by Lee Foster
Mt. Hood is the loveliest of the Cascade chain of extinct volcanoes in Oregon. At 11,235 feet, the peak reigns as the monarch of the Oregon Cascades. From Portland the snowy and serene crest of the mountain is a subtle presence on clear days.
Mt. Hood and the Cascades are a source of inspiration and wilderness meditation today, but to the early explorers pushing west, they were formidable obstacles. To rain clouds carried in from the Pacific they are also a barrier, causing most of the rain to drop on the western slopes, making the eastern part of the state relatively dry.
While the top of Mt. Hood is always snow-covered by its perennial glaciers, the lower elevations support elaborate forests of Douglas fir, pine, and hemlock. Where sufficient silting has occurred around lakes, meadows with wildflowers greet the summer traveler.
Getting to Mt. Hood
A loop trip around Mt. Hood makes an interesting excursion. Start at Portland and drive east along the Columbia. Turn south on Highway 35 to the Hood River Valley at the town of Hood River. Circle the mountain and return on Highway 26 along the Sandy River to Portland. Plan your trip, if possible, so you’ll see the morning light on the east side of the mountain and the afternoon light on the west side. If your trip coincides with the ripening of the wild blackberries along the roads in this region, in July, pause, pick, eat, and consider yourself most fortunate.
At the town of Hood River, stop in at the information visitor center. The center has an interesting relief map that shows the terrain of this part of the state. It should be noted that the travel information centers of Oregon are excellent. A traveler feels appreciated here, and the number of travelers is relatively low, keeping communication at a more personal rather than bureaucratic level.
Mt. Hood History
The Native Americans revered Mt. Hood, as they did the other tall, white mountains of the Cascades, especially Rainier in Washington and Shasta in California. They ventured into the mountain region in the summer to gather huckleberries ripening on the slopes and to follow the deer herds feeding on meadow grass.
Toward the end of the loop outlined earlier, as you drive back to Portland, you’ll parallel Barlow Road, the pioneer wagon trail to the Willamette Valley.
Mt. Hood Main Attractions
As you drive toward the mountain from the town of Hood River, the views of its white prominence grow gradually more impressive.
During this prelude you’ll see vigorous lumbering operations, such as those at Elkhorn. Oregon leads the country in lumber production. You’ll also see well-tended fruit farms. Pears and apples are the main crops here, and are sold along the roadway, but the pears must age before eating.
Once you arrive at Mt. Hood, viewing, hiking, camping, and fishing are the main activities. In winter, skiing is popular. The ski lifts of winter become sightseer transportation in summer. During summer the Magic Mountain chair lift takes travelers from Timberline Lodge to the upper slopes where spacious views of the Cascades are possible. From Timberline Lodge, the ascent to the top of Mt. Hood also draws large numbers of climbers each summer.
The special hiking trail here is the Timberline Trail, a 37.5-mile loop around the mountain. Elevations on the trail run from 3,000 to 7,300 feet. Mid-July to the end of August is the preferred hiking time because snow is then the least troublesome. Several high meadows with attractive wildflower showings are accessible on the trail, not far from where it starts near the Timberline Lodge.
For the ambitious hiker, there is the Pacific Crest Trail to consider, all 400 miles of it, passing through Oregon. You enter the trail near Cascade Locks west of the town of Hood River. The entire trail from Canada to Mexico is a 2,400-mile outing.
The lodging site and special rest stop on the mountain is Timberline Lodge, an attractive 1930s creation emphasizing native Oregon materials. The lodge is a monument to Oregon’s artisans and artists, with sculpture and painting depicting the themes of the Indians, the pioneers, and the native flora and fauna of the state. Open all year around, the lodge is owned by the federal government and run by a concessionaire. Food and equipment rental are available here, as well as lodging.
Nearby Trips from Mt. Hood
The Columbia River drive and Portland are the two main attractions near Mt. Hood.
Oregon’s Mt. Hood: If You Go
The website for Travel Oregon is http://www.traveloregon.com.
Portland information is at http://www.travelportland.com.