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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)
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)
  • Start point: Cloud Cap TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Elk Cove
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Distance: 11.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 2200 feet
  • High Point: 6,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult - especially Coe Branch Crossing
  • 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



This is the 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 the most spectacular view of Mount Hood.

From the trailhead, follow the Timberline Trail left and uphill for a short distance before it begins to descend on slopes scorched by the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire. This is the 2016 reroute of the trail designed to overcome the multiple problems with upper crossings on the Eliot Branch over the years. After about 500 feet of descent and about 15 switchbacks, you'll reach the freezing, churning Eliot Branch. There's no bridge here, and the later you arrive in the day, the more difficult it will be to ford. Next you'll be ascending to the original Timberline Trail alignment, about 14 switchbacks and 600 feet in elevation gain. From here, the route rambles through gorgeous alpine forest and meadows at an even grade, with Mount Hood looming at the head of several side canyons of Compass Creek. You will also have fine views of rugged Barrett Spur, forming the horizon to the west. At the third major side canyon at 2.8 miles, a branch of Compass Creek 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. Read more about wildflowers.

Next, the trail descends in switchbacks to a potentially difficult crossing of the frothing Coe Branch. Like the Eliot Branch, the Coe is a glacial stream whose flow fluctuates wildly in summer; unlike the Eliot Branch, the Coe has no bridge. 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 shoes 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 - and then over a large waterfall!

The Timberline Trail now climbs into a suddenly quiet, handsome forest of very old mountain hemlock and alpine fir for 0.7 miles, before emerging in lush meadows 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 bit of meadow, but be sure to walk to the far side of the cove, where a crystal-clear Cove Creek rambles through the meadows.

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, as passes through a spectacular hillside meadow with views of Mount Hood and Elk Cove, hundreds of feet below.


Elk Cove Trail Map - from Cloud Cap Trailhead

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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.