Field Notes

New Mt. Hood Trails Boast Views and Wildflowers Galore

There's a reason they call it Mt. Hood Meadows.

By Gabriel Granillo August 10, 2021

A runner during the Wy’East Howl race on the new Bear Grass Trail at Mt. Hood Meadows

The forecast calls for another 100-degree stretch this week in Portland. Admittedly—and thankfully—it won't be quite as hot as the June heat wave, but hot enough, nonetheless, to seek refuge with an all-day hike at Mt. Hood Meadows, about 90 minutes east and 20 degrees cooler. And with eight and a half miles of new trails opening last month and currently bursting with wildflowers, there's really no better time. 

A crew of about five to seven people at the 53-year-old ski resort spent the last year carving out eight and a half miles of new trails on the mountain, after the pandemic shuttered the resort’s operations in 2020. Prior to this, summer hiking at the resort was limited to a few paved roads and the Timberline Trail, a 38-mile trail with a three-mile section that cuts through the ski area.

Part of the thinking behind the new design was to connect to the already existing trails surrounding the resort—Umbrella Falls, Sahalie Falls, Elk Meadows, and Newton Creek Trails are now all more or less accessible through some cutoff on the new Bear Grass Trail, a relatively easy and peaceful 3.5-mile hike that loops around the base of the mountain.

Hikers on the new trails at Mt. Hood Meadows

“We wanted to make a bigger hiking experience for people anywhere from ‘never hiked before’ all the way up to more advanced and expert hikers,” says Anna Holgate, a communication specialist at Mt. Hood Meadows, noting that many of the summer guests this year are also winter season pass holders. “We have a lot of wildflowers and waterfalls, so [we made] trails that are accessible for people to check out some of the beautiful things we got going on up here. But it’s also for some of our guests who come up in the wintertime to see what’s underneath what they’re riding on.”

And there’s a lot you miss flying down mounds of fresh powder, including the abundance of wildflowers decorating the new trails. From the soft-white bulbs rising through the olive leaves of the bear grass, to the red-orange acrylic spikes of the prairie fire, to the swirling green-haired heads of the western pasqueflower (sometimes called the Old Man of the Mountain or hippie flower), to the delicate curving pedals of the cascade asters, color gives life to these new trails.

Prairie fire and cascade asters decorate the Timberline Trail.

The western pasqueflower (sometimes called the Old Man of the Mountain or hippie flower)

“There’s a reason we’re called Mt. Hood Meadows,” says Dave Tragethon, vice president of marketing and sales at Mt. Hood Meadows. He notes that, rather than creating trails that take hikers near the wildflowers or around a trickling creek, their goal was to “create an intimate hike” that was “designed in a way that you get the full experience by staying on the trail and not going off it.” 

Whether that’s taking the 0.3-mile Picnic Rock Spur for a bird’s-eye view of the mountain, or the 0.9-mile Jack Woods Trail for an immersion into forest foliage, or keeping it simple on the Bear Grass Trail for a brisk walk through colorful wildflowers, there’s plenty to experience on the new trail system.

A creek along the Timberline Trail

A recent weekend saw runners from the annual Wy’East Howl, who trudged along the new trails with muddy shoes and fatigued faces. And music from the ski deck echoed up the mountain, interfering with one of the most valuable hike experiences: listening—to the wind rustling the trees, to the rodents scuttering through sticks and fallen leaves, to the birds singing their songs. If you want to avoid such minor grievances, check the Mt. Hoods Meadows website for summer events you may want to plan around. (Or plan for! They are showing The Goonies, and other movies, on the deck later this month.)

Cloud coverage and a subtle wildfire haze blanketed our hike (and in its own way created a version of a marine layer rolling down the cascades), but aim for a sunny, clear day for optimal views. For Portland-area hikers looking to get out of the heat, it might serve you best to spend a full weekend of exploring. With the strenuous Wizard Way and Jack Woods Trails and Picnic Rock Spur (and at the higher elevation), you may find your legs asking for a break a few hours in. We promise the hike is worth it. And the post-hike pint at Paradise Grill is even better.

The view from the scenic chairlift ($16 for adults, $12 ages 7-14)

Drive time: 90 minutes // Distance: 8.5 miles // Difficulty: Varies // Directions: Take Highway 26 East to Government Camp, then head north on Highway 35 for 10 miles. 

Trails will be open through September 6, Thu—Sun. Check Mt. Hood Meadows for times and events. Need music for your drive? Check out our PDX to Mt. Hood playlist below. Follow us on Spotify for more playlists. 

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