Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Perfect Hike: Elk Meadows, Mt. Hood OR

I try to get out and do a hike now and then, and a couple of years ago a co-worker introduced me to one that has since become my favorite. So much of a favorite, in fact, that now I only want to go on this particular hike, because I think it’s perfect.  (I guess it’s the hiking equivalent of ordering the same dish every time you go to your favorite restaurant.) The hike is to Elk Meadows on Mt. Hood.

A little whitewater on the way to Elk Meadows

So what is that makes this my fave hike? Well, let’s just say it has everything. Rushing water, colorful wildflowers, a roughhewn footbridge, a healthy climb – and to top things off – a gorgeous meadow. Plus, this hike is rated “moderate”– which means you can feel that you did a somewhat challenging hike – not just some easy two-mile stroll to look at a waterfall. (Nothing wrong with those, by the way.)

For starters, there's a well-marked trailhead (complete with a decent Porta-Potty nearby).

The beginning

Fairly soon into the hike you encounter Clark Creek, complete with a rustic footbridge.

Clark Creek footbridge

Not long after Clark Creek, you hit Newton Creek, another rushing body of water. But this time, you cross by walking across logs. A little scary, but just scary enough to make it fun.

Hiking buddy crossing Newton Creek

Along the way you can see some interesting fungi, like this other-worldly mushroom formation.

A large forest mushroom clings to a tree

You can also see a multitude of blue lupine in bloom.

Blue lupine abound

The path then leads to eight long-ish switchbacks.  Fortunately, on that hot August afternoon, the switchbacks were mostly shaded. (More perfection!) Also – eight is about the right number, and makes you feel like you earned what lies ahead.

Hiking buddy climbing switchbacks

After the switchbacks, the trail leads to the piece de resistance – Elk Meadows. Once you hit the meadow you can hike the perimeter and glimpse Mt. Hood from various vantage points.

Elk Meadows

This is an amazingly scenic spot, and it’s worth lingering to admire the picture-postcard beauty. It's also a great place for a picnic. Or just bring a book and a blanket and while away the afternoon.

A few things worth noting:

I’ve done this hike in July, August, and September, and the experience varied by month:

July was a bit buggy (due to melting snow pack, I believe). A lightweight long-sleeve shirt plus insect repellent came in handy.

August was quite warm, and a little dusty and dry – but minimal bugs.  

September was idyllic.  Wildflowers gave way to fall colors. It was warm but not hot. No bugs. This is picnic weather.

The hike to Elk Meadows is about a seven mile round trip. There is an option to continue on to Gnarl Ridge, making for a ten mile round trip. (I’m saving that for next time ... if I get past the picnic part).

For a more detailed account of this hike (and the Gnarl Ridge option) check out William L. Sullivan’s ever-popular 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington.


  1. That looks lovely! Although I'm a big fan of the two mile stroll to see waterfalls...

  2. Yes, I know what you mean. The two mile waterfall stroll definitely has its place.