Exploring Mountain Lakes among the Zigzag Mountains

If you’re looking to explore some of the highlights of the Zigzag Mountain Range just west of Mt Hood, this trail gets a lot out of the mileage. In 16.6 miles and 3160 feet of elevation gain you’ll visit two lakes and get great views of the mountain from the scenic ridge off East Zigzag Mountain.

I chose to start from the parking lot next to the restrooms at Riley Horse Camp, just over Lost Creek off Muddy Fork Road. Keep going down the campground loop road, and just around the bend look for the second horse trail heading off into the woods. Shortly you’ll come onto the Cast Creek Trail which crosses a road before heading into the forest and climbing through switchbacks onto the ridge. It’s a steeper uphill for almost two miles and 1400 feet before the trail follows the ridge, continuing to gain another 1200 feet over the next 2.75 miles to a junction.

A side trip to Cast Lake only adds 1.6 miles. Take the right and head down hill to another junction onto the Cast Lake Trail #796. Keep descending till the lake comes into view. Cast Lake is small but gorgeous and has some great spots to hang out and watch the swallows chase bugs around the surface. Enjoy the solitude and lack of crowds here, because that’s likely to change at the next lake.  A trail loops around all of Cast Lake.

Head back to junction up on the ridge, and this time keep going what would have been straight, onto the Zig Zag Mountain Trail #775.

The trail climbs up to the rock summit of East Zig Zag, 4970 feet high. Continuing down off the mountain the ridgeline opens up for some great flowers on its slopes and the best, closest view to that takes in all of Mt Hoods western side.

Pass by the Burnt Lake trail when it heads to the right, south into the woods, and then 0.30 miles later exit onto its northern leg heading down towards Burnt Lake.

When you come to lake, follow the trail to the right along its southern shore to enjoy more scenic views of its shoreline. In the summer Burnt Lake is a popular spot for fishing and swimming and you’re sure to encounter crowds coming up the trail as you head down. The trail heads towards Lost Creek and then parallels the creek through the woods for a fairly gentle route down to the Burnt Lake Trailhead. Hike the road down, passing Lost Creek Campground to Muddy Creek Road.

Cross the road and enter the woods on the other side. Heading due north for just a tenth of a mile will land you on the Sandy River Trail. Head east on the piney, sandy trail, crossing the road, and at 1.3 miles you’ll be on the Riley Horse Campground, just around the corner from your ride.  

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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