Clear Lake via Blue Box Trail Hike

One of the many wonderful aspects of the Mt. Hood National Forest is that it’s a land of all-season adventure, whether you’re a fair-skies outdoors-person, or love being in the wilds year-round. That means while winter sports aficionados have their moment, sun-loving hikers also get their turn.

For summer hikers hoping to explore a moderate, less-trafficked trail on the slopes of Mt. Hood, a visit to Clear Lake via the Blue Box Trail Hike is a great option. It’s a there-and-back hike with about 1,800 feet in elevation gain, totaling around 8 miles. It can be best hiked summer through early fall, and features beautiful old-growth forests as well as views of the majestic and snowy Mt. Hood. Few hikers make it out to this trail, but the path is generally well-maintained and clear of blowdowns.

The trailhead for this hike is the Frog Lake Sno-Park Trailhead, which is outfitted with restrooms and a picnic table. (It’s always nice to have amenities waiting for you on the hike’s return.) You’ll take the trail signed as the Pacific Crest Trail, which will lead you across Highway 26 and back into a coniferous forest. About 100 yards in you stumble upon the Pacific Crest-Blue Box Trail Junction, at which you’ll take a left.

There’s a gentle rise into the forest along this trail, gradual enough that you can take it as an easy stroll and enjoy the diverse woodland, with noble, silver, and Douglas fir dominating the canopy, and a few western hemlocks mixed in. The understory is richly mossy, and heavy with bear grass, huckleberry, and pipsissewa. As you climb, the roar of motor vehicles from the highway will fade, and the forest growth will thicken. There’s a gravel spur up ahead, and a campsite. Look for a sign posted on a large noble fir with Trail #483 carved into it – this is your signpost for the next leg of the trail.

Hike back into the forest, and up ahead you’ll approach a wide crest that flows into a gradual decent. On the next rise you’ll encounter a regenerating clear-cut, with young western larch, western white pine, and Douglas fir reclaiming the area. Option about halfway through this section to cut off-trail and hike to the right to a viewpoint – you’ll get the best views of Mt. Hood from here. Otherwise, stick to the trail and cross back into an old-growth forest.

Hike across the wide Blue Box Summit, and then enter a second clear-cut. You can see out to Frog Lake Buttes through the young trees here. There’s a descent ahead down through another section of old-growth, with a mossy, bouldered understory lush with chinquapin, vine maple, and boxwood. Continue along a ridge crest, and then scramble down a rocky scree through a vine maple thicket. There’s an old logging track you’ll follow next, hiking down another steep slope to Forest Road 2660, which is signed for the Blue Box Trail.

The next stretch of trail is populated by wonderfully shaggy old-growths, with a few young larch trees mixed in. You’ll encounter a campsite, then a primitive road. Another 20 yards down is a route to the shores of Clear Lake. It’s a great spot to camp, if you’re so inclined, but please remember to use Leave No Trace principles, and leave the area pristine for the next set of adventures to enjoy.

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