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Lamberson Spur Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as Off trail. The route or sections of the route may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
On the off-trail part of the ridge, Lamberson Spur Loop (bobcat)
Cold Spring Creek below Tamanawas Falls (bobcat)
The Gnarl Fire staging area on the Lamberson Spur Trail (bobcat)
Trail trace in the fire zone (bobcat)
Mountain hemlock cones on Gnarl Ridge (bobcat)
Looking down Gnarl Ridge to Lamberson Butte and Newton Creek (bobcat)
The Lamberson Spur Loop route (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Tamanawas Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG or
  • Start point: Polallie TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Gnarl Ridge
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 18.3 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 5035 feet
  • High Point: 7,330 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: July - October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes, for experienced off-trailers
  • Crowded: No



This long loop includes a classic, and almost forgotten, off-trail route up the eastern slope of Mount Hood. Essentially, you will be walking from the East Fork of the Hood River to the highest point on the Timberline Trail and then making your way down past such iconic features of Mount Hood as Gnarl Ridge, the Newton Creek Canyon, Lamberson Butte, and Elk Meadows. There is the optional short side trip, if you begin at the Tamanawas Falls Trailhead, to view beautiful Tamanawas Falls. The route described below approximates that in Don and Roberta Lowe's 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon although the scenery has changed since then with the effects of the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire. I have described the hike from both the trailheads listed above, the Tamanawas Falls option adding the falls and about a mile and a half to the Polallie option.

WARNING: The Lamberson Spur Trail is an unmaintained, dead-end trail that requires excellent route-finding skills. You will probably lose the trail in its last mile, so pay attention to the directions. Beyond the last vestige of the Lamberson Spur Trail, which was never completed all the way to the Timberline Trail, you will make your way cross-country up a steep-sided ridge and across alpine fell fields to the Timberline. Allow plenty of time!

From the Tamanawas Falls Trailhead:

This trailhead has a restroom, but a Northwest Forest Pass/day-use fee is also required. The trail heads down to the high footbridge over the alder-shaded East Fork Hood River. At the junction after the bridge, go right on the East Fork Trail for Tamanawas Falls in woods of Douglas-fir, mountain hemlock, grand fir and silver fir with boxwood, vanilla leaf, twin flower, grouseberry, and vine maple. The trail rises on a steep slope above the East Fork, drops, and then rises again to offer a view over Highway 35. Then the tread drops to the East Fork-Tamanawas Falls Trail Junction.

Go left and drop to cross the footbridge over Cold Spring Creek. The trail goes left up the cool, rushing creek, with Engelmann spruce and red-cedar added to the forest mix. You will get views of multiple cascades on the creek and pass a shady spring on the right side of the trail. There's a talus slope on the right. Pass the junction for the Tamanawas Falls Tie Trail #650B. The path makes two short switchbacks in a huge boulder field below andesite cliffs. You may be able to spot an old footbridge lying in the creek below and then visit Tamanawas Falls (fully described in the Tamanawas Falls Hike), before turning back to the unmarked junction. Head up from here and switchback at the boulder field, make a level traverse, and then rise. Ponderosa pines now enter the mix. Come to the Elk Meadows-Tamanawas Tie Trail Junction and go left.

From the Polallie Trailhead:

There are no facilities at this trailhead but also no fee for parking. From the trailhead parking, cross Highway 35 and ascend the East Fork Trail #650 on a dusty track. Switchback and come to the Elk Meadows-East Fork Trail Junction. Go right on the Elk Meadows Trail into cool woods of grand fir, chinquapin, vine maple, Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine. Ascend as cedars and the odd western white pine enter the mix. The trail traverses up the side of a ridge in Douglas-fir/grand fir woods until you reach the Elk Meadows-Tamanawas Tie Trail Junction and keep right.

Continuing the loop (from both trailheads):

The trail motors along in dry forest with a lot of diseased trees before rising gently through bracken and past some large Douglas-firs. Reach the Elk Meadows-Lamberson Spur Trail Junction and go right. This trail ends in three miles, but you will probably lose it a few times before that.

There is some blowdown all along the Lamberson Spur Trail: it was logged out during operations to contain the Gnarl Ridge Fire in 2008 and is slowly beginning to revert to classic unmaintained mode. The path rises gradually and passes the Mt. Hood Wilderness sign. The trail becomes steeper and there are two short switchbacks to a ridge, then a hike up the ridge. The path drops in a vanilla leaf, huckleberry, twin flower glade and switchbacks up before leveling. A wide swath has been cleared on either side of the trail here. The path levels in a meadow of penstemon, lupine, and goldenrod. Rise again in more meadows rimmed by a forest of Engelmann spruce, western white pine, western larch, mountain hemlock, noble fir, and Douglas-fir. Soon, there are views across to Surveyors Ridge. Reach an open meadow at a rock outcrop. This area was used as an advanced staging area, perhaps even a helipad, during the 2008 fire (If your intention is to explore the Lamberson Spur Trail, but not do the whole loop, including the cross-country section, this meadow would be a good place to turn around).

