Summer on The Mountain
In snow-free months, most visitors are heading to historic Timberline Lodge. Besides having a fabulous view of Mount Hood, the lodge is surrounded by meadows that burst into bloom in July and August. Here you can access the 41-mile-long Timberline Trail, which circles the mountain. If you just have time for a short hike, head west from the lodge on this trail rather than east. (The route east passes through dusty ash fields and then drops down into the hot, barren White River Valley.) You'll find snow here year-round, and there's even summer skiing at the Timberline ski area. The lift-accessed ski slopes are high above the lodge on the Palmer Snowfield and are open only in the morning. In summer you can ride the lift even if you aren't skiing. The Magic Mile Skyride, which operates on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm, costs $15 for adults and $9 for seniors and children 7 to 14.
In summer you can also ride the lift at the Mt. Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl, U.S. 26, Government Camp (tel. 503/222-2695; www.skibowl.com), where you'll find mountain-biking trails, hiking trails, an alpine slide (sort of a summertime bobsled run), and numerous other rides and activities.
One of the most popular and most enjoyable hikes on Mount Hood is the trail to Mirror Lake, which, as its name implies, reflects the summit of Mount Hood in its mirrorlike waters. The trail is fairly easy and is good for families with young children. If you want to add a bit more challenge, you can continue to the summit of Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain, the back side of which in winter is part of the Mt. Hood Skibowl ski area. The view from the summit is superb, and in late summer there are huckleberries along the trail. You'll find the trail head on U.S. 26, just before you reach Government Camp.
The east side of the mountain, accessed by Ore. 35 from Hood River, is much drier and less visited than the south side. Here on the east side, you'll find good hiking trails in the vicinity of Mount Hood Meadows, where the wildflower displays in late July and August are some of the best on the mountain. The loop trail past Umbrella and Sahalie falls is particularly enjoyable. Also on this side of the mountain, you'll find the highest segment of the Timberline Trail. This section of trail climbs up Cooper Spur ridge from historic Cloud Cap Inn (no longer open to the public). The close-up views of the mountain and the distant views of eastern Oregon's dry landscape make this one of my favorite hiking destinations on Mount Hood. To reach the trail head, follow signs off Ore. 35 for Cooper Spur and Cloud Cap. On the east side of Ore. 35, off Forest Service Road 44, you'll also find the best mountain-biking trails in the area. Among these are the Surveyor's Ridge Trail and the Dog Mountain Trail.
If you're interested in a little adventure and an alternative route from the west side of the mountain to the Hood River area, try exploring the gravel Lolo Pass Road, which is usually in good enough condition for standard passenger cars. Be sure to have a Forest Service map, since roads out here are not well marked and it's easy to get lost. Branching off from the Lolo Pass Road are several smaller roads that lead to some of the best hiking trails on Mount Hood. Also off the Lolo Pass Road, you'll find Lost Lake, one of the most beautiful (and most photographed) lakes in the Oregon Cascades. When the water is still, the view of Mount Hood and its reflection in the lake is positively sublime. Here you'll find campgrounds, cabins, picnic areas, good fishing, and hiking trails that lead both around the lake and up a nearby butte.
Down at the base of the mountain, just west of the community of Welches, you can learn about the forests, rivers, and fish of the Northwest at the Bureau of Land Management's Wildwood Recreation Site. Within this 560-acre natural area are 2.5 miles of trails, including a boardwalk that crosses a wetland area. The highlight of the trail is an underwater fish-viewing window on the Cascade Streamwatch Trail. There's also a playground here, which makes this a good stop for families with small children. Fishing and swimming in the Salmon River are popular. There's also access to the steep and strenuous Boulder Ridge Trail, as well as the much easier Old Salmon River Trail. There's a day-use fee of $5.
