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Mount Hood Meadows Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Clark Creek Canyon from the Timberline Trail (Tom Kloster)
Looking across Newton Creek to Lamberson Butte (Tom Kloster)
Bog paintbrush (Castilleja suksdorfii) at Clark Creek (bobcat)
Upper Heather Creek Falls, Timberline Trail (bobcat)
Towhead babies, Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline Trail (bobcat)
Meadow on the Umbrella Falls Trail (bobcat)
Umbrella Falls spilling down a rock face (bobcat)
The loop through Mt. Hood Meadows to Hood River Meadows (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: Elk Meadows TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • Ending point: Heather Canyon
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 10.1 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1845 feet
  • High Point: 5,875 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer and early fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes - follows Timberline Trail
  • Crowded: Yes, on summer weekends


Hike Description

While most think of Paradise Park, Cairn Basin or Elk Cove as the most prolific wildflower gardens on the flanks of Mount Hood, the most expansive displays are actually found in the vicinity of Mount Hood Meadows. While the Meadows ski resort has expanded to cover much of the area, the trails remain surprisingly free of reminders that a throng of skiers that crowd the slopes here in winter. The massive display of wildflowers in July and August and series of pretty streams and waterfalls makes this a good destination even when clouds obscure the mountain. Following this route counterclockwise allows you to see the alpine vistas spread before you before you hike through them.

The hike begins at the Elk Meadows Trailhead. Hike 0.3 miles through an open forest of 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 cross-country ski corridor and then another one. An unmarked trail leads 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 route then levels and drops to cross two small creeks before heading gradually upward. Cross a creek on a footbridge and, on a level section, reach the Elk Meadows-Newton Creek Trail Junction.

Begin the two-mile, 1,000-foot ascent of the Newton Creek Trail, which winds through huckleberries and then passes along the unstable rim above Newton Creek, which like Clark Creek, is formed by meltwater from the Newton Clark Glacier, but is the more unruly of the twin glacial streams. Periodically, it has been the scene of massive floods, as evidenced by vistas over jumbled trees and boulders below the trail. Cross a band of bouldery overflow from one of the creek's tirades, and then pass over two rivulets issuing from an alder-shaded spring. From here, the trail switchbacks up twice on a bracken/pinemat manzanita slope shaded by mountain hemlock and fir trees. Reach the crest of the steep-sided ridge above the Newton Creek Canyon. Across the way, get views of the rugged prominences of Gnarl Ridge, with Lamberson Butte rising darkly from a high saddle. A carpet of pinemat manzanita cloaks the slope to your left. Hike up along this “ghost ridge” of ancient whitebark pines, some living and some bleached skeletons decorated with clumps of bright wolf lichen but still standing against the elements. Reach the junction with the Timberline Trail, and stay left.

Keep rising up the ridge to cross the upper reaches of an alpine valley. Traversing up, you'll get views of Mount Hood's upper slopes and Gnarl Ridge to the north. Enter mountain hemlock woods, and exit the wilderness to descend the soft sandy slope of an enormous moraine, the largest on Mount Hood. Before you are spread Clark Creek and its tributaries and waterfalls, with inviting Heather Canyon and its tumbling series of falls the farthest west. Far above is the icy expanse of the Newton Clark Glacier. As you pick your way across Clark Creek (See Tips for Crossing Streams), look up to find the waterfall at the valley headwall. Rise to cross a creek in front of a small waterfall, and then head up from here through subalpine fir, huckleberry, mountain ash and lupine to a lush, open slope on Heather Creek with its three cascading waterfalls, one of the loveliest spots on the Timberline Trail. Aster, arnica, lovage, heliotrope and paintbrush all bloom here in profusion through the summer. Cross Heather Creek above the upper falls, and then traverse an open slope.

Cross a small creek, and enter subalpine woods at a huge mountain hemlock. Traversing up, step over a couple of small creeks, and get a view of a waterfall below. Enter mountain hemlock/silver fir ridge forest again where the trail drops into the first open meadow of the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area. False hellebore, aster, paintbrush, and mariposa lilies bloom here. Descend, jump another creek, and head up to cross a maintenance road and then a dry creek. The trail is heavily incised in places in these meadows. Pass under two more chair lifts. Cross two creeks in a willow thicket, and traverse up. Hike through another mountain hemlock copse, and then emerge into more meadows. Pass through more mountain hemlock/silver fir islands to cross the beginnings of the East Fork Hood River above Pencil Falls. Pass under two more ski lifts on the South Canyon run. The Timberline Trail drops to a meadow and its flowing creek. Towhead babies, a.k.a. pasque flower, adorn the open slope in profusion. Pass under a last ski lift, cross Mitchell Creek, and head up to cross a gravel road to arrive at the junction with the Umbrella Falls Trail #667.

Begin your downhill run through mountain hemlock parklands. Cross Meadows Creek twice, and head down through meadows and tree islands. In summer, the open areas are lush with blooming arrow-leaf groundsel, lupine, heliotrope, and false hellebore. Make a couple of switchbacks before traversing a goldenrod meadow to swing left and cross Mitchell Creek on a makeshift footbridge. Enter silver fir/noble fir/mountain hemlock forest, and emerge above a new maintenance area and fuel station. Cross the main entrance road to Mt. Hood Meadows, and descend to pick up the Umbrella Falls Trail again for the quarter mile section to the waterfall. Traverse below the road among blooming goldenrod, and cross a wet meadow before coming to Umbrella Falls on the East Fork Hood River. A sturdy footbridge crosses the creek, and there is space here to tarry and picnic. Then keep on a gradual descent in a mountain hemlock/Engelmann spruce parkland. Cross a creek and come to the junction with the trail to Sahale Falls.

Make a right to cross a creek with a marsh and pond to your right. Drop along the side of a draw, and then switchback. Descend through huckleberries, and cross a creek on a footbridge. You'll hear the rushing East Fork plunging down a narrow canyon to the right: A short spur leads to a view. Some large Douglas-firs form a canopy. Reach the Sahale Falls-Sahale Falls Cutoff Trail Junction signed for 'Sahalie Falls' [sic]. To get close to the falls, head right on this rooty user trail. Where the path forks, you can scramble steeply down to the base of Sahale Falls and bathe in its spray. Returning to the fork, you have a choice. Make an even steeper and sketchier descent to the old Mount Hood Highway to get another view of Sahale Falls from the road bridge; return to your car by hiking 0.8 miles along the road to pass Hood River Meadows and reach the trailhead. Otherwise, you can return to the Sahale Falls Trail, and take this gradual descent another half mile. When you reach the old highway, Hood River Meadows is to your left forming a picturesque foreground to the pyramidal elegance of Mount Hood. The Sahale Falls Trail continues through an area where berry gathering is reserved for Native Americans, crosses Meadows Creek, and reaches the Elk Meadows Trailhead.


  • 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

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Port-a-potty, information kiosk, picnic table
  • Self-issued wilderness permit

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A


  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair
  • Around Mt. Hood in Easy Stages by Sonia Buist & Emily Keller
  • 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.

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