Portland Area Hikes

Vista Ridge
By Paul Gerald
  |  Gorp.com
Page 4 of 4   |  
Key Info
Length : 6 miles to Wy'east Basin; 14 miles to see it all
Configuration : Balloon
Difficulty : Moderate; but there's one tricky river crossing.
Scenery : Mountain streams, rocks, glaciers, flowers everywhere
Exposure : Shady for a couple of miles, then in and out of meadows
Traffic : Moderate use on August weekends, light otherwise
Trail Surface : Packed dirt, roots, rocks
Hiking Time : 3 to 6 hours
Season : July to October
Access : Northwest Forest Pass required.
Maps : Mount Hood Wilderness; Green Trails #462 (Mount Hood)
Facilities : None at trailhead; the closest are at the Zigzag Store.
Special Comments : For more information, contact the Mount Hood Visitor Information Center at (503) 622-7674.

In Brief
A short, easy-access trail to several flower-filled bowls at the tree line on Mount Hood, this hike is surprisingly seldom used. That might be because it's a bit of a drive to the trailhead, but rest assured that it's worth it. You can bring the kids for a short picnic outing or stretch out your legs on an all-day affair.

From Portland on US 26, drive 36 miles east ofI-205 to Zigzag and turn left onto Lolo Pass Road at the Zigzag Store. Continue 10.6 miles to Lolo Pass and turn right onto unpaved FS 1810, which is the second right at the pass. After 5.5 miles, you'll be back on pavement. In 1.8 more miles, you'll enter FS 18. Go 3.3 miles and make a hairpin right onto FS 16. Go 5.4 miles and turn right onto unpaved but signed FS 1650. Stay left at 2.8 miles; the trailhead is 0.8 miles ahead, at the end of the road. Driving time is 2 hours.

Exactly why this hike isn't packed all the time has always been a mystery. All you have to do is climb slightly for a couple of miles through quiet woods and you're in wildflower heaven. The bad news is that the beginning and end of this hike can be tedious; the good news is that when you've gone less than three miles, you're basically done climbing for the day and can choose among four spectacular areas of flowers, meadows, creeks, and mountain views.

From the trailhead, go 0.2 miles to a sign and turn right onto the Vista Ridge Trail. It's not too exciting in here, and it can get buggy, but when you see Mount Adams through the trees to the left, and the trail gets just a bit steeper, you're almost there. At 2.7 miles from the trailhead, you'll arrive at the Timberline Trail, in an open area with Mount Hood looming right in front of you. Congratulations: you've now climbed the biggest hill of your day—wasn't much, was it? You can go straight ahead for Wy'east Basin and Elk Cove, turn right for Eden Park and Cairn Basin, or go either way and see them all in a big loop.

But let's turn right on the Timberline Trail. You'll briefly plunge downhill and then start contouring around to the left, crossing babbling brooks and admiring more flowers all the time. After one mile of this, you'll cross a larger stream, where logs have usually been placed to make a bridge. A quarter of a mile later, you'll be in Eden Park, which just might be the mountain meadow of your dreams. To preserve the fragile landscape, stay on the trails.

To keep going to Cairn Basin, cross Eden Park and find the trail in the trees as it turns toward Hood. It will climb a small hill, with a view back down to Eden Park, and then pass through a notch and arrive 0.2 miles later in a campsite at Cairn Basin. Here, you can turn right on the Pacific Crest Trail to connect with the McNeil Point hike, which is just 0.3 miles and a tricky river crossing away. Or you can go straight ahead, following a sign for Elk Cove, to complete this loop hike. At the far end of the campsite you'll cross a creek that might be a bit much for the little ones; after that, it's basically a flat mile to Wy'east Basin.

Once there, your car is to your left (go 0.3 miles to the Vista Ridge Trail and turn right) and Elk Cove is to your right. In just a couple minutes on the way to Elk Cove, you'll come to a lovely meadow with a creek and views of Mounts Saint Helens, Rainier, and Adams. Just 1.2 flat miles away, Elk Cove might be the most spectacular of these destinations; it's certainly the largest, and Mount Hood seems to rise out of its far side all at once. Here, you'll find wildflowers throughout August, huckleberries late in the month, and reddish/orange mountain ash in September. I once spoke to a ranger who had seen elk and black bears in Elk Cove. Give either of them their space, and they won't bother you.

As you head back on the Timberline Trail, before you get back to Wy'east Basin, keep an eye out for a side trail leading to Dollar Lake. There's no sign, but it follows a draw uphill in an area of short trees and a tiny stream that's more of a wet spot in the trail. Look for a rocky area uphill of the trail. If you get back as far as the Pinnacle Ridge Trail, you've missed it by about five minutes. Dollar Lake (so named because it's almost perfectly round, like a silver dollar) probably should be called Half-Dollar Lake; you could wade across it in a minute. But it's a quiet, lovely spot to contemplate all the beauty you've seen and say good-bye for now to Mount Hood before heading back to your car.

Published: 24 May 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »