Monday, September 30, 2013

Little Walks Near a Big Mountain

At 11,239-feet, Mt. Hood is Oregon’s tallest peak and sits like a snowy sentinel guarding the state. It is the most climbed glaciated mountain peak in the country with nearly 10,000 people attempting its summit every year. If it has been your lifelong dream to climb Mount Hood, but sitting around
Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge
the fireplace at Timberline Lodge is more your speed, you’ll be pleased to learn there are some wonderful, easy walks with big rewards in the area. 
Highway 26 is the most convenient route to reach Mt. Hood from Portland and roughly parallels the old Barlow Road built in 1845 as an alternative for Oregon Trail travelers wanting to avoid the treacherous Columbia River. The first easy walk is on the south side of the highway between mileposts 39 and 40 at the Wildwood Recreation Site. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the paved Cascade Streamwatch 
Underwater Viewing Window
Trail is a flat, ¾-mile loop through a pretty forest along the Salmon River. The highlight is an underwater viewing window where you can observe life in a moving stream. If you want a longer walk, add on the Wetland Trail beginning in the same parking lot.

Next stop, a few miles away, is the Zigzag Ranger Station where you can pick up maps of the Mt. Hood National Forest as well as informational sheets on most of these trails. Before leaving the ranger station, walk behind the visitor center to admire the complex of structures built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. They are also responsible for many of the trails, bridges, and campgrounds in the area.

About six miles east of the station, look for a sign on the left for Camp Kiwanis Road and follow it a short distance until it ends at the trailhead for Little Zigzag Falls.
Zigzag Falls
Note the 1920-era bridge from the old Mt. Hood Loop Highway before following the trail into the forest. The walk parallels the rushing Little Zigzag River for about one-half mile, ending at a spectacular waterfall.

Back on Hwy. 26, between mileposts 50 and 51, watch for a large, historical marker which is the beginning of the Laurel Hill Chute Trail. A series of gentle switchbacks leads up to a view point of this infamous stretch of the Barlow Road.  The descent was so steep wagons and oxen had to be lowered by a system of winches and ropes; the road was described as “rough to barely passable.”

A few miles east of Government Camp, look for a sign on the south side for Trillium Lake. This much-photographed jewel offers a mirror reflection of Mt. Hood on sunny days. An easy two-mile trail encircles the lake and is popular in the winter with snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

Trillium Lake
Continuing east on Highway 26, you will find two more scenic lakes located off Skyline Road. The first, Little Crater Lake, is much smaller than its namesake, only 100-feet across, but quite unusual.  Dissolving limestone and artesian spring waters have created a lake 45-feet deep, and an
Little Crater Lake
astonishing, sapphire blue. The spring-fed water remains at 32 degrees year round.

Nearby Timothy Lake is the largest lake in the region and offers camping, fishing, and boating. The Lakeshore Trail encircles the lake for 13 miles, but a short walk, especially from the Hoodview Campground, will provide another good vista of Mt. Hood in the distance.

And, finally, there’s that fireplace at Timberline Lodge, off Highway 26 beyond Government Camp. Behind the lodge, a crisscross of trails follow around the mountain’s base and to higher levels, but you can follow short sections of longer trails to soak up the alpine setting and great close-up views of the mountain.

To learn more about these walks and longer ones visit the Mt. Hood National Forest website at hood; click on Go Hiking, then Day Hiking.  Some of the trailheads in the forest require a National Forest Day Pass ($5) which is available at the Zigzag station. If you are over 62 and have already acquired your Senior Pass, you can use that. If you do not have your Senior Pass, you can buy one there by showing proof of age. The pass is valid in National Forests, National Parks, BLM sites, and lasts your lifetime. For $10, it’s the best bargain in the world.

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