Exploring the Top Attractions of Mount Hood National Forest
Towering over northern Oregon about 20 miles east of Portland, Mount Hood stands at 11,239 feet and is the highest mountain in the state. This dormant volcano is home to ski resorts, summer recreation areas, as well as historic tourist attractions. Scenic charms range from waterfalls, hot springs, and glaciers to varied wildlife and alpine wildflowers. In winter, it's the snow that draws the crowds to the slopes. In summer, the evergreen landscape of Mount Hood National Forest offers activities that are a little more varied, including abundant hiking trails, climbing opportunities, and numerous campgrounds.
Travelers on the Old Oregon Trail passed through this area on their great trek west, opting for the steep mountain slopes over navigating the Columbia River rapids. Visitors can capture a sense of that historic journey by walking along short stretches of Barlow Road near Government Camp, or stopping at a replica tollgate on Hwy 26 between mile 45 and 46. There's more about the Oregon Trail and other local history at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum in Government Camp.
Mount Hood Scenic Loop
The Mount Hood Scenic Loop is a pretty river-and-mountains drive that takes in Portland, Hood River, and Mount Hood National Forest. The first stretch connects the state's largest city Portland, with quiet villages and waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge. At Hood River, this riverside drive takes a southerly turn on SR 35. The road heads toward the mountain, leading past agricultural land and the Hood River Valley to connect with US Hwy 26. Also called the Mount Hood Highway, this route passes a number of historical sites, small communities, and attractions such as the salmon river at Wildwood Recreation Site on its return toward Portland.
Mount Hood Hikes
There are about a thousand miles of trails in the national forest area, but most visitors gravitate to some of the most accessible and scenic routes. Lake trails are particularly spectacular. The two-mile Trillium Lake loop trail circles the pretty alpine lake and delivers wonder-worthy views of Mount Hood across the water. Mirror Lake trail also traverses two miles for views of the peak beyond a glacial cirque lake, while Lost Lake has a shoreline trail and national forest campground near old-growth forest. Other trails visit waterfalls, alpine meadows, and the Old Oregon Trail route.
Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort
The largest of the local ski hills, Mount Hood Meadows offers a wide range of skiing and snowboarding terrain. Most runs are intermediate or advanced, all accessed by ten lifts (including four high speed quads). Snowcat skiing is also available for those looking for more vertical than the 2,777 feet within reach of the chair lifts.
Address: 14040 Hwy 35, Mt Hood
Mt. Hood Skibowl
Another of the local ski resorts, Mt. Hood Skibowl offers a winter playground feel with four double chair lifts and five tows. The 65 runs are mainly intermediate and advanced with a maximum vertical lift of 1,500 feet. The hill also caters to snowboarders with a terrain park. Come summer, the mountain switches to adventure thrills like zip-lining, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Address: 87000 East Hwy 26, Government Camp
Timberline Lodge Ski Area
Timberline Lodge is a year-round ski facility thanks to the summer snows of the Palmer Snowfield. The hill has seven lifts, including five quad express chairs, for access to mainly intermediate and beginner runs. But the historic 1930s lodge is perhaps the most recognizable feature of the resort - it was used as the exterior of the hotel in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
More Mount Hood Skiing
Other ski slopes and recreation areas serve an avid wintertime contingent. Summit Ski Area is a family friendly hill that's significantly smaller and older than the other resorts, having been established in 1926. Also geared to kids, the compact Cooper Spur Mountain Resort has a small selection of runs plus tubing. It's located on the northern slopes of the mountain off Route 35. In many areas of the national forest, a Sno-Park permit is required to use dedicated winter recreation areas, but the inexpensive annual pass ($20) provides wide-reaching access to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing areas.
Tips and Tactics
When to Visit
With so many ski hills and winter recreation areas, many choose to visit Mount Hood in the wintertime when the ski lodges are coziest. But warm weather is also lovely on the mountain, and offers a wider variety of activities. A particularly lovely time for hiking is when alpine wildflowers bloom in late-July and August (depending on snow melt). Road trippers will find the drive less busy in the late spring and early fall shoulder seasons. For current conditions on roads and hiking trails see the Mount Hood National Forest website.
- Driving is the most scenic and convenient way to reach Mount Hood. Either follow I-84 along the Columbia River and turn south at Route 35, or follow US-26 southeast from Portland.
- A tourist train makes the scenic river valley trip between Hood River and Parkdale. It doesn't provide access to outdoor recreation in the national forest, but does frame views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams.