I’d been looking at this route through the mountains west of Mt Hood as an opportunity to experience the full length of the Zig Zag Mountain Trail without having to double back on any of the trail. The return length of the loop would follow roads and the Pioneer Bridle Trail for a less interesting, but direct return. In total, the loop is 27.6 miles with around 5400 feet of elevation gain.
So, with a sunny albeit windy fall day I set out to the Paradise Park Trail head and headed up the trail.
The Paradise Park trail makes steady gains up the ridge above the Zigzag River. A few years ago a storm tore through the upper stretches of the trail, ripping up whole swaths of the forest and toppling trees all along the ridge like matchsticks. An incredible amount of work has been done by the Forest Service and volunteer groups to clear what must have been over a hundred logs from a mile stretch of the trail.
5.4 miles from the trail head is the junction where the Zig Zag Mountain Trail #775 starts off to the left. As the trail starts west it actually loses elevation for a bit before climbing up onto the ridge.
After 1.8 miles the surrounding area widens onto a gently sloping plateau that leads down to the junction with the Burnt Lake Trail. Just after that the trail ascends on the open ridge approaching East Zigzag mountain with outstanding views of the west side of Mt. Hood and the lands in between.
From the ridge I diverted down the Burnt Lake Trail heading west, which descends to a stream crossing which is a good place to fill up on water before heading north onto the Devils Tie-Trail #767. In a third of a mile rejoin the Zig Zag Mountain Trail to continue heading west, below the summit of Zigzag Mountain, the highest peak of the Zig Zags. The next summit marks the end of Horseshoe Ridge, and just past the junction with the Horseshoe Ridge Trail the ridge opens with some expansive views of Hood and the area all around. This grassy and supremely scenic section of ridgeline is my favorite spot along the trail.
In two miles the trail comes to the foundations of an old Forest Service lookout on West Zigzag Mountain with views out to the west and down along the rest of the ridgeline.
From there the trail continues to make its way along the ridge, slowly losing elevation. At this point you are standing at about 3300 feet with 1800 feet of elevation to lose in the next 2.3 miles. The way is a steep, monotonous series of endless switchbacks that when I passed through was lined with sporadic Lobster Mushrooms poking out. These mushrooms are actually a parasitic fugus that hijacks and transforms mushrooms.
When you finally get to the bottom, head left on the Road 19 Trail and then continue the road until you reach Highway 26 in Rhododendron. Grab snacks or water at the grocery store! It’s only a third of mile south on the highway until the Pioneer Bridle Trail #795 starts, following through the woods along the parallel to the highway.
The next 4 miles follow along the road, and then cross the highway to head up Kiwanis Camp road and your vehicle. A great idea would be to stash a bike at the bottom of the Zigzag trail and bike the return route along the roads Pioneer Bridle Trail.
It’s a long day but covers some great terrain