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McNeil Point Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood rises above western pasqueflower at McNeil Point (Tom Kloster)
Mt. Hood from McGee Ridge (bobcat)
Mountain spiraea (Spiraea splendens) at McGee Creek (bobcat)
One of the "McNeil Ponds" on the Timberline Trail (bobcat)
Meltwater from the Glisan Glacier near McNeil Point (Tom Kloster)
Heather meadows high on McNeil Point (Tom Kloster)
Yellow-bellied marmot on the McNeil Point Trail (cfm)
TopSpurMcNeilPoint.jpg
  • Start point: Top Spur TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: McNeil Point Shelter
  • Trail Log: McNeil Point Hike/Log
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 10.4 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 2200 feet
  • High Point: 6,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: July - November
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: Yes - follows the Timberline Trail
  • Crowded: Summer weekends

Contents

Description

The Timberline Trail was originally planned to climb high above the Muddy Fork and over the rocky alpine buttress of McNeil Point. But after construction had begun, trail builders realized that the route would not be possible to build due to the terrain and persistent snowfields. Yet a stone shelter had already been built at McNeil Point and has been a favorite destination of hikers ever since.

From the Top Spur Trailhead, follow the heavily used Top Spur trail through handsome, old-growth noble fir forest for one half mile before joining the Pacific Crest Trail (no. 2000). Turn right, and immediately arrive at a junction of four trails. The trail to the right is the continuation of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the routes to the left and straight ahead are the Timberline Trail (no. 600). While you could go left on the Timberline Trail to reach McNeil Point (which would save about 0.6 mile), a much more scenic option is to go straight on the other leg of the Timberline Trail for a spectacular traverse around Bald Mountain. Following this option, pass the wilderness registration sign, and continue through dense forest. About 150 yards from the main junction, you'll notice the unsigned trail that leads to the top of Bald Mountain. Then you'll abruptly reach the steep meadows of Bald Mountain's south-facing slopes. The Muddy Fork of the Sandy River rushes down from the mountain more than 2,000 feet below.

Continue around Bald Mountain, and enjoy more stunning views until you enter a wooded area. Watch for an obvious cut-off trail on the left, marked with a fairly new sign, that climbs a low saddle and quickly joins the other fork of the Timberline Trail. If you miss this informal route, you will reach a log stile after a short distance - so backtrack from here to find the use path. Stop where the shortcut reaches the northern junction with the Timberline Trail, and remember the north junction should you want to follow the scenic route again on your return trip. (You can also follow the main trail back to the four-way junction from here.)

To continue to McNeil Point, turn right and continue uphill through more noble fir forest, passing the McGee Creek Trail (no. 627) at mile 1.6 (4370') and another wilderness registration sign. The route continues up the spine of an increasingly narrow ridge, and at the 2.5 mile mark, reach the first of two steep meadows with even better views of the mountain. McNeil Point is now the obvious bluff straight ahead. This meadow — or the next one — makes a good destination for a moderate hike, and the crowds thin out above this point.

After the meadows, the trail loses a little bit of elevation, then climbs more steeply. After a couple of switchbacks, at mile 3.3 (5260'), there is a boot path going right (uphill) that transitions to a steep and potentially dangerous shortcut up the face of McNeil Point; this "scramble trail" should be attempted ONLY by experienced hikers. After a few more switchbacks, the main trail reaches a steep, rushing tributary of McGee Creek. Just before this stream is another faint unmarked shortcut that dead-ends in a short distance.

The main trail crosses more streams, one of them a miniature Ramona Falls, before leveling off in more open country, with lush meadows and stands of ancient mountain hemlock. Pass a huge scree slope of andesite boulders, then cross a wildflower-choked stream before arriving at a pair of picturesque tarns that photographers will want to spend some time at. Some people refer to these as the "McNeil Ponds." The main trail goes between them, then continues upward into the trees to the right. (A side trail to the left goes past the second pond, then up to a small meadow, then joins the upper part of the Mazama Trail.)

From the ponds, the main trail climbs to a junction, at mile 3.9 (5600'), with the Mazama Trail (formerly known as the Cathedral Ridge Trail) on the left. A short distance down this side trail is a pond and a campsite, and it's 3.1 miles down to the Mazama Trailhead. In about 0.1 miles, the main trail reaches a seasonal stream coming down an alpine valley. Just before the stream is a side trail going up to a campsite. An old trail described in several hiking guides heads up the valley, but this route has been closed to help the alpine meadows recover from heavy use. Continue another 0.2 miles to the new McNeil Point Trail, marked with a "McNeil Point" sign.

Turn right on the McNeil Point Trail, and follow it through a stunted forest of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir as it winds its way up a swale. The route begins to follow a low ridge, with ever more spectacular views of the mountain ahead. At mile 4.5 (5900'), the trail reaches a saddle devoid of vegetation that offers a fine viewpoint of the mountain towering above stunted trees. If you have the time and energy, a boot path descends to the left from the point where the main trail curves right, away from the ridge. The informal trail crosses the outflow from Glisan Glacier (often called "Glisan Creek" by locals), and leads to lush meadows and a fine campsite in the grove of mountain hemlock at the lower end of the meadows. From here, it is possible (but difficult!) to continue all the way to Barrett Spur, the high point visible to the left of Mount Hood.

Back on the McNeil Point Trail, the trail crosses a scree slope that can have snow late into the summer, then curves above a picturesque valley. There are several campsites below the trail. One campsite is on a faint trail going along a rocky ridge. There is a great view down to "the ponds" below. The trail now crosses the year-round headwaters of McGee Creek, and then passes along another scree slope before traversing up to McNeil Ridge. This can be hazardous to cross until after the snow has melted late in the summer. Look back the way you came, because it can be a bit tricky finding the route on the return.

The trail soon reaches the broad table of McNeil Point. Follow the lower path at a fork, and arrive at the historic stone shelter. From this airy spot, you can spot Lost Lake far below, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. You can also see your route across Bald Mountain on the ridge below. The graceful pyramid of Mount Hood towers above. This is at mile 5 (5900').

If you're still not tired yet, there is a trail that continues up the ridge from here. After about 0.4 miles, there is a high point at about 6700 feet. From here, a faint path goes down a ridge to the left; a little before the saddle, the route leaves the ridge and joins the McNeil Point Trail. For more, continue further up McNeil Ridge another 0.2 miles to 7100 feet. There is a camp spot here "carved out" of the very prominent rock, which is sometimes called Ho Rock. When you're finally tired enough, return the way you came.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Top Spur Trail #785 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Government Camp, OR #461 and Mt Hood, OR #462
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood Wilderness
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required at trailhead. Pass must be acquired beforehand as they are not sold at the trailhead.
  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • I Heart Oregon (& Washington) by Lisa D. Holmes
  • Day Hiking Mount Hood: A Year-Round Guide by Eli Boschetto
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails & Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Best Hikes Near Portland, Oregon by Fred Barstad
  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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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