Adventure-seekers flock to the slopes of the majestic Mt. Hood for wintertime sports, but my favorite way of enjoying the mountain is by hiking the quiet meadows and forests resting in lower elevations. It’s a great way to pack in excellent Pacific Northwest trail-finding without the bother of crowds.
One hike that sits on the top of my list of summertime solo trek spots is Elk Meadows, a lovely subalpine meadow accessible in the summer and fall.
Located on Mt. Hood’s east side, the adventure starts at the Mount Hood Meadows Trailhead, which is a hub for several interconnecting trails networking the slopes. The Elk Meadows hike is a shorter option, but there’s always the opportunity to keep hiking by linking up with another route.
The hike begins on a route marked Sahale Falls Trail, and starts by snaking through a mixed forest heavy with hemlocks and fir trees, lined by an understory of black huckleberries. You’ll pass twin glacial streams along the way: Clark Creek and Newton Creek. Note that there are no bridges to aid with the crossing, although trail workers usually pile a few logs and boulders to form rough bridges. Cross carefully, especially early in the season, and use a hiking pole.
Once the treeline start to break, the elevation climb begins a roughly 780-foot gain. You’ll be hiking up the Newton Canyon's north slope to reach Elk Meadows. Expect some intense switchbacks as you walk under large Douglas firs that slowly mix with beargrass and noble fir as you near the ridge crest. Elk Meadows in just ahead.
Since the area opens up for hiking in the summertime, you’re guaranteed to get a nice showing of alpine flowers, from explorer's gentian and fireweed, to asters and groundsel. The meadow is lush and green, with the rising summit of Mt. Hood dominating the horizon. You can picnic here, or scout around the northern and eastern edges of the meadow where several backcountry campsites are tucked away.
If your feet want to keep walking, there are numerous great trails to head down from here, including the Elk Mountain viewpoint, Gnarl Ridge and Lamberson Butte via the Timberline Trail, or the roughly 6 miles trail along Cold Spring Creek to Tamanawas Falls.
Directions to the trailhead: Take Highway 26 east through Sandy, and continue about 30 miles east through Government Camp. Bear right at the Highway 35 for Hood River junction, and drive another 7.8 miles. The Elk Meadows Trailhead is signed and to the left. You’ll find trailhead signs less than a mile down the road.
A Northwest Forest Pass or a $5 parking pass are required.