Island to Inland PCS Road Trip | Day 1 | July 25, 2020 | Hiking Lookout Mountain
On our first day of vacation, we packed all we had into our tiny rental car, picked up my brother, and headed for the hills. We made a quick stop to pick up groceries for a week on the road, then continued on to Mount Hood National Forest. When planning our trip, we honestly had no idea which route we wanted to take, just a lot of ideas of places to see between Portland and Omaha. But the one thing we knew for sure was that we’d spend a night camping with my brother around Portland, so we had our first hike and campsite planned out.
We drove East on highway 26, getting more excited every time we caught a glimpse at Mount Hood. This was Curtis’ first time seeing it — last time we were in Portland, the Eagle Creek wildfire was going on and visibility was poor. I had fun remembering my own adventure with Charlotte and pointed out places where I had stopped. We eventually turned North on OR-35 and then took forest road 44 further into the wilderness. We came across small campgrounds and dispersed camping sites, and ended up setting up camp at Fifteen Mile Creek Campsite. This site was the only one during our whole trip where we were concerned about finding a spot since it was a weekend near a major city. Once that was squared away, we prepared for our first hike — with the trailhead conveniently just steps away from our campsite!
Since we had absolutely no skills or acclimatization for summiting Mt. Hood, we chose the next best thing: a peak with unobstructed views of Mt. Hood, as well as other glaciated volcanoes on the horizon. Curtis had chosen Lookout Mountain, located on the East side of Mount Hood. The shortest trail to the peak is only about 3 miles, but since we were taking an alternative route starting in our campsite, Curtis said it would be about 6 miles. At this point it was only noon, and we had nothing else to do and nowhere else to be, so we all gladly went for it, starting out on the Fifteen Mile Creek Trail (#456).
Not long after beginning the trail, Curtis checked his AllTrails recording and noticed we were going the wrong way. However, he pointed out that this trail still went up to Lookout Mountain; it would just be a longer approach and more gradual elevation gain. We decided to stick with it and come back down the other trail, making a big loop. Curtis estimated off the map that it would end up being around 8-ish miles. Again, we had nowhere else to be, so we continued onward.
The temperature was perfect for hiking — in the upper 60’s with clear skies all around. There were purple and white wildflowers along the trail and a breeze in the air. The trail meandered its way up, crossing the occasional forest road, but never too steeply. It’s a good thing that the trail was well marked though, or else we might have had a few more problems.
Just before we reached the two mile point, the pines started to clear out and the trail got rockier. And then, we were in the clearing of a small hill (Eightmile Point) and had our first close look at Mt. Hood. But we also had our first look to peaks to the North in Washington. Grant was quick to point out Mt. Adams, but we were unsure of the one behind it. A quick survey of the horizon showed us Mt. St. Helens peaking out from behind Mt. Hood which left only Mt. Rainier to be the peak further North from Adams. Incredible to think that we were over 100 miles from Rainier and could still see it so well.
We took our pictures, Charlotte rested in the shade, and then we pushed on. The trail dropped about 50 feet from the lookout and then began its gradual ascent again. We passed by some mountain bikers, presumably coming down from the Lookout Mountain trailhead, and admired the wildflowers in bloom. We joined up with the Lookout Mountain Trail (#450) which indicated we were going in the right direction. At one point, Curtis noted a bright yellow and orange bird which he later identified as a Western Tanager.
The trail eventually merged with a forest road and started going more steeply up the mountain until it ended at the official trailhead for Lookout Mountain. By this point we were already about 5 miles in, but everyone, including Charlotte, was doing well and we had plenty of water and snacks for the summit.
From the parked cars at the trailhead, we followed the High Prairie Trail (#493) up to the crest of the ridge. This trail led us through wide open prairies with so many summer flowers in bloom. And just when you thought it couldn’t get better, you would turn around and have a clear view of Mt. Adams.
At the ridge, we turned to the South and made the quick and easy hike up to the summit of Lookout Mountain. There was one other family at the top, but there was plenty of space to keep our distance and still enjoy the views. We now had unobstructed views to the South of more Oregon peaks such as Mt. Jefferson and The Sisters, as well as a lake in one of the valleys. We had some snacks and drank Gatorade, and Charlotte found a shady spot for a nap.
By this point we were almost 7 miles into our hike with about 2000 feet of elevation gain, and Curtis believed we had about 3 miles left to get back to the campsite. A bit off from his initial ‘8 miles round trip’. Satisfied with our time at the summit we continued South on the Divide Trail (#458) which quickly, if not steeply lost all the elevation we had gained hiking up.
We passed by several hikers heading up towards the summit and were glad that we had chosen the route we did. Besides being steeper, the trail was very dry and we were kicking up a lot of dust just by walking. About a mile and half from the summit, we split off from the ridge and started following the Fret Creek Trail (#456A) down. Curtis pulled off from the main trail at one point and started leading us down an embankment. It wasn’t until we were at the waters edge that I realized he had led us to a small lake. The reflection of the treetops in the water had blended in so well with the trees I hadn’t noticed it. We enjoyed the tranquility of the water and let Charlotte sniff around and drink her fill before continuing on.
At just over 11 miles total, we walked back into our campsite tired but glad for our days adventure. It was more than we had bargained for, but the weather was so perfect and the views so wonderful. Maybe we were just starved for a change of scenery.
We were so impressed with how well Charlotte had done considering she hasn’t hiked more than 4 miles with us lately. The cool weather certainly had something to do with it as we learned later on — she doesn’t do quite as well hiking in heat. She hiked the entire trail with such determination and enthusiasm, and didn’t stop until we made it back to the campsite. Immediately after arriving back at the site, she went and laid down in the tent, only coming out when we started cooking sausage.
This ended up being our only major hike while traveling, and it was certainly worth it! We were thankful for the perfect conditions and visibility. If you’re interested, here is a link to our AllTrails recording.