Elk Meadows Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Hood River Meadows Trailhead
- Ending Point: Elk Meadows
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Distance: 5.3 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 1200 feet
- High Point: 5,280 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: Summer and early Fall
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: Yes - camping at Elk Meadows
- Crowded: Summer weekends
The maze of trails in the Elk Meadows are offers so many hiking options that it’s hard to decide which to explore first. This hike describes two of the most popular routes. The shorter option ends at picturesque Elk Meadows, while the longer loop climbs to spectacular Newton Canyon. The trail is lined with wildflowers in early summer, and ripe huckleberries in late August.
From the trailhead, go northeast on the Sahale Falls Trail (no. 667C). The trail travels through forested flats for a short distance before passing an abandoned trail on the left, then reaching the marked junction with the Umbrella Falls Trail (no. 667), which comes in from the left (northwest).
This description sounds complicated but just keep going straight ahead and you'll be fine. Trail 667C ends. You will now be on trail 667. At some point the trail becomes the Elk Meadows Trail (no. 645). Maybe they have reconfigured the Elk Meadows Trail to come up from highway 35 to here (from the southeast).
You’ll also notice blue Nordic ski route markers along this section of trail. These ski trails are perpendicular to the Umbrella Falls Trail so if you just keep going straight you should be alright.
Continue straight (on the Elk Meadows Trail) to another trail junction and L-shaped bridge over the rushing waters of Clark Creek that form the boundary of the Mount Hood Wilderness. Cross straight across the bridge.
Continue across the valley floor, crossing two small creeks, then one larger stream on stepping stones. Reach a junction with the Newton Creek Trail (no. 646) on the left at the one mile mark. This will be your return route if you opt for the longer hike.
Continue straight a short distance to the silty torrent of Newton Creek. There is no bridge to help you here, though trail workers usually pile a few logs to form an impromptu bridge. Cross carefully - a hiking pole is recommended here. See Tips for Crossing Streams.
Clark and Newton Creeks are the twin glacial streams formed by the broad Newton Clark Glacier, which dominates the view of Mount Hood throughout the hike. Newton Creek, in particular, is one the most unruly of Mount Hood’s glacial streams, periodically sending huge floods of debris onto Highway 35, far below. The raging power of the stream is evident at several points on the hike, where the river channel is continually changing, tossing boulders and trees around like so many pebbles and matchsticks.
Locate the resumption of the trail on the far side of the creek, and begin climbing a series of switchbacks up the eastern wall of Newton Creek Canyon. The route first travels through lush forest, and a grove of especially large douglas fir, before reaching familiar forests of noble fir and beargrass as you near the ridge crest.
At the 2.0 mile mark, reach a four-way trail junction on a broad, forested saddle. The Bluegrass Ridge Trail (no. 647) is another trip option, with the scenic summit of Elk Mountain just one mile south on this route. The Gnarl Ridge Trail (no. 652) heads left (Gnarl Ridge from Hood River Meadows Hike). Continue straight, dropping gradually to yet another 4-way trail junction, this time with the Elk Meadows Perimeter Trail (no. 645A). You will return on the left. You can see Elk Meadows peeking through the trees. Turn right, and continue to descend toward the meadows, resisting the periodic use paths leading to the meadows: the best views are ahead, on the main route, and using these paths only perpetuates their impact on the meadows.
Cross a tiny creek, then see the Bluegrass Tie (no. 647B) Trail on the right. The trail drops along the edge of Elk Meadows to the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter North Trail Junction. Go left and, in 25 yards, come to an unmarked junction. To visit the Elk Meadows Shelter, turn left here to pass a large meadow blooming with asters and groundsel, cross Cold Spring Creek on a broken footbridge, and keep left to reach the Elk Meadows Shelter and campsite in a copse of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Enjoy the great view of Mount Hood here across the expanse of Elk Meadows. A sign warns hikers not to walk on the meadows. Head back to the main trail and go left. Cross a creek on a footbridge, and pass a couple more campsites off the trail. The trail rises in woods and you come to the Gnarl Ridge Tie-Elk Meadows Perimeter Trail Junction. Keep left on the Perimeter Trail. Note the mountain beaver activity here, too, where this mammal is at the easternmost point of its range. Through trees across the meadows, appreciate the vast extent of the 2006 Bluegrass Ridge Burn. The trail levels and reaches the Elk Meadows-Elk Meadows Perimeter South Trail Junction. Go right here to the Elk Meadows-Bluegrass Ridge-Gnarl Ridge Trail Junction, and head home.
Fees, Regulations, etc.
- Northwest Forest Pass required
- Search Trip Reports for Elk Meadows
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Elk Meadows
Guidebooks that cover this destination
- 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland, by Paul Gerald
- Splintercat (Tom Kloster) (primary)