Now the route finding becomes really tricky. Go right on the ridgeline where the trail tread is lost under some blowdown; however, vestiges become clear on the rocky crest as you move along. The trail now enters the burn area of the Gnarl Ridge Fire. There is still a faint tread along the ridge: look for the scorched moss borders of the path. Pass around a rocky outcrop and keep to the ridge crest. There will be flagging from time to time. Now there is more blowdown and the trail curves left and up a slope. It is centered on a tongue of the burn that went up the slope, but there are untouched woods to the left and right. Rise over a small meadow, where the tread is completely lost, and keep going up the ridge. Pick up the tread again and enter unburned forest of silver fir and mountain hemlock. Here the trail levels off on a bench and "officially" ends, three miles from the junction.

Keep to the south side of the ridge and head up the crest, reentering the burn. There are views to Lamberson Butte and waterfalls on the North Fork sources of Cold Spring Creek. The penstemon/lupine meadows will be humming loudly with thousands of bumble bees. Head over the crest, drop, and come to the first of the “pinnacles" described in the Lowes' book. You will need to descend below it on a steep, pinemat manzanita-covered slope. Soon you will see a small lava cave up on the ridge crest. Keep along the steep south side of the ridge, below more pinnacles or gendarmes, before dropping into the mountain hemlock/subalpine fir forest below. Head up a gully, keep somewhat to the left, and continue to ascend. There’s a creek to the left. The Lowes' instructions recommend angling up to the left towards Gnarl Ridge, but my route keeps heading more or less straight up. There are views east to Lookout Mountain and parts east. Enter parklands of whitebark pine and mountain hemlock. Arrive at a heather meadow with a lovely little brook. There should be a snowfield above this meadow with great views of the Hood River Valley, Mount Adams, and Mount Rainier. Look up to see the posts marking the Timberline Trail. Reach the trail and head left (south).

The trail rises to the Timberline High Point, 7,330’, on a whitebark pine ridge and then drops. There are more snowfields to cross and often some trail braiding in this area. The trail enters krummholtz copses of whitebark pine. Lupines and sulfur buckwheat bloom here in mid-summer. Rise over a hump and then descend Gnarl Ridge on a rubbly track. There are views up Newton Creek Canyon to the waterfalls tumbling out of the Newton-Clark Glacier. Enter whitebark pine, mountain hemlock, and subalpine fir woods. Continue on the trail below Lamberson Butte past the remains of the CCC-constructed Gnarl Ridge Shelter, which once had a corrugated steel roof. There is a view across to Lamberson Spur, its pinnacles, and Mount Adams. The trail drops in meadows that bloom with lupine, phlox, paintbrush, fleeceflower, Jacob’s ladder and wood-rush. The mountain hemlocks are now larger. Cross a rocky gully in shady woods and keep heading down to the Timberline-Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction.

Here, go left and drop to reach the Gnarl Ridge-Gnarl Ridge Tie Trail Junction after 0.3 miles. Go left here for Elk Meadows. The trail descends gently on the ridge among mountain hemlock, subalpine fir, silver fir and noble fir. Then drop more steeply in huckleberry woods to the Gnarl Ridge Tie-Elk Meadows Perimeter Trail Junction. Turn left and and begin to circle the meadows. A spur leads right and you get a view across the lush expanse to the Elk Meadows Shelter. Continue gradually down and cross a plank footbridge over Cold Spring Creek. At a junction, go right to visit the shelter if you wish. Twenty-five yards after this unsigned intersection, reach the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter North Trail Junction and head left on the Elk Meadows Trail #645.

Huckleberries and grouseberries line the trail, and Cold Spring Creek runs to the left. Several times the Bluegrass Ridge Burn of 2006 reached the trail but didn't cross it. A spur leads left to a meadow. The trail rises and drops high above the creek. This is a little-hiked trail, so you may see no human tracks, just the spoor of deer, elk, and coyote. Pass two lush springs and step over a brook. After this, the trail runs through dense young forest. The path reaches Cold Spring Creek and crosses it on a two-log footbridge. Keep descending gently and pass above a skunk-cabbage spring. Traverse high above Cold Spring Creek and cross a tributary on a footbridge. Pass the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge Trail Junction. The trail uses a boardwalk, and heads up to the Elk Meadows-Lamberson Spur Trail Junction. From here, it’s about 2.8 miles back to the Tamanawas Falls Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Lamberson Spur Trail #644 (USFS)
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Hood Wilderness Map
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail 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

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder (Lamberson Spur Trail only)
  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad (Lamberson Spur Trail only)

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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