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Skookum Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Skookum Lake from the north shore (bobcat)
Mt. Hood from the summit trail, Thunder Mountain (bobcat)
Salmon polemonium (Polemonium carneum), Skookum Lake Trail (bobcat)
Rhododendrons, Skookum Lake Trail (bobcat)
Rugged pinnacles from the Skookum Lake Trail (bobcat)
The route to Skookum Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: Thunder Mountain TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Skookum Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2065 feet
  • High Point: 5,186 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No



This hike takes you on both sides of the 15-mile-long Fish Creek Divide, and you'll be putting in significant elevation gain both going and returning. The final destination is remote Skookum Lake, which once had a campground you used to be able to drive to. Winter storms in February 1996 washed out the road, and the lake has now become a little-visited haven of solitude. Bear in mind, however, that "skookum" in Chinook Jargon means "mighty" or "strong", almost in a supernatural kind of way, and there have been reports of Bigfoot hanging out here! On the way to your possible encounter with a legend, you can detour to the summit of Thunder Mountain, the high point on the hike, from which you can get views that extend from Mount Rainier to the Three Sisters.

Walk to the left of a large berm, and pass some new signs for the Thunder Mountain Trail #542 and Skookum Lake Trail #543 (This is the only official signage you’ll see on this hike). Plunge through a thimbleberry thicket, and hike up along a brushy slope, the trail bordered by boxwood and vine maple. Switchback past an empty signboard before traversing up another thimbleberry slope, getting a view to Olallie Butte. Enter an old growth montane forest of mountain hemlock, silver fir, noble fir, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir with an understory of rhododendrons that bloom in late June. Pass two small springs next to the trail – the second has its own faucet! Hike through a lush meadow where a large noble fir has fallen along the trail. Then rise in silver fir forest to make a switchback and long traverse up. Make another switchback, and traverse through bear-grass and huckleberries under mountain hemlocks. Make a fifth switchback at a clifftop viewpoint that looks south to Battle Ax, Olallie Butte, and Mount Jefferson. Switchback again to the ridge crest, and come to the unsigned Thunder Mountain-Skookum Lake Trail Junction.

Go right here up the spine of the ridge, and swish through bear-grass until you make two short switchbacks up to the summit of Thunder Mountain. This was an old lookout site, and some of the foundation remains. On a good day, the views are spectacular. You will be looking north up the Fish Creek valley to Fish Creek Mountain with Camelback to your left. On the northern horizon are Mount Hood and, left to right, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams. Look south to pick out the snow-capped peaks of Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters. Creamy stonecrop, bear-grass, and woolly sunflower are some of the mid-summer blooms on the peak.

Return to the Thunder Mountain-Skookum Lake Trail Junction and bear right to traverse down a slope. A few years ago a fire damaged some of the trees on this mountainside, and trail crews did some selective cutting to reduce the chances of deadfall on the trail. You’ll make ten switchbacks down, getting views of the Camelback ridge on the north side of the Fish Creek drainage. Hike down a shallow bear-grass gully, and switchback off a ridge. Traverse down among bear-grass, rhododendrons, and huckleberries, and make two switchbacks to reach a mossy moody depression composed of Old Cascades columnar basalt. From here, you can see the rugged pinnacles on Thunder Mountain’s north ridge. Now make nine more switchbacks, passing a scree slope, and drop down a couple of bear-grass benches under the shady forest canopy. Descend along a trickling stream and then the east side of a lush meadow. Before the trail bends right, you’ll pass the Baty Butte-Skookum Lake Trail Junction, which does not look obvious at all: look left across the meadow – some faded flagging indicates where the trail picks up after disappearing in the meadow.

Continue on the Skookum Lake Trail, dropping through old growth forest and a lush devil’s club/salmonberry thicket. Walk up over a low ridge, and descend gradually through bear-grass and rhododendrons. Reach the forested shoreline of Skookum Lake. A meadow at its west end blooms with shooting stars in early summer; fallen trees lie in the lake’s shallows and, while there are trout here, it is reported that most are rather small. High above the lake are the dark crags of Thunder Mountain’s north ridge. The trail continues to a picnic table and an area of campsites, now little-used since the access road (FR 5420-350), seen down the slope, has been shut off since the February 1996 storms caused massive washouts in the Fish Creek drainage.

Return to the trailhead the way you came. If you want to hike farther, see the Baty Butte via Thunder Mountain Hike.


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Off the Beaten Trail by Matt Reeder
  • 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder

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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