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Elk Mountain-Elk Meadows Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Hood from Elk Meadows (bobcat)
Newton Creek, a cinch at very low water (bobcat)
The Bluegrass Ridge Trail heading up to Elk Mountain (bobcat)
View to Lookout Mountain from the Elk Mountain vista point (bobcat)
The route of this hike is shown in red; other trails in blue (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Elk Meadows TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Elk Mountain (near Mount Hood)
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 8.2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1445 feet
  • High Point: 5,605 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes (on Elk Meadows trail); not crowded on Bluegrass Ridge Trail



This moderate day hike gives access some of the most alluring features of Mt. Hood's east side, while staying within very reasonable elevation and distance limits for most hikers. The lookout site, lower down from the summit on Elk Mountain's ridge, was abandoned in the 1940s, but it afford vistas down into the East Fork Hood River valley and south to Mount Jefferson and beyond. From there, you can make a loop around beautiful Elk Meadows and return the way you came via the notorious Newton Creek Crossing

The Elk Meadows Trail begins in mountain hemlock forest, with silver fir, Douglas-fir, noble fir, Engelmann spruce and western white pine. There’s a huckleberry understory that invites plunder in late summer. Cross one firebreak and then another one. There’s an unmarked trail junction, with a trail leading left to a parking area for the Meadows Nordic Center. Reach the Elk Meadows-Umbrella Falls Trail Junction and keep straight. Drop to cross Clark Creek on its handrailed footbridge after passing the Elk Meadows-Clark Creek Trail Junction on the right. Before the bridge, there’s a Wilderness permit box.

After crossing the bridge, the trail heads up a bank and enters the Mt. Hood Wilderness. The trail levels and drops to cross two small creeks, then heads gradually upward. Cross a creek on a footbridge and then, on a level section, reach the Elk Meadows-Newton Creek Trail Junction. The trail rises and then drops into the Newton Creek channel. A plank usually affords a good crossing of Newton Creek; otherwise, especially early in the season, you will have to pick your way across. Cairns mark the route to the trail on the opposite bank. The dusty trail switchbacks up, passing over many lush seeps and small brooks. Switchback again and note the many large Douglas-firs on this steep hillside. Pass through thimbleberry thickets with active mountain beaver warrens. There are more springs. Switchback five more times into drier woods with bracken and bear-grass for the carpet. There are two more switchbacks and the trail then winds gradually up under mountain hemlock, silver fir, and subalpine fir. The trail levels and meets the four-way Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge-Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction. To the left is the Gnarl Ridge Trail #652. To the right is the Blue Grass Ridge Trail #647.

Turn right onto the latter trail. It's a gradual ascent in mountain hemlock/silver fir woods with a bear-grass, huckleberry and grouse berry understory to the Bluegrass Ridge-Elk Mountain Vista Trail Junction. Keep right here. The trail drops through bear-grass with the southern edge of the 2006 Bluegrass Ridge Burn on the left. Rise to the site of the old lookout site here and get views south to Bonney Butte and Mount Jefferson and across to Lookout Mountain and Gunsight Butte. Look for an old bed frame and other lookout relics in the brush.

Return to the Bluegrass Ridge-Elk Mountain Vista Trail Junction and go right on the Bluegrass Ridge Trail. There is unburned mountain hemlock forest on the left and stark snags from the 2006 burn on the right. Get some views to the right of Lookout Mountain, Gumjuwac Saddle, and Gunsight Butte. Continue through many small meadows and drop to the signed Bluegrass Ridge-Bluegrass Tie Trail Junction. Go left here and begin a steep descent in burned silver fir/mountain hemlock forest. The trail may be churned up by elk tracks, the latter mammal far outnumbering any humans who may venture here. (To add another viewpoint to the hike, continue from the junction on the Bluegrass Ridge Trail up the grassy ridge to an andesite outcropping that affords splendid views down to Elk Meadows and across to Mount Hood as well as east to Surveyors Ridge.)

Reach the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Tie Trail Junction. 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, and pass a couple more campsites off the trail. The trail rises in woods and you come 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.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required
  • Self-issued Wilderness Permit


  • 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

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad

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.

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