There's really never a bad_ _time to visit Mount Hood, Oregon's highest peak and one of the state's most popular outdoor meccas and photographed locales. Winter provides no shortage of skiing and snowboarding opportunities (most years, anyway); spring brings raging waterfalls and lush, green forests; and summer typically means the height of hiking season (and little snowpack muddying up those trails).
But if there's a truly great time to head for Hood, it's right about now. The post-Labor Day lull means trails on and around the mountain aren't so crowded, the first snowfall hasn't closed down any hiking trails, and temperatures are still generally warm enough for hiking or backpacking.
So if you're not ready to say goodbye to summer just yet, try one of these options for hiking—all within Mount Hood National Forest, and all replete with views you just can't get in rush-hour traffic or from your office window.
1. Paradise Park
The appropriately named Paradise Park is a year-round treasure, but the park’s beautiful hiking trails make it an ideal destination before the snow falls.
Time your trek just right, and Mount Hood won’t be the only view you get along the trail: Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters also are visible on a clear day. Hikers also cross the bubbling Lost Creek and Rushing Water Creek, and stunning alpine meadows threaten to steal some of Mount Hood's thunder.
Yet Oregon’s tallest peak is the undisputed star here: Mount Hood is in view for the vast majority of the hike, offering no shortage of opportunities for Instagram-worthy images of the iconic mountain.
2. Ramona Falls
Ramona Falls swaps the grandeur of Multnomah Falls or Silver Falls State Park for a smaller but no less impressive display. Rather than drop down hundreds of feet, the water at the heart of Ramona Falls cascades down several stair-like columns of rock, creating a memorable view.
Even better: No two views are ever the same. Very little light hits Ramona Falls, thanks to the thick surrounding forest, so the landscapes vary throughout the day. Early morning sun sneaks in through the trees for a rainbow-like effect, cloud cover creates a dramatic view, and late-afternoon shadows shroud the waterfalls in eerie darkness. The constant visual trickery adds yet another reason to make the 3.5-mile trek. (And that's to say nothing of the up-close Mount Hood views, which come into view shortly after crossing the Sandy River.)
Hikers should exercise caution, though: The seasonal bridge over the Sandy River washed away in 2014 (sadly killing a hiker in the process) and hasn’t been replaced, which necessitates a river crossing. If the water appears to be too high or too difficult to cross, stay safe and don't chance it.
3. Burnt Lake
Looking to squeeze in one last backpacking trip this season? Burnt Lake is a solid choice, with lush forests, occasional creeks, and canyon views that make the easy trek to get there even more enjoyable. But the real payoff is at the lake itself, where Mount Hood comes into full view, hidden behind only the trees lining the lake. Mount Hood is visible all along the trail surrounding Burnt Lake, but the best views are on the south side.
Hikers looking for an additional challenge can drop their packs off at the lake and continue hiking to the summit of East Zigzag Mountain, which rewards the effort with panoramic views unmatched anywhere in the Mount Hood National Forest.
4. Mirror Lake and Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain
There are few better views of Mount Hood than those found along the Mirror Lake trail . The wide, well-maintained trail gains roughly 750 feet in less than two miles, following a series of switchbacks through lush forests before arriving at Mirror Lake. Mount Hood appears just over the tops of the trees lining the lake, which is nearly as clear as the name suggests, creating one of the most photographed vantage points in the state. A handful of campsites, a short boardwalk, and several picnic spots surround Mirror Lake.
Hikers can turn around at Mirror Lake but should take the trail up to Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain for even better views of the Cascade Range and Mount Hood. It’s a gentle grade most of the way up but gets steeper near the summit. From there, Mount Hood appears as if it’s just across the street, towering over the surrounding forest and tiny Mirror Lake below.
Fair warning: The Mirror Lake trail head is less than 20 feet from Highway 26, and parking will be at a premium on weekends. Arrive early to give yourself the best chance to find a spot.
5. Serene Lake
Pacific Northwest backpackers have a lot to love about Serene Lake : The trail promises stunning views of alpine lakes, picturesque camping, beautiful wildflower meadows (now at the tail end of their season), and—of course—breathtaking glimpses of Mount Hood.
The trail itself passes a few small lakes without posing much of a challenge—the hike gains less than 1,000 feet along the way, making it an ideal outing for novice backpackers and energetic day hikers alike. Several campsites and an easy trail line the lake.
While the trail technically ends at Serene Lake, the best Mount Hood views are from a viewpoint about 1.5 miles up from the shore.
Want to know more about National Forests? The National Forest Foundation (NFF) promotes the health and enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences. Since 2008, the NFF has achieved $123 million of it $125 million goal in conservation impact to restore America’s National Forest and expand community engagement nation wide. Learn more at www.nationalforests.org.