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Paradise Park via the Sandy River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood from the Timberline Trail/PCT north of Paradise Park (Jerry Adams)
Mt. Hood from the Sandy River Trail (bobcat)
View from Timberline Trail/PCT crossing of the Sandy River (Steve Hart)
Split Rock, in Paradise Park (bobcat)
Hikers on the North fork of Lost Creek (Tom Kloster)
Route to paradise park from the Ramona Falls Trailhead (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Ramona Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Paradise Park
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Distance: 14.2 miles round trip
  • Hike Type: Out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 3420 feet
  • High point: 5,855 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: As far as Ramona Falls


Hike Description

This is definitely not the easiest way to get to Paradise Park. The slog up from the Sandy River to Paradise Park is arduous - you mainly see people walking around Mount Hood or thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Because of the length of the hike and the elevation gain, many people would only do this as a backpack. The Pacific Crest Trail ascends a ridge from the Sandy River and, at a couple of viewpoints, you'll get views down into the steep valley of the Paradise Branch as well as the ravine formed by Rushing Water Creek on the south side of the ridge. There are also unique views of the volcanic ramparts at the head of the Sandy River and the Sandy Glacier. Take note that the biggest obstacles on this route are the two crossings of the Sandy River.

Take the wide, sandy trail leading up from the southeast corner of the parking area. You will be hiking among stunted mountain hemlock, Douglas-fir, and lodgepole pine on a carpet of moss, pinemat manzanita, and reindeer lichen. Beginning in about 1780, pyroclastic flows from Mount Hood buried the Sandy River, which continues to change its course as it carves through the soft strata. Pass the first of at least three glacial river crossing signs warning about safe passage when waters are high. (There has been more than one drowning death in the area.) Come to the Sandy River-Ramona Falls Trailhead Trail Junction, and proceed past a large boulder to a stop sign, where you’ll need to fill out a free wilderness permit.

Hike onward through the trees. The trail has been moved back away from the river after sections that were too close to the riverbank washed away. At 1.1 miles reach the bank of the river, and then descend to the Sandy River Crossing. A bridge is no longer provided here, so you’ll need to pick one of the logs strewn across the water or attempt a ford (see Tips for Crossing Streams). This crossing can be dangerous and is easiest from mid-summer to early fall. The trail picks up on the opposite bank and winds through an alder-colonized debris fan. Drop in and out of a gully, and head up parallel to the river in shady woods. Come to the Pacific Crest-Sandy River Trail Junction, and go right.

Wend upwards among rhododendrons, and rise to a bench above the Sandy River in the dry, stunted forest of Old Maid Flat. Soon, however, you'll enter a shady old-growth forest with a salal understory and get views down to the Sandy’s wide debris channel. The trail cuts into a pyroclastic slope and arrives at the Pacific Crest-Timberline Middle Trail Junction. (A 0.4 mile diversion to the left will quickly take you to Ramona Falls, but this is not included in the mileage given for this hike.) Go right at the junction, and descend to a bench. Before dropping to the alder thickets on the Sandy River debris plain, look for a steep trail leading up to a bench on your left. The old Upper Sandy Guard Station, now all shuttered up, is atop this bench and out of sight. The 1935 structure is unique in its log/stone wall construction, but has now lost part of its roof, and most of the windows are boarded. A hantavirus warning is posted on the door, so don't think about entering.

Then descend on the Pacific Crest Trail to the Sandy River. This crossing can be impassable early in the summer when there is heavy snow melt or after heavy rains. It can be easy to cross in the morning but difficult to cross in the afternoon when there's more snow melt. The PCT soon begins its switchbacking course up to Paradise Park. First, you'll head along Rushing Water Creek, a reliable year-round source of water but also your last source before Paradise Park. There are a number of campsites here. Then the trail makes two big switchbacks on the forested slope and winds its way up, with occasional glimpses down to the steep pyroclastic slopes above Rushing Water Creek. More switchbacks take you up to a viewpoint on the edge of the Rushing Water ravine. The trail crosses the spine of the ridge, and you'll get the first of several views down into the steep-sided canyon of the Paradise Branch with its attractive waterfall. Soon you'll enter alpine parklands, getting better views of Mount Hood, and reach the Paradise Loop Trail at mile 6.4, a 2100' elevation gain from the Sandy River.

Make a left, and switchback up through small meadows and mountain ash thickets. To the north, one can see the verdant spine of Yocum Ridge. Then you'll traverse open meadows blooming with mariposa, false hellebore, lupine, paintbrush, partridge foot, and knotweed. Towhead babies, the seed heads of pasque flower, stud the grasslands later in the summer. The west face of Mount Hood, including Mississippi Head and the Zigzag Glacier, looms above. Look up to your left to see the massive boulder of Split Rock just a short distance off the trail. There's a small creek and then the larger North Fork of Lost Creek, with many campsites in the vicinity. Whether you're up for a day hike or an overnight, this is a good place to stop.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • 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
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood Wilderness

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
  • Exercise caution at the crossings of the Sandy River

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Oregon's Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by Jordan Summers (PCT section)

More Links


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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