Mount Hood rises to 11,250 feet as one of several volcanic peaks within the Cascade Arc. Overshadowing an expansive range of moderately-elevated land, Mount Hood is the most topographically prominent peak in Oregon. The Mount Hood National Forest (NF) extends south from the Columbia River Gorge for 60 miles to the slopes of Mount Jefferson and the Willamette NF, encompassing over 1 million acres of forested mountains. Often overshadowed by Central Oregon destinations like Bend and Oakridge, Mount Hood NF hosts some of the Beaver State’s often over-looked, under-rated, and absolutely outstanding singletrack.
The Mount Hood Scenic Byway (U.S. 26) connects Portlanders an hour away from this “backyard” national forest where snow-goers enjoy lift access year-round, climbers summit the lofty peak, and mountain bikers can get their fix on a number of trail systems. Within a 30-mile radius of the Timberline Lodge, located at the base of Mount Hood, there are over 200 miles of mountain biking trail. Most trailheads between the outermost edges of the national forest are found just minutes away from the Mount Hood Highway making for easy access, handy shuttle options, and more amenities than you can shake a Maxle at. Indeed, Mount Hood National Forest has the makings of a great weekend mountain bike destination.
The Best Mountain Biking Trails in Mount Hood National Forest
Timberline to Town, affectionately known to locals as “T2T”, is the single most popular trail in Mount Hood NF. The trail starts just west of the Timberline Lodge, located at the base of Mount Hood proper, and descends more than 4,000 feet over 17 miles. Perhaps the real reason this trail has garnered so much praise in recent years is the $2 shuttle bus from Rhododendron (Town) equipped with a brand new, 25-foot bike trailer.
Traversing Surveyor’s Ridge has been billed by many as a must-ride Oregon classic, but not for reasons you might think. While you will find a variety of surface and terrain from smooth needle-pack under thick forest to rugged mountain side exposure, impacted rock gardens, and swooping descents; the real reason to ride Surveyor’s Ridge is for the views of Mount Hood not found anywhere else by bike.
The sojourn atop Surveyor’s begins by climbing the Dog River Trail, named so after an early party of starving travelers resorted to eating dog meat. The climb up Dog River is arduous and precedes a long out-and-back traversing Surveyor’s, but you can leave another car where the two trails meet to shuttle Dog River.
The Knebal Springs and 8-Mile trails form side-by-side loops, each branching from a shared common pathway forking 0.25 miles in from the main trailhead along the Bottle Prairie Trail. Starting on Knebal Springs is like eating dessert first, as a 1,300-foot descent over 3.5 miles comes after less than a mile-long climb. Corners both wide and tight are punctuated with small root drops, whoops, and the occasional rock patch. The final half-mile leg of downhill dives off the opposing ridgeline where hot, heavy feet are rewarded by the spray of small stream crossings.
The 8-Mile trail skirts the ridge, plunges a half-mile down, and then opens up to an expansive view along another short climb below Fivemile Butte. Here, a fire tower accessed by a short side trail provides a perfect stop to fuel up before two miles spent switchbacking down a ridge. A slow, forested climb along Eight-mile creek brings you back to your car.
The Cedar Creek/15-Mile Trailhead sits about five miles south of Knebal Springs. Perched 2,000 feet above Cedar Creek, both trails sweep opposite sides of the ravine’s steep slope, diving deeper into the firmament. Ancient volcanic rock fields stationed on an exposed cliffside guard the eastern Oregon expanse almost as if it were Mother Nature’s personal watchtower. I don’t think she minds sharing the view. The ground is a perfect medley of rock, root, needle-pack, volcanic moondust, and black gold. I think “loam” actually sums it up nicely.
Like Surveyor’s Ridge, Gunsight Ridge highlights some of the best views of Mount Hood any area trail can offer. You’ll find everything from shaded forest to shale-covered exposure. At the very least, Gunsight is a mild adventure, but accessing the viewpoints along the way and/or connecting it with 15-Mile, Knebal, and Surveyor’s can lead to a true epic.
Just down the street from Mount Hood, adjacent to the Village of Government Camp, is Ski Bowl–a 1,500 vertical-foot, ski lift-assisted bike park. While the small resort may not top any recent “consumer” lists, Ski Bowl is no slouch, proving its worth as host to two of seven Northwest Cup DH races this year. With new additions and upgrades appearing year after year, coupled with Portland mountain bikers’ deep desire for gravity-assisted riding, Ski Bowl maintains a slow-but-steady course in becoming something truly great.
As the loftiest peak in Oregon, it comes as no surprise that most of the recreation in Mount Hood National Forest is in the form of exploration by foot. Here, you can find everything from a short day hike to multi-day epics ranging from the tip-top of Mount Hood to the forest floor.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was one of the first congressionally-designated trails in the US. Established in 1968, a portion of the 2,650-mile route from Mexico to Canada passes through the Mount Hood National Forest, skirting Mount Hood itself.
The Timberline Trail is a 40-miler, mid-mountain trail circumventing Mount Hood. If you’re not braving a multi-day backpacking adventure, spur trails can be found throughout for a day’s out-and-back.
Although snow covered year-round, Mount Hood can be (and is) summited. According to some, the dormant volcano is the second-most climbed peak behind Japan’s Fuji-san. The south side approach is the easiest and shortest route, starting at the Timberline Lodge (5,800 feet). An ice axe and crampons are a must. Or, just go bike more!
Skiing and Snowboarding
Mount Hood is the only place in the world you can shred the brown and white stuff literally in the same spot. In fact, the Timberline to Town trailhead starts just a few feet above the Magic Mile ski lift connecting snow-goers to the Palmer Snowfield on Mount Hood’s western slope. If you’re hauling family, check the kids into one of several week-long summer snowboard/ski camps.
The 5 Best Campgrounds in Mount Hood National Forest
Due to the popularity of the Timberline to Town Trail, a campground nearest its shuttle pickup seems appropriate. The Tollgate Campground is situated just outside Rhododendron and just a few mile east of the nearest supermarket located in the town of Welches.
Nottingham sits nearest the entrance to the 44 Trails system (Surveyor’s, 15-Mile, Knebal, Eight-Mile) on the East Fork of Hood River. Also, with immediate access to Highway 26, travel to any other Mount Hood NF trail is only minutes away.
If it’s solitude you seek, Upper Eight-Mile provides the most remote feel of the campgrounds listed. It sits just south of the Eight-Mile trail with easy access to Surveyor’s Ridge, Dog River, and the 15-Mile/Cedar Creek loop.
Located in a meadow area of the forest, Still Creek is one of the closest campgrounds to Mount Hood. The small resort town of Government Camp is just a hop, skip, and jump away, providing a handful of options for eating, drinking, and being merry.
Trillium Lake Campground provides the most majestic views of Mount Hood of any campground on our list. As a popular fishing, small boat, and swimming site, the 63-acre lake also attracts the most visitors, so it would be wise to arrange reservations beforehand. Trillium offers dozens of single and double sites for tent and RV camping. Parking surfaces are mostly paved, but some are gravel. Each site is equipped with a table and campfire ring with grill.
While the Mount Hood National Forest doesn’t boast a bazillion miles of mountain bike trail, it has the variety, scenery, and enough off-camber activities to satisfy everyone from the beginner to advanced rider, whether traveling alone or with the family. And if the confines of a national forest isn’t enough, check out The Hood Report for more.