Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge on the Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14111A, Backpacking


  • Hike around Mt. Hood, Oregon's highest peak
  • Explore wildflower-studded meadows below towering glaciers
  • See waterfalls and crystalline pools on the Eagle Creek Trail


  • Campground before the backpack
  • Delicious vegetarian-friendly meals
  • Group camping gear


DatesAug 2–9, 2014
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffPaul Saindon

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The Pacific Crest Trail passes through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country on its 2,650-mile route from Mexico to Canada. The views are most astonishing on this stretch from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River Gorge. We will hike 47 miles for views of Oregon's highest peak, wildflower meadows spread between glacier-fed mountain streams, and a canyon full of waterfalls descending into the sheer-walled chasm of the Columbia River.

This epic adventure starts on the southern flanks of Mt. Hood at the historic Timberline Lodge. Wrapping around the dormant volcano, the trail encounters stream banks with monkey flowers, lupine, mariposa lily, and Indian paintbrush. The verdant beauty of Ramona Falls is but a preview of serrated, pinnacled ridges up ahead. Leaving the northern side of Mt. Hood, we follow the forested Cascade crest to Wahtum Lake, where the sights of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier delight us. Here we divert from the official PCT to descend to the Columbia River via the unusually dramatic Eagle Creek Trail, with waterfalls and crystalline pools confined in vertical, sometimes overhanging walls. This combination of peaks, glaciers, wildflowers, lakes, waterfalls, and canyons create a symphony of nature that can't be beat.


Day 1: We'll meet at 1 p.m. at Eagle Creek Picnic Area and Trailhead. We'll leave some cars here and then drive to Alpine Campground near Timberline Lodge.

Day 2: We'll begin backpacking at 6,000 feet elevation at historic Timberline Lodge, crossing glacier-carved streams to Paradise Park. Distance: 6 miles.

Day 3: Today, we'll descend 2,000 feet to Ramona Falls, which splashes down moss-draped rocks. We'll follow the more scenic Timberline Trail to Muddy Fork below Sandy Glacier. Distance: 6.5 miles.

Day 4: We'll ascend the slopes of Bald Mountain for unrivaled views of towering Mt. Hood. Here we'll rejoin the PCT, crossing Lolo Pass and camping at Salvation Spring Camp. Distance: 10 miles.

Day 5: We'll follow the forested crest an undulating 11 miles to reach Wahtum Lake at 3,750 feet, where we'll enjoy a lakeside camp for two nights.

Day 6: During our layover day, we'll climb Chinidere Mountain, 4,673 feet, for panoramic views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, and the Columbia River Gorge. We'll enjoy time to fish, swim, and relax.

Day 7: We'll leave the official PCT to continue on the highly scenic Eagle Creek Trail. It's a long descent to our camp, which is at a 100-foot waterfall that's sliced into a narrow canyon. Distance: 7 miles.

Day 8: On our last day together, we'll continue downstream behind Tunnel Falls on a trail blasted into the canyon wall. This trail has more waterfalls than any other in the Gorge area. We'll finish in lush forest near the Columbia River. Distance: 7.5 miles.



Getting There

We will meet at the Eagle Creek Picnic Area and Trailhead to leave some cars for when we hike out at the end of our trip. This is 40 miles east of Portland off of Interstate 84. A map and driving directions will be provided. The most convenient airport is Portland. It's recommended you arrive a day before the trip starts in case of flight or luggage delays. Ride sharing is strongly encouraged and a roster of trip participants will be sent to you. We will meet by 1 p.m. to get to our campground near Timberline Lodge with plenty of time to explore this grand, old structure then setting up camp, having an orientation about the trip, organizing and weighing our packs, arranging tent sharing, and sharing a potluck dinner salad.

The next morning, we’ll weigh and distribute the commissary, then drive the short distance to our trailhead. At the end of our backpack on the last day of the trip, we’ll return to Timberline Lodge to retrieve our cars. Due to the unpredictable nature of wilderness travel, please make return flight reservations for the day after the trip ends.

