Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hikin' Around Elk Meadows

Are there really elk in Elk Meadows?  I'm not sure (haven't seen one yet) but I do know this popular area is considered the crown jewel of Mt. Hood's scenic southeast flank.

Fall colors already!

Sunny August Sundays are perfect for exploring this little bit of heaven.  Starting from the trailhead off the local ski area's access road, paths branch out to many destinations.  In the past, I've skirted the edge of Elk Meadows, and continued on to Gnarl Ridge.  But today I decided to pay this lovely mountain clearing a proper visit.

Clark Creek footbridge

Getting an early start, I had the trail to myself.  I was surprised to see crimson huckleberry leaves already sporting fall colors (a wee bit early, but it's been an unusual summer).   A quick half mile later, I was crossing Clark Creek on a sturdy log footbridge.

Smoke filtering in

One creek crossing down, one more to go!  Approaching crossing no. 2, turbulent Newton Creek, I noticed the air was becoming hazy and smelling awfully smoky.  Two large forest fires had been burning, one in Central Oregon, and another in Washington, and it appeared shifting winds had begun blowing smoke towards Mt. Hood.

Still clear to the west of Newton Creek

It was funny - while visibility was fast becoming obscured by smoke towards the east, westward skies were still clear as a bell.

Scary Newton Creek crossing

Traversing Newton Creek is the scary part of this trail.  A fast-running glacial stream, it's wide, turbulent waters always get my heart racing.  With no bridge in place, hikers are left to fend for themselves.  I scanned up and down the banks, and finally decided to scurry across on a group of narrow logs. Although appearing flimsy, the makeshift log bridge held my weight just fine.  In no time I was safely standing on the other side.

Purple wildflowers were everywhere!

Now came the climbing.  For a mile, the trail ascended Newton Creek's steep bank, through 8 long switchbacks.  The saving grace to this grueling slog was a huge swath of purple wildflowers lining the trail.  A welcome distraction!

Sun illuminates beargrass stalks

Gorgeous morning light on dried beargrass stalks also temporarily made me forget my burning legs and lungs.

Mt Hood emerges from the forest

And a few peek-a-boo views of Mt. Hood through the trees weren't too shabby, either.

Pearly everlasting blooming in burn area

Approaching the famous Elk Meadows, I came upon a junction with the Bluegrass Ridge Trail.  My map showed this side path would take hikers to a viewpoint on top of Elk Mountain.  It then followed a ridgeline for a half mile or so before looping back in to Elk Meadows.  A trail I'd never before taken - would I check it out? 

But of course!

Smoky skies on Elk Mountain

My detour climbed through mossy woods before breaking out into an old burn area from the 2008  Gnarl Ridge Fire.  Ghostly silver tree trunks lined the path, occasionally broken by a patch of pretty white pearly everlasting flowers blooming between downed stumps.

More beargrass stalks

It wasn't long before I approached the summit viewpoint atop Elk Mountain.  A former lookout site, all evidence of any tower had long been removed.  I was hoping for some nice panoramas across the Hood River Valley and Eastern Oregon, but the darned smoke had moved in just enough to foil any photographic plans.

Crimson huckleberry leaves

I tried to eat a quick snack, but some aggressive wasps drove me back on the trail.  So I continued my trek up Bluegrass Ridge, taking in the wide-open views (thanks to the Gnarl Ridge Fire) which would have been even better without the smoky skies.  I did pass by a few spots of fall color (everything is early this year!)

Fireweed in the burn area

And fireweed was still blooming at the base of several charred trees.

 Bleak forest

I enjoyed traversing this ridge trail, despite it's wanderings through an old burn area.  The views, occasional fall colors, and late-blooming flowers made for a pleasant journey.

Fireweed is taking over

Finally I came across the short tie trail that would take me off this ridge, and into Elk Meadows.  This path wasted no time descending straight downhill, winding through more deadfall.  But the silver lining was passing through a zone of thick fireweed.  These brilliant pink blooms brightened up an otherwise dull, gray forest.

Fab Hood view on the way to Elk Meadows

A highlight of the day's hike, the large amount of fireweed was absolutely stunning.  And as I continued edging closer to the meadows, Mt. Hood made a few more appearances.

