Categories: Recreation

Oregon Trip Planner: Mt. Hood Territory

In August of 1859 the mountain that Native Americans knew as Wy’East gently cleared its throat, spitting smoke minutely and spilling lava ungenerously down the southern flank of the Cascade peak we now call Mt. Hood. Ensuing decades proved that Mt. Hood could wake with the tap of climbing pitons, give with the carve of a ski edge, sleep with the shush of its rivers and provide a hospitable canopy for generations of outdoor pursuits. Oregon’s tallest peak became its center point. Its stature among Mt. Hood’s denizens and visitors has endured.

In summer, Hood’s western flank, Hoodland, is a large-scale anthill secretly bustling with earnest activity. Bisect it and you’ll notice a colony of fly-fishermen on its Salmon and Sandy rivers, hikers pushing up from trailheads, road and mountain bikers pushing their pedals and people stepping out to dinner. The towns that comprise this shoulder of the mountain—Welches, Zigzag, Rhododendron, Alder Creek, Wemme and Brightwood—are launch pads for these pursuits.


Oregon Trip Planner Day One: Hot Tubs | Horse Shoes | Rustic Elegance

From whatever busy life you’ve come, it simplifies at the threshold of a 1938 Steiner rustic cabin. The cabin, also known as the Dancing Bear, was built by Henry Steiner and his sons, master craftsmen of German descent, who worked together building dozens of Mt. Hood area homes that are now historical landmarks. Last of the master craftsmen, John Steiner died at 99 in the Portland area just a few days before we first encountered his life’s work. No doubt his craftsmanship will survive him for decades to come.

This cabin on Hackett Creek—near Welches and along the original Barlow Trail—is made from dark cedar and fir, and seems as natural as a fallen pine cone. Its horizontal logs lay in straight beds of mortar. Its corners, crisscross with notched logs. Its roof, metal and pitched for winter snow. Losing time is what’s done best here.

Behind the cabin, Hackett Creek plays its evening music before folding itself into the Salmon River downstream. A wooden bridge over Hackett leads to a horseshoe pit on the far bank. If your kids didn’t know what horseshoes were upon arrival, they will within minutes. If they thought that watershed exploration was a pursuit owned by National Geographic, their first muddy steps into the thicket of Mt. Hood National Forest will soil that notion.

Though the historic cabin helps you unwind from the neck up, the adjacent hot tub takes care of the rest. Slip into this creek-side bubbler and relax.

Dinner can take several forms when you’re at the interface of forest and Mt. Hood Villages. Build a fire in the cabin’s wood-burning stove and make it a cozy evening at home in the woods. A full kitchen and dining nook that overlooks the river are amenities that make longer visits easy and pleasant. If you want other people to cook for you, try the excellent Rendezvous Grill and Tap Room in Welches. The menu is a pantheistic meditation in salads, fish, pasta, pork and steak. Desserts at Rendezvous are the firmament.

For a more casual option, try the Skyway Bar and Grill in Zigzag, where barbecue is its specialty and the back deck is where it happens—often with live music from local bands. There’s always the classic fine dining farther up the mountain at the Timberline Lodge’s Cascade Dining Room. If you’ve never indulged, put this on your bucket list, especially during the Timberline Lodge’s seventy-fifth anniversary this summer. You can catch some talented musicians from around the world at the Timberline’s Labor Day Tribute to Tradition. Spoiler alert: a Guthrie is in the musical mix.


Oregon Trip Planner Day Two: Barlow Road | Mt. Bikes | Local Scenes

One of the early trailblazers in Oregon was a fiery tailor from Kentucky named Sam Barlow. Along with seven wagons and his family, Barlow arrived in Oregon in 1845. Until Barlow arrived, the last challenge for those on the Oregon Trail was a harrowing one. The Cascade Range did not accommodate wagons, so those continuing on west had to wait long periods, pay large sums for a joyless river passage down the Columbia and then run a nasty stretch of rapids near present-day The Dalles. Barlow sought an alternative and, with great difficulty and persistence, cut a land passage along the southern side of Mt. Hood. Portions of the historic Barlow Road are now hiking trails. Hit the Barlow Trail one mile south of Government Camp at Still Creek Campground. It’s easily accessed and compulsory for any budding Oregon Trail scholars. The Ranger stations in Sandy and Zigzag have a trove of information and maps to get you out and back.

For a slightly more strenuous excursion, hike the Mirror Lake Trail, a trailhead you encounter on the south side of the road one mile west of Government Camp on Highway 26. Scramble up to Mirror Lake for a picnic lunch with stunning views of Mt. Hood and the glacial cirque lake. It climbs 700 feet over a mile and half. Still feeling giddy after lunch? Tack on another three miles around the lake before descending. Pack plenty of water, sandwiches and Cary’s Trail Toffee.

If mountain biking is your indulgence, Gunsight Ridge (on the south side of Mt. Hood off Highway 35) is a fair test of stamina for anyone. The nineteen-mile out-and-back 1,500-foot climb offers four hours of challenge with grand vistas at the top. For something smoother, faster and shorter, head to Sandy’s Crosstown-Wally’s Tie-Skiway Trail. There are countless trails to ride. Get the latest trail information from Mt. Hood National Forest website’s mountain biking section.

Before packing it back to the cabin, you’d be remiss in not chatting up the day’s accomplishments at the Zigzag Inn or Mogul Mountain Pizza in Welches for a small snack.

The gas grill on the back porch of the Steiner cabin, however, nicely accommodates steaks, chicken drumsticks or salmon. The fireplace in the living room seductively illuminates glasses of Oregon Pinots—noir or gris. Take a moment to toast the skills of the Steiners.


Oregon Trip Planner Day Three: Barlow Road | Mt. Bikes | Local Scenes

Fear not, gluttony awaits you—just not today. When you’re on the flank of a mountain, on the edge of a national forest, in the middle of a network of rivers, the options for recreation are many. The Salmon River runs thirty-four miles from its headwaters at Palmer Glacier to its intersection with the Sandy River just west of Brightwood, and then north to the Columbia. Every step of the Salmon River is protected as a National Wild and Scenic River. A navigable trail runs for fourteen miles along its banks. Bright greens are draped across moss-covered trees along the gentle Salmon River Trail #742. Hike or run any portion of it from the trailhead five miles south on E. Salmon River Road, just a block west of the Zigzag Ranger Station, a good stopping point for trail information.

If you want to throw a line, summer is a good time to catch Rainbow trout on dozens of streams in the area. Check in at The Fly Fishing Shop in Welches for local flies and the most up-to-date information.

Hop into the Huckleberry Inn in Government Camp for clam chowder or a bacon and tomato sandwich, and huckleberry pie and ice cream. Expect the classic old diner counter with swivel stools, booths and reasonable prices.

A last line to catch before you head back home is the 500-foot zipline at Skibowl at Government Camp. The exhilaration from this ride is a good adrenal note in the broader adventure of your 72 Hours in Mt. Hood Territory. On Sundays in August, there are also Ranger Talks from noon to 3 p.m. to teach you more about the national forest that you’ve been playing in for the past three days.

Explore Mt. Hood

Where to Stay:





Where to Eat:






What to Do:

Hike, bike or trail run on the Salmon River Trail

Climb Mt. Hood with Timberline Mountain Guides

Hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail

Hike up to Mirror Lake or along the Barlow Trail

Zipline and attend a Ranger Talk at Skibowl

Celebrate Timberline Lodge’s 75th anniversary with free concerts on Sept. 3


Check out our Sisters, Oregon Trip Planner!

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