Accommodations and Food

The trip price includes all meals from breakfast on day two through lunch on day eight, as well as use of group camping gear. A nutritious, high-energy, non-red meat diet is planned. Any food allergies or limitations should be indicated to the leader as far in advance of the trip as possible. Although red meat will not be served, chicken and fish are on the menu. Vegetarians can be accommodated, but participants unable to eat dairy products should consider another outing. Participants will be divided into cook crews so everyone will have a chance to prepare the day’s meals two or three times.

Trip Difficulty

Most daily mileages average 6-7 miles, although there are two back-to-back 10-mile days, with elevation gains less than 1,500 feet. There will be other difficulties that make this hike challenging. We could encounter snow, fast stream crossings, sections of washed-out trail, and trees blown down from the winter. The Eagle Creek Trail is so dramatic because parts of it are literally chiseled into the canyon wall. People with acrophobia or a fear of exposure may feel uncomfortable where there are low overhangs and the trail is on the edge of a vertical cliff. Fixed cables are provided for security on the more uneasy sections and this is a small part of the entire trail. Sustaining a program of physical conditioning will help you deal with all these factors and the leader will provide suggestions for this. Proper preparation will only enhance your wilderness experience.

This trip is planned for mid-summer for roaring rivers, bursting waterfalls, and snow-capped mountain views. This also coincides with peak mosquito season, so insect repellent is a must. Although the Pacific Northwest is generally wet, August is one of the drier months. Expect daytime highs in the 70s and nights as low as freezing. Rain, thunderstorms, or even snow can occur anytime, so you will need good rain gear. Hiking poles are strongly recommended for difficult stream crossings. Poison oak is at home in the Columbia River Gorge and parts of the Eagle Creek Trail, so bring long pants and long sleeves to protect yourself if you're susceptible to it.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be provided. Participants must furnish their own personal camping equipment, including a backpack, a lightweight tent (should be shared), a sleeping bag rated to at least 20 degrees, sleeping pad, reliable raingear including pack cover, layers of clothing comfortable between 30-75 degrees, and medium-weight (preferably leather), well-broken-in, waterproofed, lug-soled boots. Hiking poles are helpful on the rough and often steep terrain. Your personal backpack gear should be less than 25 pounds as the trip leaders will give you up to 12 pounds of central commissary. Group commissary equipment will be provided.



  • U.S. Forest Service: Mt. Hood Wilderness and Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • USGS 7.5-Minute Topographic Maps: Mount Hood South, OR; Government Camp, OR; Bull Run Lake, OR; Wahtum Lake, OR; Carson, WA; Bonneville Dam, WA. Available on the Internet from the USGS Earth Explorer site at


  • Schaffer, Jeffrey P. and Andy Selters, Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon and Washington.
  • Schneider, Russ, Hiking the Columbia River Gorge.



The beauty and bounty of the Pacific Northwest was recognized as early as the Lewis and Clark expedition. The pressure of two hundred years of logging, mineral extraction, and development is still sorely felt today. A proposed casino, destination resort development plan, air pollution, and clear-cut logging all threaten these ecosystems and the scenic wonder of these areas. We will discuss these problems and ways we can help, as well as do our part to preserve wilderness by learning and practicing Leave No Trace principles.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Mount Hood National Forest.



Paul Saindon has been a Sierra Club member since 2000 and a lifetime member since 2007. He is currently semi-retired after working in information technology. Paul is certified in Wilderness First Aid and Adult CPR and a graduate of the Sierra Club's national leadership training program. He is a leader for the Sierra Club's Illinois River Prairie group. While backpacking and hiking are Paul's favorite activities, he is at home just being outdoors. Other interests include outdoor photography.

Assistant Leader:

Francy Rubin is an early retired physical therapist/athletic trainer who loves having time to spend outdoors. She is a strong believer in the concept of “giving back,” and has lived this motto through activities ranging from weekly trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail near her home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to five years spent volunteering with a Rotary Club project designed to keep poor, rural children in school in Colima, Mexico. She serves as a volunteer Sierra Club leader for backpacking, service, and hiking trips throughout the United States, England, Costa Rica, Vietnam, and the Caribbean. Come join her in nature!

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