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Cairn Basin from Vista Ridge Hike

From Portland Hikers Field Guide

Fields of Lupine on Vista Ridge (Tom Kloster)
Wildflower Swale near Cairn Basin (Tom Kloster)
Summer Sunset from Vista Ridge (Tom Kloster)
Eden Park from below Cairn Basin (Tom Kloster)
  • Start point: Vista Ridge TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cairn Basin
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Distance: 7.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1560 feet
  • High Point: 5,920 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult, due to Ladd Creek Crossing
  • Seasons: July - November
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: Yes - follows the Timberline Trail
  • Crowded: Summer weekends
Add-On Hikes: Barrett Spur Add-on Hike

Contents

Description

This hike combines visits to three of Mount Hood’s alpine “parks”: idyllic Eden Park, rugged Cairn Basin and starkly beautiful Wy'East Basin. Each was named by a Mazama Club expedition in the early 1900s, helping lead to the construction of the Timberline Trail. The scenery on this loop is some of the finest on the mountain, with lush wildflower displays in July and early August.

A lot of the trail below the Timberline Trail got burned in the 2012 Dollar Lake fire so it's not so forested. Flowers are probably better though.

From the Vista Ridge Trailhead, the route initially follows a rocky, overgrown roadbed before entering deep forest and a softer trail surface. At 0.4 miles, you'll see an obvious wilderness registration sign. Slightly less obvious is a sign reading "trail not maintained", marking the start of a trail headed off to the left. This side trail is the original Vista Ridge Trail which starts at a lower trailhead near Perry Lake. When the Vista Ridge Trailhead was constructed, a short spur trail was built and the original lower section of the Vista Ridge Trail fell into disrepair. Recently, volunteers have cleared much of the blowdown and the trail has been reopened.

For this hike, fill out your wilderness permit at the registration station and follow the Vista Ridge Trail to the right, as it gently climbs through forest for 1.8 miles at a surprisingly easy grade. Then, there's a bit of steeper climbing, but it's less than a quarter mile. The top of the steep section is marked by a junction with the Eden Park Trail and the first of many fine views of Mount Hood. Turn right here, following the sign to Eden Park. The trail drops in short switchbacks from Vista Ridge, soon passing several steep meadows with views that include Lost Lake, nestled in the forest below. After traversing a pair of flower-lined swales, reach rushing Ladd Creek. Like most glacial streams within the Mount Hood Wilderness, the crossing is bridgeless and can require some ingenuity. After crossing, look for the resumption of the trail a bit further downstream, and after a brief walk through open forest, reach the north end of Eden Park at 3.3 miles, with picturesque views of Mount Hood towering over the meadow.

From Eden Park, the trail climbs an open slope for a half-mile in a series of short switchbacks before reaching the Timberline Trail at 3.9 miles. Turn left, and immediately enter Cairn Basin at 4.0 miles, with its stone shelter and handsome, wildflower-framed mountain views. The trail is lined with rocks through the heavily used camping area adjacent to the meadow to help you follow the route. Continue straight where an informal trail heads to the stone shelter on the right, and soon reach a second, upper crossing of Ladd Creek. This crossing can be more difficult than the lower ford, so use care.

From Ladd Creek, the route traverses through still more steep meadows and a high, rocky swale that provides a fine view of the mountain. Soon the route rounds Vista Ridge, and reaches an excellent viewpoint at 4.8 miles that includes Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, as well as farms in the Upper Hood River Valley, and the entire Vista Ridge route, far below. After taking in the view, follow the Timberline Trail a short distance to a 3-way trail junction, just west of Wy'East Basin at 5.0 miles. Take a moment to go right for a few yards to a nice view of the basin. There is an excellent tent site in the trees on the far side of the meadow, just below the trail. The primitive trail to Barrett Spur continues up from Wy'East Basin.

To complete the hike, retrace your steps back to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail, just west of Wy'East Basin, following the sign pointing downhill to Eden Park. From here, the route passes through a rugged swale that traces the east foot of Vista Ridge, then drops to the Eden Park Trail junction at the 5.5 mile mark. Turn right, and follow your original path the remaining 2.4 miles to your car.

Maps

Cairn Basin Trail Map - from Vista Ridge Trailhead

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Page Contributors

Portland Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.