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Elk Meadows Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Elk Meadows in July (Tom Kloster)
The Newton Creek crossing on the Elk Meadows Trail (bobcat)
Fringed grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata) on the Elk Meadows Trail (bobcat)
Western Pasqueflower blooms first, as soon as the snow melts (Tom Kloster)
Leafy aster (Symphyotrichum foliaceum) at Elk Meadows (bobcat)
The hike to Elk Meadows (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Elk Meadows TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • Ending Point: Elk Meadows
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 5.8 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1200 feet
  • High Point: 5,280 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer and early Fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: Yes - camping at Elk Meadows
  • Crowded: Summer weekends


Hike Description

The maze of trails in the Elk Meadows area offers so many hiking options that it’s hard to decide which to explore first. This hike describes the shortest and most popular route. You'll cross glacial streams, encounter old-growth Douglas-firs and mountain hemlocks, and get picturesque vistas to Mount Hood itself. The trail is lined with wildflowers in mid-summer and ripe huckleberries in late August. The Elk Meadows Trail itself extends all the way to the Polallie Trailhead, but its southern section, now obliterated by highway construction, ended at Bennett Pass. The trail was built in the early 20th century.

From the trailhead, go northeast on the Elk Meadows Trail #645. The trail travels through forested huckleberry flats for a short distance before passing a trail on the left that leads to the Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center. After this, reach the marked junction with the Umbrella Falls Trail #667, which comes in from the left (northwest). You’ll notice blue Nordic ski route markers along this section of trail. These ski trails are perpendicular to the Umbrella Falls Trail so if you just keep going straight you should be alright. Continue straight on the Elk Meadows Trail to another trail junction and the log bridge with handrails over the rushing waters of Clark Creek. Cross straight across the bridge to enter the Mount Hood Wilderness.

Keep hiking across the shallow slope, crossing two small creeks and then one larger stream on stepping stones. Reach a junction with the Newton Creek Trail #646 on the left at the one mile mark. Keep straight a short distance to the silty torrent of Newton Creek. There is no bridge to help you here, though in early summer trail workers usually pile a few logs to form a makeshift crossing. Step carefully - hiking poles are recommended to keep your balance (see Tips for Crossing Streams). Clark and Newton Creeks are the twin glacial streams formed by the broad Newton Clark Glacier, which dominates the view of Mount Hood throughout the hike. Newton Creek, in particular, is one of the most unruly of Mount Hood’s glacial streams, periodically sending huge floods of debris onto Highway 35 far below. The raging power of the stream is evident at this crossing, where the river channel changes every year, tossing boulders and trees around like so many pebbles and matchsticks.

Locate the resumption of the trail on the far side of the creek, and begin climbing a series of switchbacks up the eastern wall of Newton Creek Canyon. The route first travels through lush forest and a grove of especially large Douglas-firs before reaching montane forests of noble fir, silver fir, mountain hemlock, and beargrass as you near the ridge crest.

At the 2.0 mile mark, reach a four-way trail junction on a broad, forested saddle. The Bluegrass Ridge Trail #647 is another trip option, with the scenic summit of Elk Mountain just one mile south on this route (See the Elk Mountain-Elk Meadows Loop Hike). The Gnarl Ridge Trail #652 heads left (see the Gnarl Ridge from Hood River Meadows Hike). Continue straight, dropping gradually to yet another four-way junction, this time with the Elk Meadows Perimeter Trail #645A. You will return on the left. Look ahead to see Elk Meadows peeking through the trees. Turn right, and continue to descend toward the meadows, resisting the periodic use paths leading to the meadows: The best views are ahead, on the main route, and using these paths only perpetuates their impact on the meadows.

Cross a tiny creek, then see the Bluegrass Tie Trail #647C on the right. The trail drops along the edge of Elk Meadows to the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter North Trail Junction. Go left and, in 25 yards, come to an unmarked junction. To visit the Elk Meadows Shelter, turn left here to pass a large meadow blooming with asters and groundsel, cross Cold Spring Creek on a broken footbridge, and keep left to reach the Elk Meadows Shelter and campsite in a copse of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Enjoy the great view of Mount Hood here across the expanse of Elk Meadows. A sign warns hikers not to walk on the meadows.

Head back to the main trail, and go left. Cross a creek on a footbridge to pass a couple more campsites off the trail. The trail rises to the Gnarl Ridge Tie-Elk Meadows Perimeter Trail Junction. Keep left on the Perimeter Trail. Note the mountain beaver activity here, too, where this mammal is at the easternmost point of its range. Through trees across the meadows, appreciate the vast extent of the 2006 Bluegrass Ridge Burn. The trail levels and reaches the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter South Trail Junction. Go right here to the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge-Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction, and head home.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt. Hood, OR #462
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Hood Wilderness Map
  • 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
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail Map
  • Adventure Maps: 44 Trails Area plus the best of the G.P.N.F.

Fees and Regulations

  • Northwest Forest Pass required. Pass must be acquired beforehand as they are not sold at the trailhead.
  • Port-a-potty, picnic table, information kiosk at trailhead
  • Self-issued wilderness permit

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • One Night Wilderness: Portland by Douglas Lorain
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Oregon Hiking by Matt Wastradowski
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill & Matt Wastradowski
  • Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair
  • 100 Hikes: Northwest Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking Mount Hood: A Year-Round Guide by Eli Boschetto
  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • Oregon's Best Wildflower Hikes: Northwest Region by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • 50 Hikes in Oregon by David L. Anderson
  • 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

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.