Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Elk Meadows

Fourth of July week was spent visiting family back in South Dakota.  I had a great time seeing my parents, siblings (all 6 of us got together for my Dad's 80th birthday!), nieces, nephews, and aunt.  (Not to mention both my kids got time off work and were able to come)  But 10 days in a hot, dry prairie climate had me longing for the cool green forests of the Pacific NW - and my favorite mountain.

Wonderful Mt Hood view in Elk Meadows

So the first weekend back from vacation I decided to make up for lost time, planning hikes both Saturday and Sunday.  Chatting about this ambitious itinerary with my podiatrist the Friday before, she asked how my body held up after two consecutive days on the trail.  My response - "I guess I'll find out."

Crossing Newton Creek

Thanks to a glowing PortlandHikers trip report - featuring fantastic wildflower blooms on the Elk Meadows trail and the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort - I plotted a copycat hike for Saturday.  Rising early in hopes to avoid crowds landed me at the trailhead by 8:30 that morning.


A path I've traversed many times before, the Elk Meadows Trail began in a fir forest along Mt. Hood Meadows' access road.  Crossing Clark Creek on a well-built log footbridge, in no time I was meandering down the sandy slopes of Newton Creek, my next challenge.


Newton Creek has no bridge and is notoriously tricky to cross.  Fueled by glacial melt, it roars to life on hot summer afternoons.  Although only early morning, the stream looked mighty intimidating to this chicken hiker. 

Gorgeous Cascade Lily (that smelled heavenly)

So I wandered up and down it's banks, searching for a good spot to hop across.  A few downed trees looked promising, but wet and slippery bark caused me to resume my search.  I noticed a man and his daughters approaching the creek.  They headed upriver and began to inch themselves across on a large log perched high above the rushing water.

Frog on the trail

Now I'm not fond of balancing myself on a high log over a raging glacial stream.  But there didn't appear to be a better option.  So I began walking over to the same crossing point.  Then I spied a lower log just downstream of the other.  Now that I could handle! 

Elk Meadows perimeter trail

Whew - crossing Newton Creek became an easy shuffle.  With that behind me, I made my way via the string of cairns on the opposite bank to the trail's continuation.  Now it was time to climb up the other side.

Luscious green meadows

And climb I did!  Ascending nearly 1000 feet in a short mile, I huffed and puffed up eight long switchbacks.  Although a challenging slog, the multitude of lovely wildflowers blooming trailside provided a nice distraction.  There were columbine, lupine, pentstemon, and even a few beautiful white Cascade lilies decorating the forest.  The Cascade lilies smelled wonderful.

Lupine a-plenty

I traded places with another hiking group several times - I'd stop and take a photo, then they'd stop to rest.  Finally, I was near the top of my climb when I saw something moving across the trail.  Turned out to be a frog.  The little creature held still long enough for several photos, and then stayed put for the other hikers who'd caught up to me once again.

Lots of color in these meadows

Not far from the frog sighting, I came upon the beginning of Elk Meadow's loop trail.  The path made a wide circle around these famously gorgeous meadows.  Which direction to go?  Impulsively I chose clockwise.

Elephant head

Starting off through a forest of mossy trees, I followed the trail as it wound around Elk Meadow's forested perimeter.  Keeping my eyes peeled for one of the paths leading into the meadows themselves, I plodded along.

Oregon Sunshine

After a half mile of scrambling through the forest and around several small drainageways, I noticed a faint footpath meandering through the grass.  Tired of the forest, I was ready to see some wildflowers.


I left the forest and entered a vibrant green meadow.  And joy of joys, it was full of hundreds of colorful blooms!

Hood view from mid-meadow

Bright pink elephanthead flowers on tall stalks burst from the ground.  Further towards the forest, huge patches of purple lupine and yellow Oregon sunshine blooms added their hues to the mix.  And best of all, there were killer views of Mt Hood from Elk Meadows' very center.

The one butterfly I managed to capture

Tons of butterflies flitted about.  I tried my darnedest to capture them with my camera, but only managed to get one orange beauty to stop long enough.

Monkeyflowers on Newton Creek bank

Elk Meadows is a popular place for backpackers to set up camp.  Strolling through the meadow, I passed a couple campsites set up in the adjacent woods.  Stopping at one lovely site not in use, I took the opportunity to enjoy a quick snack break and watch the Gray Jays as they eyed my lunch.

I crossed on the low log

Then it was back down the steep ridge to Newton Creek once again.  As expected, it was roaring at a much higher volume than the morning's crossing.  But I located my favorite low log, and this time traversing was a piece of cake.

Lovely downstream view

Several patches of pink and yellow monkeyflowers brightened up Newton Creek's desolate banks.  Midday light illuminated them nicely, and I couldn't resist a few shots of the scene.

Cheery pink monkeyflowers

But my hike wasn't over yet - I'd planned to add a few extra miles by looping over to Umbrella Falls via the trail through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area.  Rumor had it the lupine bloom was going strong under it's ski lifts.

More Cascade lilies!

