Mount Hood, OR: hikes through forest to waterfalls & lakes

Mount Hood from the west

Until this fall, I had only ever seen Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain, northernmost peak of the Cascades in the state, from afar. Getting up close before ski seasons kicks off and after summer tourism dies down proved to be a beautiful time to visit and explore the surrounding national forest.

Autumn was a perfect time to visit. The skies were clear and though the morning and evenings were cool, the days were warm and pleasant. Perfect hiking weather. Mount Hood National Forest is gorgeous and idyllic, like a slice of Pacific Northwest perfection. There are towering trees, moss and ferns, waterfalls, mountains and meadows.

ZigZag Falls

There are so many trails to choose from and corners of the forest to explore, it’s hard to decide where to begin. Hiking to Tamanawas Falls in the northeast and the Umbrella Falls Loop on the south flank made for a day of seeing different sides of the mountain and a variety of landscapes. After a rocky uphill climb, the temperature dropped noticeable along the route to Tamanawas Falls as it wound through a mossy, dense forest of western red cedar and Douglas fir along a creek. Further up, the forest gave way to a boulder field bound by cliffs on one side (where a pika crossed close in front of my feet!) and an eye-catching peppering of fall colored alder and maple trees before reaching the falls.

Tamanawas Falls Trail, Mount Hood National Forest
A stop along the trail to Tamanawas Falls
Fall color along Tamanawas Falls Trail, Mount Hood
Tamanawas Falls

The hike to Umbrella Falls feels quite different and the two trails make a nice pair of contrasting environments. The forest here had a sparser understory, feeling a bit drier without the moss-covered tree trunks and a tumbling creek to walk beside. It climbs quite a bit up a rocky path to a viewpoint over the valley below and passes through a series of lovely meadows speckled with the red and gold of autumn. I imagine the wildflowers would be stunning in the summer. The trail eventually leads to Umbrella Falls and Sahale Falls (though I opted not to trek down the very steep scramble to see the latter due to an injury that I was already pushing a bit) but the meadows and views were the highlight for me.

A meadow along the Umbrella Falls Trail

Gold leaves along the Umbrella Falls Trail
Looking back at the valley on the Umbrella Falls Trail

And since no trip (or at least a first time trip) to Mount Hood seems finished until one has seen the view of the mountain at the popular Mirror Lake, it was a final stop before heading home. Though the clouds were rolling in and out, the peak was visible and the water was calm, allowing a final farewell to Mount Hood.

Mount Hood in Mirror Lake
Mount Hood in Mirror Lake
Mount Hood at Trillium Lake (for contrast with Mirror Lake)

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