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McNeil Point via McGee Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The McNeil Point Shelter at McNeil Point (bobcat)
Wilderness sign on the McGee Creek Trail (bobcat)
Mt. Hood from McGee Ridge (bobcat)
Red mountain heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis), McNeil Point Trail (bobcat)
West Fork Ladd Creek from the McNeil Point Trail (bobcat)
Jacob's ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum), McNeil Point (bobcat)
The hike to McNeil Point from the McGee Creek Trailhead (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: USFS/Caltopo
  • Start point: McGee Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: McNeil Point
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 8.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2820 feet
  • High Point: 6,160 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes, in the McNeil Point area

Contents

Description

Fred McNeil, writer for the Oregon Journal and avid outdoorsman, author of the classic McNeil’s Mount Hood: Wy’East the Mountain Revisited, passed away in 1958 and, fittingly, his friends hiked up to McNeil Point the following year to spread his ashes near the CCC shelter there. The view is magnificent up the mountain across the spread of the Sandy Glacier, with Pulpit Rock standing out on the skyline. From the Point, you can also see down the Muddy Fork, with its high, splashing waterfalls, to the confluence of the Sandy with the Zigzag River. Wildflowers abound in the alpine meadows after the snow melts. The route outlined here, a quieter one than the busy approach from the Top Spur Trailhead, takes you from the less-visited McGee Creek Trailhead up a forested slope carpeted with huckleberry bushes, and then along the Bald Mountain Ridge, with vistas of its own. Traverse the McGee Creek bowl and take the trail to the Point across snow fields and steep slopes. To complete the loop, return via the short but very steep scramble path that intersects with the Timberline Trail.

Hike past a campsite, and follow an old road bed to the trailhead kiosk, where you need to fill out a wilderness permit. The trail soon bends left to leave the road bed and ascend a slope in a Douglas-fir, silver fir, western hemlock forest. Drop through a bear-grass, huckleberry, and rhododendron to pass a boundary sign for the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Now much larger trees (hemlock, Douglas-fir, cedar) appear on this slope above Elk Creek. Huckleberries are profuse here, and this is an excellent trail to dally on from mid- to late August when they ripen. The path steepens past where the a seep causes a boggy patch on the trail tread. Reach the Timberline-McGee Creek Trail Junction, and go left.

Head up the wide trail in a montane forest of mountain hemlock and noble fir. Reach the crest of the McGee Ridge, and hike along it in dense silver fir woodland. The trail drops off the crest to the right and then rejoins it. Here dwarf mountain hemlocks and silver firs withstand the tribulations of winter winds. Break out of the woods at a stunning vista towards Mount Hood at the McNeil Lower Viewpoint, with the Sandy Glacier in full display and the Muddy Fork plunging through its deep valley below. The trail continues through a stand of noble fir and comes out again at a sunny meadow where lupine and paintbrush bloom. Now drop to another view, this time up to the prominence of McNeil Point, location of the McNeil Point Shelter, your destination for this hike. Head along the narrow ridge crest and rise through a lush carpet of avalanche lily, false hellebore, and heliotrope, switchbacking four times. Reach the Timberline-McNeil Point Scramble Trail Junction, and keep left (This will be your return point on the loop).

Continue on the Timberline Trail as it traverses the basin that is drained by the many tributaries of McGee Creek. The shady woods here are carpeted with blooming avalanche lilies in early July. Cross a creek where, by late July, clumps of red heather, paintbrush, arnica, cinquefoil, and spiraea are in full bloom. Next, there’s the wider McGee Creek Crossing, where the main branch splashes down over mossy boulders. Pass through an open area vegetated with heather, white rhododendron, lupine, and subalpine daisy. A bog above the trail exhibits shooting stars and elephant’s-head lousewort. Descend to another creek, and get a view towards Lost Lake. Step over a stream, and pass some campsites before dropping to a bright wildflower meadow below a talus slope. Make three switchbacks up to a ridge crest, and pass a tarn that dries up by midsummer. A trail to the left leads to campsites (and a shortcut to the Mazama Trail) in a mountain hemlock/subalpine fir parkland. Hike up, passing another tarn, and come to the Timberline-Mazama Trail Junction.

Keep straight here, getting an open view of Mount Hood up ahead. This slope is crowded with young mountain hemlocks and clumps of white and red heather. Cross a beautiful alpine creek, and arrive at the old McNeil Point Trail junction: do not even think about cutting up from here – these meadows are under restoration. Hike up into a subalpine woodland and switchback twice, passing a couple of campsites. Get a three-mountain view on the northern horizon - Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams - near the deep gully of Ladd Creek’s West Fork. Arrive at the signed Timberline-McNeil Point Trail Junction, and make a right (Continue on the Timberline Trail if you want to pay a visit to Cairn Basin, only half a mile away).

The trail heads up an alpine valley carpeted with heather. A short spur to the left offers a view over the thundering West Fork of Ladd Creek as it rushes between clumps of willow. Higher up, you’ll hike along the edge of this unstable gully for a short stretch, again getting far-reaching views north to the Washington stratovolcanoes and back to Lost Lake. The scars of the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire are visible along the ridges just to the north and northeast. At a distinct saddle, a trail spur leads down to the West Fork: you can continue from here on a cross-country jaunt to Barrett Spur (experienced off-trail travelers only!). Hike up on the McNeil Point Trail among mountain hemlock and subalpine fir until the path veers right to cross a talus slope that supports its own colony of pikas. Cross lupine and pasqueflower dells and the beginnings of McGee Creek before making a traverse up a steep alpine slope among heather, lupine, and paintbrush. The views really open up here to the north and west. Reach a rocky flat and a trail junction: go right here to arrive at the McNeil Point Shelter; go left on a cutoff trail that connects with the trail up McNeil Ridge and a higher viewpoint offering a good view of the Glisan Glacier, the source of McGee Creek.

Whether you’re at the shelter or the higher viewpoint, you have standout vistas to the full west face of Mount Hood and across the rock formations and waterfalls of the Muddy Fork to Paradise Park. Stunted whitebark pines, mats of common juniper, and clumps of heather adorn this alpine crest.

When you’ve had your fill, walk down past the McNeil Point Shelter and a rock viewing platform to find the steep scramble trail that drops through a thicket of subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, and whitebark pine. (Caution: If you are unwilling to take on this very steep, eroded user trail, return the way you came in: your hike distance will be about 11.8 miles round-trip). You’ll see all the way to the Washington Cascades, Lost Lake, and along the ridge below to insignificant-looking Bald Mountain. Make sure you step with care as you descend along the edge of a rubble slope. You’ll see a false hellebore/heliotrope meadow to the right. The trail soon joins this lush open expanse and wends down through it with far-reaching vistas still presenting themselves. Reach the Timberline-McNeil Point Scramble Trail Junction, and go left to return to the McGee Creek Trailhead the way you came in.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Government Camp, OR #461 and Mount Hood, OR #462 or Mount Hood #462S
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Hood Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River 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
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Hiking Oregon’s Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails & Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • 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.