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Travel guide for camping and hiking in Mount Hood, Oregon
When visiting the city of in Portland and heading out to the Rose Garden, you can already see the mighty Mount Hood in the distance. This 11.249 ft high stratovolcano is one of the major natural attractions in Oregon in the American Pacific Northwest. I stayed here for about 24 hours, the perfect time to explore this area and its great outdoors. In this blog I give you all my tips for your visit to Mt Hood in Oregon.
About Mount Hood
Mount Hood is the highest point in the American state of Oregon, a state that has been receiving more and more interest from tourists in recent years. And with good reason, because there’s much to see and experience. Mount Hood is a popular place for Portlanders to go for a day or a weekend, it is only about an hour and a half drive to Mount Hood from downtown Portland. The last eruption of Mount Hood was in 1782 and despite the fact that it has been quiet for about 250 years now, Mount Hood is still considered an active volcano.
Mount Hood is unique because you can ski there all year round. When I was visiting in the middle of summer, there was still plenty of skiing on the flanks of the volcano. In total Mt Hood is covered by no less than twelve glaciers, which ensures that you can always ski anywhere on the mountain. The glaciers reach to an altitude of about 6.300 feet and Mount Hood is the only ski resort in the US where you can ski all year round.
It is often thought that Mount Hood is a national park, but this is incorrect. It is a National Forest that is under the management of the United States Forest Service. This makes the activities and facilities slightly more commercial than in the national parks near Mount Hood, such as Mount Rainier National Park and Crater Lake National Park. You reach Mount Hood from Portland via US 26 (56 miles) or Hood River via 35 (44 miles). You can already see the volcano from afar, which resulted in a beautiful picture when I was camping at Redmond the night before my visit:
Before you continue reading don’t forget to check the short video that I made of my visit to Mount Hood:
Things to do in Mount Hood
Whether you are visiting Mount Hood for a day from Portland or for a longer period of time, there is plenty to see and do. Below I give you a selection of the possibilities for things to do at Mount Hood, such as the most beautiful Mt Hood hikes, camping spots and tips for fine terraces and other places of interest.
The Timberline Lodge
The Timberline Lodge is a historic lodge on the flanks of Mount Hood. It was built in 1932 and is located at an altitude of some 6.000 feet, just below the glaciers that are popular with skiers. The building served as a backdrop for the movie The Shining, which was filmed here in 1980. After I had done some hiking around Mount Hood, I sat in the sun for a while with a cocktail on their terrace. The view of the volcano is really beautiful from here. Even if you do not stay in the lodge you can just enter it. It is very exciting to take a look at the old and creaking lobby, the endless corridors and the beautiful restaurant!
Hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail
When I booked my flights to Seattle I initially wanted to hike a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, but in the end I decided not to do this and just rent a car and make a roadtrip in the Pacific Northwest. Being able to still hike a small section of it near the Timberline Lodge, made me pretty happy! If you wish to do so, you can best park the car at the Timberline Lodge, from here you can easily pick up the trail. The walk is very popular with day trippers and most people go to Zigzag Canyon, a deep stony canyon that you have to cross through on foot.
Soon after reaching Zigzag Canyon I figured I’d hiked my bit as I had walked about 4.5 miles on the trail. I was attacked by mosquitoes and had not brought enough drinking water, because I had not thought ahead that I would go that far. It was a beautiful walk anyway, over the flanks of Mount Hood, sometimes through the snow and surrounded by wild flowers in full bloom. From the trail you have endless views into the wilderness of Oregon, a very special experience for me!
As Mount Hood is not a national park, you will not find extensive brochures with hiking maps, travel tips that you’ll usually find in the US National Parks. There were many side trails but it wasn’t too clear where they were going, so I can recommend buying a hiking map in advance. Next time, I’d like to have had a bit more time to some other Mt Hood hiking trails such as the Paradise Park Trail. Another nice hike I’ve heard about is the Timberline Trail that circles Mount Hood. The distance is 40 miles and you take about three days. This is a total bucket list item for me ever since my visit!
Mirror Lake Trail Mt Hood
One of the best hikes near Mt Hood that I made was to Mirror Lake. This alpine lake offers you a perfect reflection of Mount Hood and is relatively easy to reach. You park your car on the 26 about a mile and a half west of Government Camp. Note: there is a very limited number of parking spaces and no overflow area. I was here at 09.00 in the morning and when it was almost full, after I got back to the car, people were almost fighting for my parking space. Do not let this stop you from doing this hike, because it’s just not that busy due to the limited parking. Just recently, I have been told that they are working on a new parking lot, so it may be that the above is no longer applicable when you travel through Oregon.
The trail to Mirror Lake Mount Hood is not difficult but climbs steadily. After hiking about two miles through the forest, mostly over rocky paths, you’ll arrive at Mirror Lake Mt Hood. Here you can do another hike of some of 0.4 miles around the lake for the most fabulous view of Mount Hood. In order to see the reflection, it has to be free of wind and you should have clear weather. The best chances for this is early in the morning.
In total, this walk took me about two hours. I advise you to take plenty of time once you are upstairs because a place like this is only a small one.
The small village of Government Camp serves as a base for a visit to Mount Hood. This tourist town consists of a main street and some side streets, where you will find a mixture of restaurants, bars and adventure companies. I grabbed lunch here on the terrace at Glacier Haus Bistro, but in the end it does not matter where you eat, the offer is not surprising and almost the same everywhere. In any case, it was nice, the atmosphere was good and the food was tasty, especially after hiking!
Where to stay at Mount Hood
If you do not visit Mount Hood from Portland for the day, there are plenty of options to stay in the area. The Timberline Lodge is of course the best option, but is very popular and you have to book well in advance. Another good but more affordable option is Best Western Mount Hood Inn. Other Mount Hood hotels can be found here.
I personally camped at Clear Lake Camp Ground. I did not make reservations which isn’t wise in high season because the most popular campsites were already full upon my arrival in Mt Hood. Fortunately, I found a spot on this campsite, which is about fifteen minutes drive away from Government Camp. More information about the campsites near Mount Hood can be found here.
24 Hours in Mt Hood itinerary
To properly experience Mount Hood, I recommend a minimum stay of 24 hours in this area. My time schedule more or less was the following:
11.00 am arrival at the Timberline Lodge from Redmond
11.30 am walk on the Pacific Crest Trail to Zigzag Canyon
13.30 pm visit to the Timberline Lodge
2.30 pm lunch in Government Camp
3.30 pm to Clear Lake Campground, dinner over the campfire
07.00 am break up tent, breakfast and drive to Mirror Lake Trailhead
09.00 am Mirror Lake hike
11.00 am departure to the Oregon Coast
Some last tips for your visit to Mt Hood
Because there is currently a lot going on regarding the construction of new parking places etc. there is no clear information available or you have to pay for parking. When I parked at Mirror Lake, I had to make a contribution of 5 USD in the vending machine. Your national parks pass is not valid for this!
In addition, it is advisable to arrange your overnight stays in the area of Mount Hood in advance. It is a popular destination and when you travel here in the summer, you have a big chance that everything is fully booked. Groceries and petrol you get best in advance in Portland.
Also read: 7 awesome things to do in the American Pacific Northwest
Before you go make sure to order your guidebook for Oregon and check the best rental car rates here.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I truly enjoyed this blog and I’ve encouraged you for visiting Mt Hood Forest Park. If I could have done something else, I would have liked to spend more time hiking and checking out the best trails. However, more time was not possible for me this time around so I’ll definitely have to come back to Mt Hood one day.
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