If you need to hit the road and the trail to clear your head, try heading to Chinidere Mountain in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. It’s a nearly 2-hour drive from Portland, but it’s a beautiful hike in solitude that's well worth the effort.
It’s one of the only hikes I know that begins with a set of descending steps. From the parking lot, follow signs indicating the way to Wahtum Express. ("Wahtum" is a local Native American word that translates to "pond" or "body of water.”) So it’s no surprise that the 250 wooden steps lead down to the edge of Wahtum Lake. This is a lovely blue jewel of a lake that sits at the headwaters of Eagle Creek, and has scattered campgrounds along its rim.
From here, look for a large tree with a Pacific Crest Trail sign on it that leads northwards. This is the start of the loop trail, and it’s recommended that one walks it counterclockwise to avoid hiking uphill in the steepest spots.
The trail rises up the slopes of Chinidere Mountain (which is pronounced “Shi-Ni-Dere”) through a canopy of hemlocks. You’ll see a rich array of undergrowth as well, including a mix of vanilla leaf, columbine, bunchberry, huckleberry, and wild grasses. The trail is crossed by several small streams, and open meadows mostly dominated by beargrass.
Around the 2-mile mark, look for the junction with the Herman Creek Trail. Keep straight and continue past the Chinidere Cutoff Trail to the left – this will be your route back down. Continue climbing up. You’ll pass a Chinidere Mountain sign just another 100 feet up the trail leading the right. This will take you off the PCT and up to the mountain peak.
The toughest part of the hike is the last third of a mile, which has the abrupt elevation gain of 400 feet. Along the way you can opt for a small detour at the first set of switchbacks which curves off into a rocky scramble. Some interesting rock benches sit on this path, making it a nice turnoff for picnickers.
Otherwise, continue on the main trail to reach the summit. The trail narrows at the top, then opens into a ridge guaranteed to be lush with wildflowers in sunny seasons. Mt. Hood, the Dalles Mountain, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Defiance can all be seen from the 360-degree view.
The way down is steeper, and you’ll take the Chinidere Cutoff Trail this time, which leads back down to the lake. Pass several campsites on the lake edge, and keep walking left until you hit the big tree with the PCT signs. From here it’s a short trot back to the parking lot.
It's free--but get your permit! Wilderness Permits are required for trails leaving Wahtum Lake between May 15 and Oct 15. Permits are free and self-issued at a permit box station at the Wahtum Lake trailhead.
Horses are allowed, but group size is limited to 12 humans and/or stock animals.
U.S. Forest Service directions from Hood River, OR:
-- Go south on Hwy 281 Dee Highway (it goes past the Hood River airport) about 11.5 miles to the Lost Lake turn-off.
-- Bear right and cross the East Fork of the Hood River.
-- Keep to the left and follow the signs as if going to Lost Lake. -- One half mile after crossing the West Fork of the Hood River, a signed junction will indicate Wahtum Lake to the right (Forest Road 13); take this road. Although paved, Forest Road 13 is a narrow road. During the summer, expect heavy traffic.
-- At the next intersection (4+ miles), keep right onto Forest Road 1310. This road is even narrower and traffic may be just as heavy. Stay on the pavement until Wahtum Lake Campground is reached. This is the trailhead for trails heading down to and around Wahtum Lake.
-- Chinidere Mountain Trail #445 begins to the north above Wahtum Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail #2000. You will find it just west of the PCT #2000, #406M junction.