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South Fork Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood from South Fork Mountain (Jamey Pyles)
Rhododendron fringe, Memaloose Lake (bobcat)
Trail sign (cfm)
Cardwell's penstemon (Penstemon cardwellii), South Fork Mountain (bobcat)
GPS track of hike to Memaloose Lake and South Fork Mountain
  • Start point: Memaloose Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: South Fork Mountain
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
  • High point: 4,850 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: June-November
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The South Fork Mountain Hike is a foray into the Clackamas Wilderness, established in 2009 under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act. You'll begin at the Memaloose Lake Trailhead and hike up Memaloose Creek in cool lush old-growth forest to secluded Memaloose Lake. From there it's a steep - 700 feet in about a mile - jaunt up an unmaintained trail to the old lookout site on South Fork Mountain.

The trail heads up in massive old-growth forest, cool, green and lush. The giants that tower are Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, western hemlock, and noble fir. You'll also note a few silver firs. Reach the wilderness permit box and sign in. Keep hiking up through a verdant carpet of oxalis, vanilla leaf and inside-out flower with Memaloose Creek burbling on the right. Many of the giant trees have fallen and taken nature’s course. The trail drops slightly to cross a creek lush with spiny wood fern. Rise over a hump and keep up along another creek, and then cross it and head up more steeply. Step over the next creek among more large noble firs. Then switchback three times and make a long traverse up to cross Memaloose Creek. Clackamas white irises, an endemic species, bloom in this area towards the end of June. At a trail junction (The fork right leads up to the north end of the lake), the path switchbacks and rises. On the left, Memaloose Creek pours down a small waterfall. Reach a campsite at Memaloose Lake among rhododendrons that bloom colorfully in early July. Look for rough-skinned newts floating lazily on the lake's tranquil waters.

To head up to South Fork Mountain, proceed left over Memaloose Creek. A trail through campsites to the right also leads to the swampy area at the south end of the lake. The old aluminum toilet that had been on the left side of the trail is now bullet-riddled and has been moved as a sort of trophy to one of these campsites. Pass a sign for South Fork Mountain and head up the slope in an understory of bear-grass, rhododendron and sapling silver firs. The rooty trail winds up and switchbacks: be prepared to step over or detour around downed trees as this trail is unmaintained. Make several more short switchbacks up in dry forest and hit the ridge, which the trail ascends up to the right under a Douglas-fir, noble fir and silver fir canopy. White irises will be blooming along the trail here in early July. The trail switchbacks and rises along the crest. Finally, there are two short switchbacks to the summit, where there is a dusty road turn-around. Trees have grown up around the former lookout site, but you can still see a fair slice of the Cascades. There’s a view south to Olallie Butte, Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, and the Three Sisters. Walking through the mountain hemlocks and chinquapin takes you to a view north of Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and also west to the Willamette Valley.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Fish Creek Mtn, OR #492
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Best Old-Growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon by John & Diane Cissel
  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

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.

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.