (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Cloud Cap TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Elk Cove
  • Distance: 11.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 2200 feet
  • High Point: 6,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: July - November
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: Yes - follows the Timberline Trail
  • Crowded: Summer weekends
Add-On Hikes: Dollar Lake Add-on Hike , Barrett Spur Add-on Hike

Contents

Description

This is a classic alpine hike on Mount Hood, with spectacular mountain views, rugged glacial streams, icy waterfalls, and tiny streams lined with mid-summer wildflowers along the way. The rolling meadows at Elk Cove are among the most beautiful on the mountain, and the towering north face is the most spectacular view of Mount Hood in the estimate of many. Be prepared for bridgeless crossings of two glacial streams, the Eliot Branch and the Coe Branch. Not only do the exact crossing points change on an annual basis, but the trail makes significant descents to access each of them. Note that the Timberline Trail crossing of the Eliot Branch is a new route opened in 2017.

From the trailhead, hike in through the campground/picnic area to a map kiosk at the Timberline-Cloud Cap Trail Junction, and make a right in shady mountain hemlock/subalpine fir forest. Come to a wilderness permit station, and sign yourself in. Soon begin descending through a huckleberry carpet, and make six switchbacks down on a slope scorched by the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire. Get an open view to the Washington volcanoes of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens before you negotiate another six switchbacks. Now you'll arrive above gushing cataracts on the Eliot Branch. Make one more switchback before you traverse down to the stream. Each year, the crossing is different. The actual trail takes you up to a ford below a waterfall, but look downstream for a large dry log that makes a good crossing of the freezing, churning Eliot Branch.

Rejoin the Timberline Trail after crossing, and pass a wilderness sign in a new colony of hemlocks. Switchback, and make a traverse to an open view of the Hood River Valley and the snow-capped Washington volcanoes. Hike up among fire-scarred snags, make two switchbacks, and get a view across the canyon to Cloud Cap Inn. Make another seven short switchbacks, and then continue to ascend along a ridge crest, passing the old route of the trail where it comes in from the left. The route drops and veers right to cross two gullies with views north to the Washington Cascades. Pass in and out of unburned parkland, and see the rugged fin of Barrett Spur looming ahead. Cross a couple of branches of Compass Creek, and pass through small meadows rimmed by tree islands of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir. Step across a rubbly gully offering more views north, and then cross a bubbling stream where paintbrush, lupine, and monkey flower bloom. Pass along a slope of huckleberry and mountain ash perforated with mountain beaver tunnels. A large whitebark pine leans over the trail. About 2.8 miles from the trailhead, a lush slope of aster, groundsel, and false hellebore leads you to the crossing of Compass Creek, which tumbles in and out of snow caves in early summer, then plunges over a 60 foot waterfall below the trail. This is a good lunch spot or turnaround point for a shorter hike. There are several campsites right next to the trail near the Compass Creek crossings.

OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN: Of the many wildflowers found at Elk Cove, none is more curious than the western pasque flower. They bloom before most hikers arrive, but the unusual "bearded" seedheads form mid-July, and persist until frost. The common name Old Man of the Mountain comes from the later-stage seedheads.

Next, the trail descends into the 2011 Dollar Lake Burn and crosses another lushly vegetated creek valley. Whitebark pines lean over the trail as you descend in six switchbacks on a slope of slide alder and mountain ash. Drop into a shady slope forest, switchback again, and then descend through willow and alder thickets to the potentially difficult crossing of the frothing Coe Branch. Like the Eliot Branch, the Coe is a glacial stream whose flow fluctuates wildly in summer. While it’s often possible to cross without wet feet, you are equally likely to face a challenging ford here. Hiking poles and a spare set of footwear come in handy for the crossing. There are generally makeshift "bridges" made from log debris by late summer, but if you're finding your own spot to cross, err on the upstream side: the creek flows over slick bedrock and some dangerous slides as it flows downstream over a large waterfall!

The Timberline Trail now climbs into the snags of the 2011 Dollar Lake Burn, winding up to pass the first "No Camping in Meadows" sign (There's a legitimate campsite right above the sign). Emerge in the lush meadows and parklands of Elk Cove. The spectacular Coe Glacier dominates the north face of Mount Hood, and craggy Barrett Spur rises like a black wall above the meadow, framing the idyllic scene. The classic view for countless photographs is from the trail just after crossing the first section of meadow, but be sure to walk to the far side of the cove, where crystal-clear Cove Creek rambles through the parklands.

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 Trail approaches, and not in the fragile meadows.

Dollar Lake is another nearby destination, on a spur trail that leaves the Timberline Trail about one half mile west of Elk Cove. This longer trip adds 1.6 miles and another 500 in elevation gain to your round trip. It passes through a spectacular hillside meadow with views of Mount Hood's northern ramparts and Elk Cove hundreds of feet below.

Fees, Facilities, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Self-issued wilderness permit 5/15 - 10/15
  • Vault toilet, picnic area, campground, information kiosk at trailhead

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Hood Wilderness Map
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • 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

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks

  • Around Mount Hood in Easy Stages by Sonia Buist & Emily Keller
  • Around & About Mount Hood by Sonia Buist with Emily Keller
  • 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
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

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.