Elk Meadows Backpacking

Overview:

  • 3 days, 2 nights — Hike in, camp, day hikes, camp, hike out
  • 6.5 miles to hike into Elk Meadows (from north end)
  • Gradual climb, not difficult
  • Creek crossings (logs could be washed out earlier in season)

June 30-July 2nd, 2017
(Click images to enlarge and see clearly)

I found this Elk Meadows hike last-minute, as the other place I had planned to go for the weekend still had too much snow due to the previous winter’s absurdity.

Elk Meadows is in the Mount Hood Wilderness area, and there are two trailheads. From the main trailhead, it’s a 3-mile hike into the meadows (use a log-bridge to cross the Newton Creek, go up some switchbacks, and then you’re at the meadows loop). From Polallie Trailhead, it’s about a 6.5 mile hike to the other end of the meadows. That’s the one we did.

Elk Meadows Trail Map

The trip was meant to be an ‘intro to backpacking’ for my brother and a friend. We left Portland around 7:45 and drove to the Polallie Campground, where we parked and accessed the trailhead. We got started at around 10am. This northern end of the Elk Meadows trail climbs into the dense woods from the road, and has off-shoots to several other trails (Tamanawas Falls, Lamberson Spur, Bluegrass Ridge).

Many adjustments to packs and plowing through spider webs got us about a mile along the trail. The trail is up and down, but mostly a gradual climb up, all the way to the meadows.

After a little over two miles we arrived at a creek and were unsure which way to go. I backtracked some while they rested to make sure we didn’t miss a junction. We crossed the logs and continued along the trail. Little brother’s back was hurting and legs sore, but he pushed on like a champ.

 

At one point when I stopped to wait for them to catch up, I found a little cell phone service and determined we were about 1.6 miles to the meadows. We made it to the junction a little after 1pm, and an older couple out for a day hike (from the other direction) pointed us to the best campsite. They advised to wake around 2am to see the stars and the herd of dear in the meadow, and said the deer may come sniff us in our sleep.

We set up camp, stretched, ate snacks, and took naps. I eventually got up and walked the perimeter of Elk Meadow, finding the junctions to a couple other trails we hoped to explore the next day. Our campsite was definitely the best, and I didn’t see anyone else camping or even on the trail (though I’d heard a couple small groups previously while in and out of sleep in my hammock). I walked through the meadow a bit – it was muddy and swampy in parts, but beautiful. Mount Hood was our backdrop for the weekend.

Mount Hood from Elk Meadows

An abandoned cabin (also used as another campsite)

Our campsite

When I returned I woke Charlie up and we went to filter some water at the creek about 100 feet from our campsite. He collected more firewood while Rachel and I took care of water. We made dinner, lit a fire, had hot chocolate and more snacks, then hopped in our hammocks and tent a little after 8pm. The sun dipped behind Mount Hood around 7:30, but even at 8:30 there was still plenty of light to read and see the deer creeping around our campsite.

The next day we all slept in. It was a very chilly morning. The grass was dewey. I waited until the sun came over the ridge (around 7am) to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. I collected some fire wood to get my body moving, but the wood was damp from the dew so a fire wouldn’t light. We enjoyed coffee and some stretching before we waking the brother up. After breakfast we took off for a day hike.

We took the northern end of the Elk Meadows perimeter to the junction with Gnarl Ridge, took that up to the Timberline trail junction, and walked west down Timberline the the Newton Creek flowing down from Mount Hood. At the Gnarl Ridge-Timberline junction, a couple of older guys were taking a break and we talked with them for a bit. They seemed familiar with the area and we really friendly.

On Timberline trail heading down to Newton Creek

We had about a 40 minute delay as we searched for a place to cross the deep, rocky, gushing creek. The two older guys caught up to us and went upstream to find a place to cross. Eventually I found a good rock to jump across. I threw my pack and poles across and was going to jump, but decided Charlie should go first since he has longer legs and could catch us on the other side. So he went across (nervous but successful), I handed him his pack, then he helped catch my friend and I when we jumped. Thankfully he was there to catch us, as we had a harder time getting across than he did. The older guys found a snow bridge further up the creek to cross. When we got back on the trail we ran into the couple from the first day again.

Brother and Mount Hood

Friend; view in the other direction (East)

From there the trail went up through some snow patches, then down the Newton Creek trail back to the junction with the Elk Meadows trail. The hike down was beautiful: views of mount hood, the creek way below.

After the junction we had to walk across a log over the creek and then up some switchbacks to get back to Elk Meadows. It wasn’t too hard or too far from there, and we encountered a lot of people out for day hikes.

Just before we reached the meadows we ran into the couple from the first day for a third time. We talked about the trails and went on our ways. They had said the first day that they weren’t camping here, but they must have been staying close by and doing day hikes.

Back at camp lots of people were on the trails a short distance from us. Some walked through the meadow and up to our campsite, and we directed them to the trail. Collected fire wood, got water, made dinner and a fire, then just hung out as the sun slowly dipped behind the mountain. We could hear more people in the area that night. I’m guessing we were the only people camping the night before.

The final morning I was successful in lighting a fire (it was even colder than the morning before, likely around 40 F). We woke early, ate breakfast and packed up. We were on the trail by 8:30am and back to the car by 11am. The hike out was a very easy, gradual downhill the entire way.

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