Amazing wildflower display

After losing my trail twice due to downed trees blocking the way, I finally connected with the loop trail that circled Elk Meadows' perimeter. 

Mt Hood from Elk Meadows

I followed a side path that led me into the very heart of Elk Meadows.  Oh, what fabulous views!  Mt. Hood rose above the forested hills, towering over this clearing.  Dry grasses were beginning to put on their golden fall colors.

Elk Meadows shelter

I'd heard there was a wooden shelter somewhere in this area, and after a bit of searching I was able to find it.  A dilapidated, rustic structure, it looked as though it had seen better days.  Unless desperate, not someplace I'd spend the night.  But, the shelter did have some spectacular mountain panoramas framed in it's doorway.

Cairn marks the creek crossing

By this time, it was early afternoon, the sun was hot and high, and the masses were beginning to arrive.  Time to head back. 

Although I didn't see any elk, I did discover a new loop trail to a scenic viewpoint, found a huge patch of brilliant fireweed, and got to traipse through Elk Meadows proper.  This scenic little meadow is a worthy late summer destination.  Two hiking poles up!

Stats:  9 miles round-trip, 1400 feet elevation gain.


  1. Gorgeous views of the creek and of Mt Hood! I love the wildflowers.

  2. Que maravilhas de paisagem e belas fotografias.
    Um abraço e continuação de uma boa semana.

  3. Stunning views despite the fire damage. So different to here.

  4. Wonderful series. So beautiful.. the wildflowers, Hood, even the burns.
    Hope we get some rain soon... and snow.

  5. Years ago I would lament burned forests while hiking, now I don't mind them because the new views and the rebirth are neat to watch.

    That's a neat looking hut on the meadow. I can just imagine the trail in full summer green and bloom!

  6. How I would love to hike in your part of the country!

    Is Clark Creek named for Merriweather Clark?

  7. Nice! Did you take that picture of yourself with a timer or was it a fellow hiker? Nice shot! :-)

    1. I put my camera on a gorillapod and used a timer.

  8. Another gorgeous and captivating series, Linda! I can almost hear and smell the water in your photos!

  9. Super schöne Tour und Bilder !

    Liebe Grüße - Monika

  10. Beautiful, but were there any elk?

  11. Lovely mountain meadow, creek and huckleberry leaves! Our fav mountain sure needs a LOT of snow. Don't recall ever seeing her so bare...
    Blessings, Aimee

  12. Nice series - especially like the last pic

  13. I'm jealous that you live so close to such amazing mountain hikes. Can't wait to hear more about your Lassen trip. :)

  14. What a gorgeous hike and great shots - a big mountain makes everything better!

  15. Stunning! What a wonderful area. And that image with the caption "Still clear to the west of Newton Creek" is out of this world. I really enjoy your photos.

  16. What a nice hike...too long for me I would have napped in the shelter! Great views of Mount Hood! When our daughter was in Oregon in July she took a photo of some Elk but I don't know where they were when they saw them:)

  17. Fabulous views and I love the ttrees, river and wild flowers

  18. The fireweed is so lovely and every time I see your mountain photos I wish I lived closer!

  19. So beautiful! Love the mountain stream, the trees, the lovely flowers--everything! I wish I could have gone on that hike too (though I doubt I would have liked to meet the angry wasps)! Glad you had such a good time!

  20. Another stunning hike. I admire that you keep going, even with the wasps after your lunch. The view of the mountain was spectacular and I bet in real life was breathtaking. Take care xx

  21. Great views of Mt Hood and a nice trail. We get fireweed here as well as it grows wild all over the city on waste ground. No beargrass though so far... or elk.. but we did have them and bears, boar and wolves at one time a few hundred years ago.

  22. Another great hike. The views are fabulous. I like the beargrass and the pretty wild flowers and of course Mt. Hood. Sad to see the burn areas but life will regenerate.

  23. Nice post - pretty much every time I visit your blog I am tempted to book an air ticket!!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  24. Hi! It's nice that you could cross the river. All of Mt.Hood photos are very fantastic. The fireweed flowers are very beautiful and amazing that they are still blooming. Thanks for sharing.

  25. I am loving all the scenery you are showing lately. How great to hike with your son.


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