Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area is different. In midsummer, it's slopes transform into green wonderlands carpeted with colorful wildflowers. A trip through Meadows has become one of my "don't miss" summer hiking destinations.
Over the years, I've developed a 10-mile loop that highlights the very best this scenic corner of Mt Hood has to offer. Starting at the Elk Meadows trailhead, my route passes by Umbrella Falls before climbing to a junction with the Timberline Trail at Mt Hood Meadows' west end. Following the Timberline Trail, my route then wanders under chairlifts and through the middle of Meadows' ski runs before descending into Heather Canyon. After a crossing of Clark Creek, it climbs to meet up with the Newton Creek Trail and contours this ridgeline downhill until connecting with the Elk Meadows trail. From there a quick mile to the parking area closes the loop.
One sunny, warm day last August I convinced my hiking buddy Catherine to accompany me on my yearly trek through Meadows. She in turn brought her husband Larry, and our gleesome threesome happily began our journey at the Umbrella Falls trailhead.
|Huge field of golden blooms|
It was a quick 2 mile climb through thick pine and fir woods to the lovely multi-tiered Umbrella Falls. Bright pink fireweed bloomed nearby, nicely framing the waterfall. Despite the sunny skies creating uneven light, I took advantage of a passing cloud to capture one good image of this cascade.
Then we wandered through a stunning alpine meadow full of golden yellow flowers (that I think were western goldentop) and purple asters.
|Posing by the Timberline Trail sign|
Crossing Mt Hood Meadows' main entrance road, Catherine, Larry and I climbed steeply through the woods adjacent to Meadows' bunny slopes. One hot, dusty mile later we came upon a sign announcing the junction with Mt Hood's round-the-mountain Timberline Trail. Perfect spot for a photo of my companions.
|Tousled Western Pasqueflowers (aka"Hippy on a stick")|
Let the floral goodness begin! It wasn't long before we happened upon the first flowering meadow. This one was full of shaggy-headed Western Pasqueflowers. (One of my favorite midsummer blooms I jokingly refer to as "Hippy on a Stick.")
|The hippies were out!|
Intermittent clouds hid Mt Hood, but I was able to take advantage of a quick hole to capture my favorite mountain peeking out over the flower fields.
|Huge wildflower meadow covers a ski run|
After crossing a tiny stream and ducking under one chairlift, my friend and I came upon the wide-open slopes of the South Canyon run. And oh were the flowers thick here!
|Wildflowers below the chairlift|
Millions of purple asters, pink fireweed, with a few orange paintbrush and more yellow "whatever they are" flowers covered the entire hillside.
|Flower garden below the Cascade lift|
Needless to say, forward motion ground to a halt.
|Huge field of fireweed|
We ran into quite a few other people here, mostly folks visiting Mt Hood Meadows who were accessing these flower fields via chairlift. (In my hiker mind, that's kind of cheating....you've got to earn your views).
Nevertheless, it was great to see so many people out enjoying nature on this fine summer's day. Larry, Catherine and I had fun picking out the ski runs as we traversed across Meadows' slopes. Everything looked so different without snow!
|Walking through the flower fields|
After enjoying a lunch break near the Shooting Star chairlift, we began our descent into Heather Canyon. The canyon's west slopes were quite lush and lovely. I captured Catherine and Larry enjoying the views next to a small stream.
|Lovely green brook in Heather Canyon|
There's even a small waterfall that drops over a rocky outcrop.
|Heather Canyon Falls|
On this portion of the hike, my friends and I ran into a large group of people who were backpacking the entire Timberline Trail. They told us a harrowing tale of fording Eliot Creek, a dangerous glacial stream that is known for it's crossing difficulty. One lady in their party got knocked over by the water's force and was nearly swept away. Luckily she was pulled to safety, shaken but unharmed.
|Cairns pointed the way|
Creek crossings were on our minds as my companions and I approached roaring Clark Creek at Heather Canyon's very bottom. Although not as difficult as the Eliot, it still posed a challenge to traverse.
|Crossing Clark Creek in Heather Canyon|
Catherine and Larry scouted possible crossing places as I snapped a few photos of the barren, rock-lined banks. Larry ended up rock-hopping, while Catherine shuffled across on a narrow log. Stashing my camera, I started to step towards the creek, when my foot caught on a rock, and down I went. My left shin took the brunt of the fall, striking a large boulder. I yelped in pain.
|Climbing out of Heather Canyon|
After picking myself up, and determining that my legs still worked, I shimmied across the creek via Catherine's log. Leg throbbing mightily, I rolled up my pants leg to assess the damage. I discovered a golf-ball sized goose egg swelling on my shin. It was already turning purple. Uh-oh!
|Looking waayyy down into Newton Canyon|
Would I be able to hike out? We still had about three miles to go. Larry grabbed one of my bandanas, soaked it in the icy-cold stream, and set it on my leg. Catherine scooped up a bit of mud and smeared it over the impact area. They both told me to sit tight for a few minutes to see if the swelling would go down. I took the opportunity to gulp down a few ibuprofen tablets from my first aid kit (here's a tip - always carry some "vitamin I".)
After chilling for a few minutes, I tested out my leg by putting weight on it. Although still throbbing, nothing appeared to be broken. The mud and cold water had taken down much of the swelling. I gave my companions the thumbs up and we resumed our hike.
|Our trail followed the top of Newton Canyon|
The east side of Heather Canyon is the polar opposite of it's western cousin. Rocky, barren and dusty, my friends and I quickly ascended this leg. The cool, shady forest on top was most welcoming.
The Timberline Trail wound across Mt Hood, opening up a few views, until it junctioned with the Newton Creek Trail. This supremely scenic trail followed the top of Newton Creek's high canyon winding downhill to water level. Gray, long-dead trees stood adjacent to the path like long-lost sentinels. But, oh were the views from up here spectacular! Looking into the canyon, Newton Creek seemed like a tiny stream far below.
|We found tons of ripe huckleberries|
Motion seemed to help my leg, and the bump began to subside. After climbing a good portion of the day, it was nice to finally be traveling downhill. As we descended to lower portions of the Newton Trail, Catherine discovered adjacent bushes thick with huckleberries. Again, forward progress stopped and a picking frenzy began.
|Huckleberry picking break!|
The berries were the best I'd seen so far all summer. Huge, plump and juicy, their sweet taste filled my mouth. (Two for me, one for Catherine's bottle) A passing group of hikers asked Catherine what she was doing, and when informed that the berries were edible, joined us in the bushes.
|Newton Creek floodplain destruction|
After filling most of Catherine's bottle, we resumed our trip. Newton Creek, so far away into the canyon when we first started, began to get closer as we trekked downhill. Just before the final trail junction, it reached water level, and my friends and I marveled at the huge boulders and uprooted trees littering it's banks. Glacial streams are nothing to mess with!
Finally our last trail came into view. Only one more mile to go! Although my battered lower leg was holding up, I was still ready to be done. Crossing Clark Creek once again, this time on a nice wooden bridge, a quick half mile walk brought us back to the parking area.
|Bridge over Clark Creek|
Another great day of adventure on Mt Hood! Remember if you want to witness these summer wildflower fields for yourself, just head on over to Mt Hood Meadows next August.