The Badger Creek Wilderness consists of over 20,000 acres of woodlands located east of Mt Hood. It’s a subalpine system, wealthy in white oaks, ponderosa pines, and grasslands mixed with glacier rock. Over 55 miles of trails crisscross the terrain here, but my favorite is the Gumjuwac-Badger Lake Loop Hike – a steep trek that ends at a viewpoint of the Mt. Hood valley.
This hike has a few advantages over other routes through the Badger Creek Wilderness. Drive time to this trailhead is shorter, the road up is paved rather than a rough track, and it’s long enough to make a great full-day hike. Be warned, however, that this a hike full of switchbacks and long uphill stretches, so it’s better taken in chunks if you’re not an experienced hiker.
Start off at the trailhead that’s just on the north side of the East Fork Hood River road bridge, and get ready for the first three of those switchbacks. You’ll end up at a trail junction, which simply connects the up to the main trail. Keep onwards up another handful of switchbacks, walking under the shade of western hemlock, western red cedar, and Douglas fir. When you enter a zone full of silver fir, look next for a rocky outcropping that leads out to another two switchbacks. Then right around the corner is a viewpoint facing the wintry slopes of Mt. Hood.
A break for your tired legs is just ahead in the form of a mostly level traverse under silver fir, noble fir, mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine, and Engelmann spruce. The understory here – mostly composed of manzanita and chinquapin - leans a little onto the trail, but not enough to obscure the path. You’ll walk past two springs, and then hit Gumjuwac Saddle on the Bennett Pass Road, a junction hub with five trails intersecting.
Take Gumjuwac Trail #480 and walk into another a patch of silver fir. The view soon widens to take in glimpses of Lookout Mountain as you switchback through elderberry thickets and then skip over a creek. Next up is a lush mountain meadow hemmed in by noble fir. Look for goldenrod, horsemint, wormwood, and arrow-leaf groundsel between rocky patches.
A steady decent is ahead down as you pass through aspen and grand fir and across another creek. Then it’s back under the shade of more fir trees. Listen and then look for the flow of Gumjuwac Creek off to your right as you pass into a forest of younger growth. You may need to navigate a few blowdowns here if you’re hiking through in the spring. Pass a grove of ponderosa pines, and then up ahead is the Badger Creek-Gumjuwac Trail Junction.
Take a right and cross a footbridge over Gumjuwac Creek as you head into a patch of cedar, Douglas-fir and silver fir. Huckleberry thickets reach into the trail, and the woodland gets swampy here, so mind your feet as you head down a series of small steeps. Badger Creek will be rushing off to your left, as you cross another creek, then hit a spur leading to the left. Follow that loop up to rough access road, at which you’ll take a right to head to Badger Lake.
Plenty of folks consider this the main destination, so it’s lucky you have the option of trotting around the lake on a 0.8 mile trek to take it in. (Note that this trail is not maintained, however.) Otherwise, stick to the main trail, cross another creek and head up to a patch of drier woods above the lake. You’ll pass a campground at the point, then hit the Badger Creek-Divide Trail Junction.
Take the right-hand trail, and head up a slope with mixed grassland and trees. Noble and silver fir dominate, and wild ginger, starry Solomon plume, vanilla leaf, and wood fern hide in the meadows. A few creeks ahead need to be crossed as you ascend gently up a another ridge - this one rewarding with views of Flag Point, Gordon Butte, and the roll of eastern plains farther out. Then trek back down, and hit a level path once more. The ground here gets swampy, and the understory rich with huckleberry plants. Hungry berry-hunting bears are a slight possibility, so keep an eye out for movement in the bushes and stay safe!
Up ahead the Bennett Pass Road appears to your left, signaling the drop down Gumjuwac Saddle and the decent to the trailhead.