Mississippi Head

Mississippi Head is a prominent feature on Mt Hoods southwest face. It is the large, dark blocky band of sheer cliffs above Zig Zag Canyon, especially visible as you are approaching the mountain from Portland on Route 26. No trails access the area, but the tops of the cliffs can be explored as a hike.

If you choose to explore the area, be comfortable with off trail route finding and carry micro spikes and I’d recommend an ice axe, even late into the season for the snow fields. Its accessibility and risk will vary based on snow cover, which varies year to year. The route I took was over 11 miles and 3700 feet of elevation gain up to 8200 feet on the mountain, with about half of the miles off trail.

Starting from Timberline Lodge, the first 4.8 miles are the same as hiking to Paradise Park. From the junction where the Paradise Park Loop Trail #757 meets the Paradise Park Trail #778, I headed up the very well-defined user trail that climbs through the open flower covered slopes.

The path continues onto barren gravel covered rock slopes but becomes faint to non-existent before long. I kept trekking up the ridge, with the great expanse of the Zigzag Canyon opening up before me, and the cliffs of Mississippi head towering up ahead.

At around 7200 feet, past the cliffs and where the canyon has narrowed I came along a steep snowfield pouring down the side of the cliff and chose a place in the middle to cross. The snowfield was icy, so I put on micro-spikes and headed carefully up the slope, ice axe in hand.

I climbed around up to spot overlooking the tops of the cliffs where great piles of gravel sit, deposits left when the glacier retreated up the mountainside.

From there I continued up, sticking to fingers of snowfield that made for easier hiking than the uncovered soft sand and gravel. Just above 8200 feet I had a good view of the Palmer chairlift to the east and headed in that direction, crossing expansive snow fields on the slopes above the beginnings of the Little Zig Zag River.

Before the chairlift and skiing area on Palmer glacier I started heading down hill, and eventually crossed over to Silcox Hut, from which it’s just the road down to the Lodge. 

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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