5 of the best things to do at Mount Hood National Forest (+Photos)

They say a picture paints a thousand words. Well, one day, a picture of Mount Hood popped up on my laptop screensaver (thanks, Microsoft!), and that was so compelling that it painted a million words for me.

All of which screamed I simply had to visit there.

I did this for the first time in the summer of 2005 and instantly fell in love with its raw, untamed beauty.

Since then, I have been back several times and would urge you to pay a visit to Mount Hood National Forest – in which it resides – if you are ever in the Pacific Northwest.

If you do find your way there, here are a few ways to enhance your overall experience.

What is Mount Hood National Forest?

Mount Hood

Mount Hood National Forest comprises over 1.1 million acres of woodland, glacial creeks, waterfalls and meadows – roughly a third of which is designated wilderness.

It is dominated by the imposing Mount Hood, a dormant volcano that soars to 11,240 feet and is idyllically capped by glaciers.

When I visit it, I always stay in Portland, Oregon, which is about a 50-km drive away.

Typically, I’ve spent at least two days there on each occasion. However, on my first visit, I toured it for over four days, which I would recommend you do. This allowed me to spend some quality time at each of the main highlights I’ve outlined below.

I would advise against going just for a day trip. If you did this, you would spend much of your time driving to the various highlights and not really seeing them which might end up disappointing you.

Main Highlights

When you visit Mount Hood National Forest, be sure to see or do the following:

Drive the Mount Hood Scenic Loop

Mount Hood Scenic Loop

As Mount Hood National Forest is a big old place, I recommend you complete the Mount Hood Scenic Loop first before visiting anything specific. I did this on my first visit and found it a useful way to appreciate the sheer size and scale of the forest.

The scenic byway is a river-and-mountains drive that begins in Fairview, although I joined it in Gresham, a suburb of metropolitan Portland. It ends at Hood River and passes by several small towns, including Sandy, where I stopped to enjoy one of the best burgers I have ever had at Scooter’s Restaurant & Sports Bar (The Whiskey Blues).

During this drive, you can choose to stop off and see various lookouts, beautiful landscapes and waterfalls along the way. However, I would suggest just making a note of which places you most like the look of and visiting them another day.

See the Mount Hood reflection at Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake

If you only have time to visit one spot in Mount Hood National Forest, make it Trillium Lake. Here, you will get to experience one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen in the flesh.

The symmetrical view of Mount Hood as it stands proudly against the sky while congruently reflecting on the water’s surface will break you out into goosebumps. If you are like me, you’ll take hundreds of photos of it and probably spam your Insta stories.

What I love most about Trillium Lake is how serene it is. Every time I have been there (apart from at weekends), I’ve only had a handful of fishermen and the odd family for company. Take a book and a packed lunch and revel in its fresh air and tranquillity.

Pro Tip: For the best shot of the mountain and its reflection, head to the boat ramp.

See Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

There are several waterfalls around Mount Hood National Forest you can incorporate into your itinerary. However, the one you should prioritize most is Ramona Falls.

To get there, I had to tackle a seven-mile loop trail that gradually inclines into the mountains and involves crossing a river. It was a tough hike that took me about four hours to complete overall (including about 45 minutes of checking out the falls). So, you’ll need to be well prepared and have a relatively good level of fitness if you attempt it.

I’ve only visited the falls once due to the effort involved in getting there, and I had to stop a couple of times on the way up to rest and recover from the exertion. However, I loved the sight of the towering trees, rhododendrons, and lush forest undergrowth all around me, and the 120-foot cascade was spectacular!

Timberline Lodge

Timberline Lodge

If you have seen the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, you might recognize the Timberline Lodge as the facade of the hotel that features in it.

While I wasn’t game enough to stay there (I still have PTSD from the film!) I did visit it, as it is one of the most notable landmarks in the Mount Hood National Forest.

The historic lodge was built in 1937 and is a popular ski resort. It sits at 6,000 feet above sea level and conveys wonderful views of the surrounding area.

I drove to the lodge from Portland, though you can catch a shuttle bus from the town of Government Camp. While there, I enjoyed a coffee at its onsite Wy’East Cafe and explored the beautiful Pacific Crest Trail, which conveniently starts from its backdoor.

Timothy Lake Recreation Area

Timothy Lake Recreation Area

Another of my favorite spots is Timothy Lake, a reservoir covering over 15,000 acres. It is located about 20 miles south of Mt Hood and presents a tremendous view of the mountain’s reflection.

If you are into camping, there are over 200 campsites across several different campgrounds here. The lake is a popular spot for fishing, hiking, and boating. It is also where I had my first kayaking experience in the USA, which was a lot of fun once I got the hang of it.

I hired one from Mt Hood Outfitters, which offers rentals from an outlet right next to the boat ramp.

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