Having hiked this trail in reverse several times, I knew it would be a stiff uphill trek to the Hood River Meadows (HRM) lift.  And the day wasn't getting any cooler.  Still, wanting to see those wildflowers, I was willing to tackle the climb.

Indian paintbrush

Oh was it a slog!  The trail didn't have much shade, and bright sun beat down upon me.  Not a fan of hot weather, I slowly trudged up the dusty path.  Luckily, patches of Indian Paintbrush and more fragrant Cascade lilies kept me going.

The lupine was thick on Mt Hood Meadows' slopes

And then I reached the lupine zone.  Huge fields of purple stretched across the trail.  Yeah - this was what I'd come for!

Purple spot under the HRM lift

It's always fun to see your favorite ski hill in the off season.  Mt Hood Meadows is one of the loveliest ski areas to hike.  I enjoyed an amazing flower show of lupine and beargrass blooming underneath the HRM lift.

Lupine and beargrass under the ski lift

After wandering through the ski area, I made a short detour to Umbrella Falls.  But the harsh midday light made for terrible photographic conditions, so I ended up turning around and heading back to my car.  Hot and tired, I was ready for an air-conditioned ride home with a stop at Starbucks for cold ice tea!

Mt Hood peeps through the lupine

Lovely mountain views, tons of wildflowers, a memory card full of images, and 10 miles covered, I considered the day a success.  But now it was time to rest up for tomorrow's hike.  I'd invited a friend to join me so no matter how sore and tired I was, there would be no backing out.

Hike No. 2 report on the next post!


  1. ...what a fabulous hike through the wildflower garden!

  2. Hello, you find the most beautiful hikes. The wildflowers are all gorgeous. I love the snowcapped mountain views. You are quite the hiker 10 miles one day and going out for another hike the next day. That is awesome. Fabulous photos! Happy Thursday, enjoy your day and weekend ahead!

  3. Absolutely brilliant! Glorious Mt Hood and wildflowers.

  4. 10 miles covered! That is amazing. What a fabulous adventure. Lovely sights and wonderful photos.

  5. Mountain meadows are well worth the effort to see them.

  6. You came across some beautiful flowers on that hike and a cute little frog. Last time I saw any the were no bigger that your fingernail. I'd love to be able to walk in places like you go

  7. Exquisite flowers! Such a lovely, sunny day...but I bet you were wishing for a few clouds on those uphills!

  8. I always look forward to your hikes through the wildflower meadows. Thank you fou doing the hard slog so I can sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy the results of your hard labour.

  9. Gorgeous photos, Linda! And I love the colours and patterns on that frog!

  10. wow too bad there wasn't any elk in the meadow. beautiful flowers though.

  11. What a spectacular hike that might have been! I'm still amazed to see your pictures of all those wildflowers on the alpine slopes. Wonderful!

  12. What a stunning hike Linda! The wildflowers are beautiful and Mt Hood sheer perfection. Thank you for the welcome back to Oregon. It's great to be home. (You of course are seeing parts of it beyond our abilities but it is wonderful to climb vicariously with you!).

  13. Love the beautiful wildflowers, water and mountains--such a gorgeous view!! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Beautiful wildflowers. I've lived on the East Coast much of my life, so I have never seen some of these before. And, of course, the scenery...the one time in my life I was in Oregon, it was to view the 1979 total eclipse of the sun. Alana

  15. Just gorgeous.. love all the wildflowers.
    Hopefully our temps will lower and our skies clear.
    Happy weekend, my friend.

  16. You make me tired just reading all you do on your journeys! My fav photos were the butterfly photo and monkey flower photo. I've seen that type of butterfly a few years ago at Crater Lake! Glad you had a fun time outdoors! We did too this afternoon at a wedding in a lovely setting! Have a restful weekend!

  17. Such a beautiful hike and know you were happy to be back in the beauty that you live so close to. How wonderful though to have the chance to have your whole family all together for a birthday that is so precious! Glad you saw that lower log... I would definitely fall off of that high one. Terrible balance. Will be anxious to see how you did on the second hike. Ambitious!!

  18. Wonderful pictures - I think that time with family is good, but in the end I still need time away!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  19. Your wildflower pictures in this post are the best yet! I love that first monkey flower picture with the stream behind. Just beautiful!! :-)

  20. Hi! There are many beautiful wild flowers. I like especially a Columbine cascade lilies.
    Thanks for sharing.

  21. I'm glad you were able to see your family and extended family in SD, LInda. It is so good that you challenge yourself with these hikes and enjoy them so much, and document them with photography so well. I'd love to smell those cascade lilies someday! As a wildflower lover I always enjoy seeing your Oregon wildflower photos.

  22. Gorgeous images! Love the penstemon.

  23. Your wildflower photographs are always so gorgeous!

  24. Really stunning shots. We have lupins in the garden - presumably a tame version of the things on your trail, but fewr in number and not as impressive. Can't get over all those beautiful flowers...and you wouldn't catch me dragging myself over a slippery log with a raging torrent below; I need a lie-down just thinking about it.

  25. Wow ! All that winter snow is great for the flowers!

  26. More wonderful colour and mountain views. I really to head over to the Pacific NW for some quality hiking. Keep the posts coming


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