Exploring Southeast Mt. Hood – Elk Meadows – Newton Creek Loop

If you’re looking for a hike with a grand diversity of scenery that really highlights some of the amazing scenery the Mt. Hood National Forest has to offer, and feeling like having a good workout, this 13-mile loop with about 2200 feet of elevation gain is a great option. It hits some classic spots including Elk Meadows, Newton Creek, a traverse of the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski area, and both Umbrella and Sahalie Falls.

The journey starts at the Elk Meadows Trailhead and heads into the woods, crossing through some level forest crossed by ski runs until you come to the lower crossing of Newton Creek. After crossing the creek, the trail climbs, switch backing quickly up 650 feet to a crossing where the Gnarl Ridge Trail heads to the left, the Bluegrass Ridge Trail to the right.  Continue straight staying on the Elk Meadows trail and descend slightly in to bowl of the Meadows. The trail loops around the meadows, so stay to the right to hike around the east side of the Meadows for the mountain views with Mt Hood rising up behind the meadows

In the spring the meadow is filled with vibrant displays of wildflowers. There’s a little spur that ventures into the meadows to a shelter and some campsites. At about 11 o’clock on the circular Meadows trail, the Gnarl Ridge Cut Off trail breaks off and heads up to the Gnarl Ridge Trail, which in a short amount of time ends at the Timberline Trail. Head to the left and begin a descent along the ridge to the upper crossing of Newton Creek.

Newton Creek Drainage

After the creek the trail heads up and crosses around the Newton-Clark Moraine, and then the views open up on some of the most spectacular scenery of the hike.

Heather Canyon on the left and the Newton-Clark Moraine on the right

The Newton-Clark Moraine, also known as Pea Gravel Ridge, is a ridge of exposed glacial deposits left by the glacier as it retreated up the mountain. It is immense, a prominent feature on the southeast side of Mt Hood. From a distance it looks like a sandy pile of gravel, but close-up it is a jumble of sharp broken rock ranging from pebbles to the size of buses. The Clark River starts ahead, with a waterfall further upstream and Heather Canyon is visible on left of the dividing ridge.

Clark Creek

After finding a good spot to cross, look for the trail heading up the bank on the other side, and the trail follow along until the tiers of waterfalls draining Heather Canyon comes into view. The largest one is Upper Heather Falls and the Timberline trail actually crosses close to its edge, look for the trail leading off. Foot paths explore along the creek up into the canyon, which has some beautiful grassy meadows. It’s a great spot to fill up on water.

Upper Heather Falls

The next leg follows the Timberline trail through the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area, crossing through open meadows and under ski lifts for 1.75 miles before a junction with Umbrella Falls Trail #667 on the left heads south.

Hiking through Mt Hood Meadows

Stay on the trail for 1.25 miles, descending almost 600 feet to Mt Hood Meadows Road and the Umbrella Falls Trailhead. The trail continues on the other side of the road to a bridge crossing the East Fork Hood River just below the cascading Umbrella Falls.

Umbrella Falls

Ahead about a third of a mile the trail divides, and head left on Sahalie Falls Trail #667, which will descend through forest until a spur that heads off to check out Sahalie Falls before turning north and finally arriving back at the Elk Meadows Trailhead.

Published by Jim Wilson

An avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, I settled in Oregon after years of working on hiking trails in Southeast Alaska with the USFS and exploring the Pacific Northwest and rest of the country in the offseason.

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