It's also possible to do some paddling while you're in the area. Blue Sky Whitewater Rafting (tel. 800/898-6398 or 503/630-3163; www.blueskyrafting.com), operates white-water-rafting trips on the Clackamas River, which has its source on the flanks of Mount Hood. A half-day trip costs $47 and a full-day trip costs $75 per person. River Drifters (tel. 800/972-0430 or 800/226-1001; www.riverdrifters.net) leads similar Clackamas River trips, and also trips on the Sandy River, which is more convenient if you're short on time. Sandy River trips, which are only offered in April and May, cost $85 per person.
If you're interested in a more strenuous mountain experience, the Mount Hood area offers plenty of mountain- and rock-climbing opportunities. Timberline Mountain Guides, P.O. Box 1167, Bend, OR 97709 (tel. 541/312-9242; www.timberlinemtguides.com), leads summit climbs on Mount Hood. They also offer ski-mountaineering and rock-climbing courses. A 2-day Mount Hood mountaineering course with summit climb costs $460.
Winter on The Mountain
Although snowpacks that can be slow to reach skiable depths and frequent mid-winter rains make the ski season on Mount Hood unpredictable, in an ordinary year the regular ski season runs from around Thanksgiving right through March or April. Add to this the summer skiing on the Palmer Snowfield at Timberline Ski Area, and you have the longest ski season in the United States. There are five ski areas on Mount Hood, though two of these are tiny operations that attract primarily beginners and families looking for an economical way to all go schussing together. For cross-country skiers, there are many miles of marked ski trails, some of which are groomed.
The single most important thing to know about skiing anywhere in Oregon is that you'll have to have a Sno-Park permit. These permits, which sell for $3 a day, $7 for 3 days, or $20 for the season, allow you to park in plowed parking areas on the mountain. You can get permits at ski shops in Sandy and Hood River and at a few convenience stores. Expect to pay a service fee wherever you buy your pass.
Mt. Hood Skibowl (tel. 503/272-3206 or 800/754-2695 or 503/222-2695 for snow report; www.skibowl.com) is located in Government Camp on U.S. 26 and is the closest ski area to Portland. Skibowl offers 1,500 vertical feet of skiing and has more expert slopes than any other ski area on the mountain. This is also one of the largest lighted ski areas in the country. Adult lift-ticket prices range from $35 to $43 for an all-day pass ($26 for night skiing). Call for hours of operation.
Timberline Ski Area (tel. 503/272-3158 or 503/222-2211 for snow report; www.timberlinelodge.com) is the highest ski area on Mount Hood and has one slope that is open throughout the summer. This is the site of the historic Timberline Lodge. Adult lift-ticket prices range from $25 for night skiing to between $54 and $59 for an all-day pass. Call for hours of operation.
Mount Hood Meadows (tel. 800/SKI-HOOD [754-4663] or 503/227-7669 for snow report; www.skihood.com), 12 miles northeast of Government Camp on Ore. 35, is the largest ski resort on Mount Hood, with more than 2,000 skiable acres, 2,777 vertical feet of slopes, five high-speed quad lifts, and a wide variety of terrain. This is the closest Mount Hood comes to having a destination ski resort, and consequently, it is here that you'll find the most out-of-state skiers. Lift-ticket prices range from $25 for night skiing to between $57 and $69 for an all-day pass. Call for hours of operation.
If you're interested in cross-country skiing, there are plenty of trails. For views, head to the White River Sno-Park, east of Government Camp. The trails at Glacier View Sno-Park, across U.S. 26 from Mount Hood Skibowl, are good for beginner and intermediate skiers. The mountain's best-groomed trails are at the Mount Hood Meadows Nordic Center ($10 all-day trail pass) on Ore. 35 and at Teacup Lake ($7 donation requested), which is across the highway from the turnoff for Mount Hood Meadows. Teacup Lake is maintained by a local ski club (www.teacupnordic.org) and has the best system of groomed trails on the mountain. In the town of Sandy and at Government Camp, numerous ski shops rent cross-country skis.