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Mount Mitchell via Sugarloaf Trail Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier from Mount Mitchell (bobcat)
On the Sugarloaf Trail to Mt. Mitchell (bobcat)
North cliffs of the Sugarloaf (bobcat)
View to the Sugarloaf from the bear-grass meadows of Mt. Mitchell (bobcat)
Scalloped onion (Allium crenulatum), Mt. Mitchell (bobcat)
The trail to Mt. Mitchell via the Sugarloaf (dotted line is extra excursion to the Sugarloaf) (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Sugarloaf TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Mount Mitchell
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1620 feet
  • High Point: 3,926 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: For older kids
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



The hike to the summit of Mount Mitchell used to be a popular outing noted for its sweeping views, especially the full frontal panorama of the south slopes of Mount Saint Helens, only 10 miles away. However, in 2011, a private landowner closed off public access to the trailhead, and the alternative trail route to Mount Mitchell, via North Siouxon Creek, was 18 miles round-trip. Later, a new route using a long-abandoned trail was established, coming in from the west and passing below the imposing cliffs of the Sugarloaf before connecting with the Mitchell Peak Trail below the summit. This route is rough and steep in short stretches, but it’s only a couple miles longer than the original access trail. Note that even though this is not an official trail, a Discover Pass is still required.

Start hiking where the overgrown road bed continues up the slope, with a tributary of Ole Creek running to your left. In a few yards, the route becomes a very steep trail that ascends in short distance to a lovely oxalis-carpeted woodland. The Douglas-fir/hemlock forest here has not been logged since the 1902 Yacolt Burn, and large snags still stand in the understory. The trail crosses a shallow draw and begins to traverse up a slope, with the occasional short steep section and a few logs to step over. Timber Sale signs in this area indicate that the landscape may change rather soon although a Right-of-Way Boundary is also marked on both sides of the trail. You’ll cross a small creek in a boggy flat with burned cedar snags. Then make another rising traverse before the trail descends through a carpet of salal, bear-brass, Oregon grape, and bracken. Note the red-painted blazes marking the route on some trees.

The trail passes out of the Timber Sale zone and ascends a steep slope before dropping to cross a stream shaded by alders. Then you’ll be rising again through an understory of huckleberry and vanilla leaf. The trail then drops through a dense, younger wood to reach the open skirt of talus below the north face of the Sugarloaf. Impressive columnar cliffs rise above, and you’ll need to pay attention to the tread as it picks its way through the boulders. A great view opens up to Mount Saint Helens, with Marble Mountain rising above the Swift Reservoir below. The forested slopes of Mount Mitchell can be seen ahead. Columbine, daisy, saxifrage, bleeding heart, alumroot, lupine, and paintbrush bloom among the rocks here, and you may hear the alarm call of a pika. The trail passes right along the base of the Sugarloaf’s northeast cliff in thickets of goat’s beard and salmonberry. When you reenter the woods, you’ll come to a saddle and the junction with the Sugarloaf Viewpoint Trail.

Stay to the left here (you can explore the Sugarloaf later), and hike up this forested crest through the bear-grass. Noble fir and silver fir have entered the forest mix. Soon enough, you’ll arrive at another unmarked junction, this time with the Mitchell Peak Trail.

Keep left, and switchback up this rather rutted trail through a parkland where bear-grass blooms in profusion in early summer. Switchback again, noting lupine, tiger lily, and penstemon blooming along the trail. A third switchback takes you through flowery rock gardens and a carpet of kinnikinnick and common juniper to the rocky summit with a couple of concrete feet remaining from the old lookout. Around you the weathered andesite crags of Mount Mitchell provide an atmospheric foreground to expansive views in all directions. Due north, Mount Saint Helens dominates, with Goat Mountain the prominence to its left. Mount Rainier and Mount Adams are both to the northeast, and you can see the entire profile of the Indian Heaven ridge, from Sawtooth Mountain to Red Mountain. Just south, you’re looking across the North Siouxon drainage to forested Huffman Peak, with Siouxon Peak farther long the ridge to your left. Farther south, Silver Star Mountain, Sturgeon Rock, and Larch Mountain can be seen as well as Green Lookout Mountain. In Oregon, Mount Hood stands out on the horizon, and the high peaks of the Columbia River Gorge, including Mount Defiance, can be made out.

Sugarloaf side-trip:

On the return, when you reach the Sugarloaf-Sugarloaf Viewpoint Trail Junction, you can go left. The maintained trail peters out at a viewpoint over the North Siouxon drainage. From here, you can turn up on a scratch of a path, which may be well-flagged, and hike up through woods on a carpet of bear-grass. You’ll pass along a moss/lichen bench which offers great views to Mount Saint Helens from the lip of a sheer cliff. If you see large piles of scat here, you’ll know you’re in the territory of a rather sizeable black bear (or a Bigfoot). The route reenters woods to emerge at a clifftop viewpoint looking towards Huffman Peak and back to Mount Mitchell with Mount Adams peeking up behind it. Just to the southwest is Peak 3683, a massive pinnacle on the Sugarloaf’s south face. If you want to bag Sugarloaf’s true summit, however, keep up and along a linear meadow, and turn into the bear-grass woods to find the viewless high point.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Discover Pass required


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Guidebooks that cover this hike

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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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