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Owl Point from Vista Ridge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Mount Hood dominates the view from Owl Point (Tom Kloster)
Unique view of The Pinnacle from Vista Ridge (Tom Kloster)
Mount Hood from The Rockpile viewpoint (Tom Kloster)
Laurance Lake and the Clear Branch Valley from Owl Point (Tom Kloster)
The view north from Alki Point (Tom Kloster)
Red Hill and Blue Ridge Area Map
Red Hill and Blue Ridge Area Map

Contents

Description

This is a highly rewarding trip for hikers wanting a lot of mountain scenery for a modest effort. The route was a long-forgotten segment of the Vista Ridge Trail until 2007, when volunteers from Oregon Hikers restored the route all the way to Owl Point. This effort involved clearing 178 logs from the trail that had accumulated over the past three decades, brushing out sections of trail that were so overgrown as to be impassable, and rebuilding the tread in spots where the elements had taken their toll. The trail rescue was in response to a USFS effort to turn this beautiful trail into a motorcycle playground, an idea that was finally put to rest in 2010, thanks to the involvement of many hiking advocates, including the Oregon Hikers community. The work by the original trail crew in 2007 gave rise to the establishment of Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO). In July 2018, the continuing efforts of Trailkeepers of Oregon came full circle, and the Old Vista Ridge Trail #626A was officially recognized by the US Forest Service. TKO has pledged to keep the trail maintained as far as Owl Point.

The view of Mount Hood from this trail is a rare and gorgeous perspective, and the trail is much lower than the adjacent trails to Mount Hood, and thus open earlier in summer (usually by early July) and much later in the fall (mid-November). This is an especially attractive hike in late afternoon, when the view from Owl Point is at its best, so it can also work as an add-on to longer trips to Elk Cove and Cairn Basin from the Vista Ridge Trailhead. The short spurs to The Rockpile and Owl Point follow informal trails that are usually well-marked and easy to follow. Print a copy of the map below to help you find trail junctions in the event that signage is missing. While this hike is usually open by late June, it is common for snow drifts to linger into early July along the last mile of the hike. The trail now essentially runs along the expanded boundary (2009) of the Mt. Hood Wilderness. The very beginning of the Old Vista Ridge Trail at the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail got burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire but you will soon be out of the burn as you hike north on the ridge.

From the trailhead, continue one third of a mile to the Vista Ridge Junction (and wilderness registration kiosk). Turn left here, where the Old Vista Ridge Trail No. 626A is signed and obvious. After a short walk on the level, the trail begins to climb more noticeably, and you will see the many cleared logs that once blocked this portion of the trail. The route switchbacks once, then begins a traverse along the east side of Vista Ridge, heading north. There are some interesting views into the Clear Branch valley at a couple of spots, plus a forested boulder field and some attractive stands of mountain hemlock and noble fir. If you watch closely, you'll notice occasional traces of old phone wire from the 1920s that once served area lookouts. There are also a couple of short spurs to overlooks just off the trail to the right.

Beyond the traverse section, the trail crosses a broad crest of open subalpine forest and huckleberry fields, passing a couple of scree slopes and then dropping to a small meadow. Here, the main route continues across the meadow, and in wet seasons the meadow can be quite marshy, but navigable with dry feet—just pick out the trail on the far side and work your way there (This meadow is the jumpoff point for the Red Hill Add-on Hike). From the meadow, the trail passes a rustic log bench as it re-enters forest and then climbs to a low saddle, drops over the ridge line, then climbs again to another saddle and the signed Rockpile Junction—watch for a notched log where the route to the Rockpile continues straight from this junction. The main trail turns sharply uphill to the left here, while the spur to The Rockpile viewpoint continues through the notched log and into a pretty heather and huckleberry meadow,

To make the scenic side-trip to The Rockpile, continue past the notched log for about 300 feet into the meadow; then watch for a sign pointing right to "The Rockpile" (or, if the sign is missing, take a sharp right into an opening in the trees at the point where the meadow trail begins to descend). From the signpost, head cross-country through open forest and huckleberry fields for another 300 feet to the stunning viewpoint at The Rockpile. This beautiful stop alone would be a worthy destination for the hike. The cross-country segment is reasonably easy to follow using the map, below—it's also the site of a geocache, so the route is becoming increasingly obvious.

To continue on to Owl Point from The Rockpile, retrace your steps back through the heather meadow, and turn uphill at the Rockpile Junction. The trail passes more talus slopes framed by more beautiful forests of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir before climbing to another gentle crest in deep forest and the signed Owl Point Junction. Here, an obvious informal path to Owl Point heads to the right, climbing first through the forested edge of a large talus slope, then emerging at the west edge of the rugged, rocky viewpoint. The path now circles along with wooded edge of the crest eastward for about 100 yards as the view unfolds, reaching Owl Point proper. The view of Mount Hood from this spot is stunning, but you are also treated to views of Laurance Lake and down the cliffs of the Clear Branch Rim to the Upper Hood River Valley. This beautiful spot is a good turnaround point if you're not interested in the 500 foot elevation loss/gain entailed in the Perry Lake from Vista Ridge Hike, which carries you 0.8 miles beyond. For both The Rockpile and Owl Point, the best times for photography are early morning and late afternoon.

There is one more viewpoint just beyond the Owl Point Junction, and that's Alki Point, a huge talus slope that provides a handsome view north into Washington, with St. Helens, Rainier and Adams filling the skyline, and the town of Hood River far below. This viewpoint is just a short distance beyond the Owl Point junction, and right on the main trail.

For the more adventurous, there are also bushwhack options for visiting Red Hill and Katsuk Point, two additional viewpoints in area. Red Hill can be found by following a faint path west from the meadow, then working up the slope to the right until you see the obvious summit ridge. Katsuk Point can be reached by hiking past The Rockpile through alternating meadows and forest thickets to the rugged viewpoint. Katsuk is the Chinook jargon for "in the middle" and describes the location of this scenic spur in the heart of the Middle Fork country. Both trips are for advanced hikers equipped with maps and route-finding devices only.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt Hood, OR #462
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Hood Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • 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

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Trail forms a border with wilderness: wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks

  • 60 Hikes in 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Off the Beaten Trail by Matt Reeder
  • Day Hiking Mount Hood: A Year-Round Guide by Eli Boschetto
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan

More Links


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.