Turning away from the Columbia River and passing through the town of Hood River, we headed south . . . straight towards Mount Hood. The scenery was fantastic, passing by apple orchards and vineyards, with the ever-present mountain looming above. A very pastoral landscape.
And so, after 4 long days and many hundreds of miles, we pulled into Trillium Lake Campground on the shores of —Trillium Lake, on the southern flank of Mt Hood. It is a US Forest Service campground which generally means we are camping “primitive.” We have to add water to the camper before we set up and we have to rely on our batteries with an occasional boost from our generator. Fortunately we are pretty much self contained for 3-4 days. We had a nice pull through site, but all of the sites were widely spaced and there was hardly a bad one in the campground. We enjoyed the ambiance of camping in an evergreen forest.
Mount Hood National Forest reaches from the Columbia River Gorge to Mount Jefferson in the south, and from the foothills east of Portland to the central Oregon plateau. In the center of it all rises Mt. Hood, at 11,239 feet it is the highest mountain in the state, the fourth highest in the Cascade Range and dominates the horizon for miles around. It is one of the most beautiful of the Cascade volcanoes. From the west, the mountain rises to a classic, sharp pinnacle, but from other points the mountain has a blockier appearance. Twelve glaciers extend to near the timberline on all sides. Alpine meadows, waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs and more than 4,000 miles of streams and 160 lakes fill the forest. It’s a tourist Mecca, providing hiking in the summer and skiing all winter. We found this out when we were taking a drive at the start of the July 4th weekend and encountered a solid line of cars and RVs headed into the area.
The iconic peak is the subject of, or forms the backdrop for, countless images of the Pacific Northwest. To the native people of the region, the mountain is known as Wy’East, son of the Great Spirit. Anglo explorers with the Vancouver Expedition named the peak Mount Hood in honor of an English navy Admiral.
It was a different mountain for us this time around (thankfully). A little over a year ago, we were in this exact place at the start of our Oregon Tour. We arrived here at Trillium Lake to overcast skies and a mountain buried in snow. Conditions fell off from there. Rain moved in, and hiking trails were either muddy or snow-covered. It wasn’t what we had anticipated. Mount Hood deserved another chance. The potential was there, all that was missing was the timing. Hence, our second visit.
There was a 2-mile trail encircling Trillium Lake. We began each morning by taking it. A wonderful woodland hike, through tall conifers with wildflowers and ferns filling in the understory. It was a great way to begin our days.
When we reached the dam we were rewarded with views of Mt. Hood. Each morning presented a different look Last year we hardly saw the mountain for all of the rain—not so, this time around.
One day we went into Government Camp, a tiny town at the base of the mountain. Were it not for skiing it probably wouldn’t exist. There is a general store, post office, a couple of restaurants, a brewery and several shops selling ski equipment. After checking out what little there was, we went up to Timberline Lodge.
Timberline Lodge was built in the 1930s by one of the government’s make work projects. In 1937, the construction was met with great approval. Built as a WPA project, unemployed artisans were put to work fashioning beams from giant trees, carving newelposts into owls and bears, and weaving rugs and chair covers. The entire project was completed in only 15 months. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978, Timberline Lodge sits at 6,000 feet. Located on the south flank of the mountain, it has Cascadian-style architecture featuring local stone and wood. The interior of the Lodge was designed around three themes: the mammoth timbers and handmade furnishings celebrate the early pioneers, wrought iron designs and carved wood are intended to capture the native Indian spirit and wildflower paintings and carved wooden animals represent the local flora and fauna. The exterior of the Lodge is in harmony with its setting too, both visually and in its construction, designed to withstand high winds and heavy snowfall. Today there’s a separate, 1980s, concrete-bunker-style day lodge filled with contemporary crafts, ski-rental shops, and snack bars. But the real place to head is the second-floor bar in the old lodge. It has comfortable sofas, great sunset views down the Cascades, and a great blend of rusticity and comfort where weary hikers and skiers can relax and mingle. Or two tired hikers from Indiana.
It’s in great shape for a structure that is about 80 years old. It is a staging area for climbers, skiers and snowboarders on the higher parts of the mountain. We saw lots of people coming down from the mountain after enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the end of their season. It didn’t appear that the lifts were operating, so if you wanted to ski or snowboard you must have to walk up. That’s dedication! If you want to hike to the top you need technical equipment such as crampons, ice axes, packs and helmets. Plenty of climbers were coming down as well.
On our second day in the area we hiked up to another high alpine lake, appropriately named Mirror Lake, which was supposed to give us a mirror reflection of Mt. Hood. It was about 4 miles round trip.
Melinda stayed lakeside, occupying herself with wildflower pictures. The rhododendrons were really flourishing at this particular location.
Unfortunately there was a little bit of a breeze so there was no mirror image of Mount Hood.
Back at the campground we enjoyed a campfire that night. With Government Camp a short drive away, a take-home pizza was very convenient. Um-m-m . . . . good food, great fire, a wonderful evening—now this is camping as it should be!
(Sometimes a fire can be a little hard to enjoy when a tiny bundle of firewood is $6-$7. By that standard we have several thousand dollars of firewood at home).
The Fourth of July might not have had fireworks around here, but Mount Hood still managed to put on a show. After two previous evenings of less-than-spectacular sunsets, Melinda didn’t give up. Once more at lakeside, her perseverance was rewarded. The sun dropped down, and some clouds blew in—it was the recipe for some great sunset color. Happy Independence Day!
From the base of Mount Hood,
Chris and Melinda