Lookout Mountain (6,525′) is the second highest peak in the Mt. Hood National Forest, second only to Mt. Hood (11,250′) by a rather large margin.
If you are looking for a decent trail outside of the standard collection of Columbia River Gorge hill climbs (take. your. pick.) then you’ve found it. The trek to the summit of Lookout Mountain is relatively short (3.2 miles RT) requiring minimal effort but offering big rewards with views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and even the flattest bits of eastern Oregon.
Historically, Lookout Mountain was the site of, well… a lookout. In the early 1900s, it was one of many sprinkled throughout the Cascade mountain range and was designed to spot fires and prevent forests from burning down. This one, known as the High Prairie Guard Station, was built in 1911 and served until it was decommissioned in 1966. The foundation of the lookout structure still exists today.
GPS: 45.35238, -121.53120
There is a moderate level of risk of getting lost trying to find the High Prairie (Lookout Mountain) trailhead (5,960′). A map and/or GPS are recommended to navigate the web of roads.
A Northwest forest pass is required to park at the trailhead.
Warning: The road to the trailhead switches from pavement to gravel. In the winter, the road to the trailhead can become buried in snow. As the snow begins to melt in the spring, the road can become slushy and muddy. A high clearance vehicle with four wheel drive is recommended but not required depending on season and weather.
Most folks will attempt this as a day hike, which is a good approach. We opted to camp overnight. During the summer this may have been frowned upon, but since it was the middle of April there was hardly a cargo-short clad tourist in sight. Instead we were greeted with ice, snow, plenty of serene Pacific Northwest sunshine, and an empty trail.
From the trailhead, we followed the East Loop to the West Summit then on to the true summit of Lookout Mountian. The snow was deep enough that we opted to play it safe and follow the foot holes of previous hikers. The path is likely much more clear during the summer when the snow has melted. We returned on the same route.
This will really depend on the season that you’re hiking in. Also, consider the elevation (6,525′). It can be 81°F at sea level (Portland, OR) and 57°F at 6,600′ because of science.
If it’s summer, and you’re feeling like a real ponce, you can probably get away with a nice flannel shirt and a pair of flip flops. However, we recommend a good pair of hiking boots and a jacket. Pants optional, sunscreen recommended.
If it’s winter or spring be prepared for snow and ice. Research suggests that the trail isn’t snow-free until early July through mid-October. Warm layers, including boots and gloves, are required unless you like your bits turning black and falling off.
On the steeper sections of the trail we found that it was helpful to have shoe spikes and trekking poles for gaining traction. In very wintery conditions snowshoes may be required.
Bring enough snacks to survive a day hike. This can be whatever you feel comfortable carrying in a small pack – jerky, nutter butter bars, an apple, pudding snack packs. Use your imagination. It’s not like we’re planning for a multi-day backpacking trip through Zion.
However, it is very important to bring…
As I sat at the summit on a slab of concrete, soaking in the first true rays of spring sunshine, I wondered whether sharing information about beautiful places like these was endangering their transquality. One of the core reasons people seek out nature is for the isolation and quiet that it brings, but not if the trails are clogged with other hikers.
Popular hikes are popular because there is some element that draws people to them. It can be proximity, but it can also be natural beauty. For example, people will come from miles around to fill parking lots and clog the trailhead to catch a glimpse of the contained chaos that is Multnomah Falls. But if it’s not to escape people then why? Because it is simple, accessible, natural grandeur spraying out of the side of a cliff.
Lookout Mountain presents a different kind of excellence. And it’s because of this that I wanted to share that place with you, the reader. The crown jewel is that it has easy access to one of the most exceptional views of Mt. Hood that I’ve ever seen.
I won’t give the exact location on the trail away, but there is a point on the hike where you can step out on to a rocky outcrop and roughly 6 miles straight ahead is an unobstructed view of Mt. Hood. It feels close enough that you could pluck bits of ice from the summit, stuff them in a snow cone, sprinkle some sugar on top and eat it.
Mountain climbing is difficult and some peaks are very remote, but it is both the challenge and the reward of completing such a feat that can draw crowds.
The trail can be experienced by anyone but they cannot have the exact same experience that you did. Each person will come to the trail with a different perspective, a different mindset, and a different attitude. That’s why it’s important to share these experiences, not simply because we can, because when the time comes when the importance of nature is questioned we can give an honest answer.
And on a really clear day you can get a look at the sisters and other central Oregon peaks.
Ah, a deep breath of fresh PNW air ??