Mount Hood takes all comers. That snow-topped stratovolcano on Portland's easterly horizon has faces that will chill the bones of seasoned mountaineers, but also plenty of waterfalls easily reachable in a tattered pair of tennis shoes. The forests of the Hoodland are laced with more than 1,000 miles of trails which weave through sprawling meadows of bright, yellow wildflowers and down into the mossy creeks shaded by ancient pines. Climb a bit, and you find yourself on craggy moraines and glacial snow.

You can easily wander tourist-flecked panoramas suited for the postcard shelves of New Seasons. Or, if you can muster the strength to rise before the sun, you can trudge a grueling 5,000 feet in a single outing. It's all there for the taking—mere miles away and directly beneath your feet.

Mirror Lake

Distance: 2.9 miles

(Thomas Teal)
(Thomas Teal)

There’s a reason the relaxing loop around Mirror Lake remains one of the most well-traveled paths in all of Oregon. Located a mere mile west of Government Camp, the picturesque lake sits beneath the alpenglow of the peak in the evening, peppered with vibrant swaths of rhododendron and huckleberries during the early summer. Although the trail culminates in a short loop around the water at the 1.4-mile mark, it begins with several wooden bridges and a series of brief switchbacks. The toddler-accessible boardwalk seems to attract more people than Lloyd Center during peak seasons, meaning you‘ll probably be gawking at Hood’s reflection beside a small child, his great-great-grandfather, and some dude guzzling PBR, but it’s not a bad spot to have a picnic or take out-of-town visitors if you have the necessary patience. Want a better, less crowded view of the Cascades? Keep right at the loop‘s various junctions to head gradually up the crest of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain.

90 minutes from Portland: Take U.S. 26 and park on the south shoulder between Milepost 51 and 52. $5 recreation fee.

Punchbowl Falls

(Leah Nash)
(Leah Nash)

Distance: 3.8 miles

Eagle Creek is an appropriate example when talking about the rugged allure of the Pacific Northwest. It's the Disneyland of hikes in the Gorge, punctuated with crowds that often leave you at that same standstill, only with a better view. The accessible, moderate-grade trail snakes its way up a narrow canyon, running along the opalescent creek and straddling sheer cliffs before it reaches a storybook waterfall that plunges 35 feet into a grotto at the 2.4-mile mark. The path winds through a deciduous forest and dewy old growth as it climbs, but if you descend at the signed junction for Lower Punchbowl Falls, you'll have access to the frigid waters and rocky shoreline at its base alongside Sunset magazine photographers and the occasional nudist. Continuing farther up Eagle Creek and into wilderness reveals even greater spectacles, such as a high-lofted steel bridge and Tunnel Falls, the latter of which is as striking to look at as it is to hike behind.

45 minutes from Portland: From Interstate 84 take Exit 41 directly after the tunnel and follow the signs for the Eagle Creek Trailhead. $5 recreation fee. 

Angel’s Rest

Distance: 4.8 miles

There are two big draws to Angel's Rest. First, the windswept bluff lies a paltry 45 minutes outside of Portland, just offI-84 and outside the national forest. Second, it offers a magnificent,270-degree view of the Columbia River Gorge and the surrounding Cascadesif you can manage the gradual scramble up the overlook's rocky spine.Doing so will afford you views of Coopey Falls, Silver Star Mountain,Beacon Rock, and other features along the northern side of the Columbia.The vertiginous path guides you through a charred forest tatted withthick underbrush and ubiquitous switchbacks before spitting you out amidboulders and wild gusts that can approach 70 mph. It's still a nicespot to break for lunch, and you can always keep right at the trail'smain junction to mount the forested summit of Devil's Rest. It'santiclimactic, sure, but it's also deserted.

45 minutes from Portland: Take Exit 28 off I-84 onto the Historic Columbia River Highway and park at the junction between the highway and East Bridal Veil Road. $5 recreation fee.

Larch Mountain Crater

Distance: 6.6 miles

Larch Mountain is an extinct stratovolcano and houses an ancient crater that serves as a quietalternative to the rigid climb up to the mountain's peak. The mouth ofthe eroded crater lies at the end of an old service road, throughold-growth hemlock and just across a log bridge crossing MultnomahCreek. The marshy base of the crater, once a lake but now full ofnatural sediment, provides a healthy breeding ground for floweringhellebore and lofty cedars. A succession of quick switchbacks past theinterior and a few rocky stairs then lead the way to Sherrard Point, a4,055-foot summit where on a clear day you can peer out at Mounts St.Helens, Hood, Jefferson, Rainier and Adams. 

50 minutes from Portland: Take Exit 22 off I-84, turn left on the Historic Columbia River Highway and right onto Larch Mountain Road. Park on the narrow shoulder above the sharp turn roughly 11 miles in. $5 recreation fee.

Serene Lake Loop

Distance: 7.7 miles

Alpine lakes have dotted Mount Hood's slopes and neighboring wilderness since the recurring glaciations of the Pleistocene more than 11,700 years ago. Serene Lake is just one example—but one that happens to be far less visited than many others. After you set out from Frazier trailhead, the road gives way to a modest-grade path ripe with huckle- and blueberries, which help funnel you through a dense old-growth forest to the crystalline lake. Additionally, Lower and Middle Rock lakes are quickly accessible via two well-marked paths that branch out along the way, as well as a cliffside plateau overlooking the sunken lake once you round its premises and hang a left onto the Grouse Point Trail. On the return trip, the marigolds in the swampy tracts of Cache Meadows are often shrouded in fog or a layer of mosquitoes.

2 hours from Portland: Follow U.S. 26 east and turn right on Oregon 211, then left on Oregon 224. Travel 30 miles and turn left on Oak Grove Fork Road, turn left on High Rock Road, and again when you meet Forest Road 4610. Follow Forest Road 4610-240 for 4.5 miles and park at Frazier Turnaround.

Cooper Spur

Distance: 7.8 miles

Eliot Glacier continues to retreat along Hood’s northeastern slope, its jagged icefalls and seracs are nestled atop Hood’s highest point accessible via trail. The taxing hike covers nearly 6,000 feet of elevation beginning at the Cloud Cap trailhead, jostling hikers through mountain pines and the ash-covered slopes of the Timberline Trail before shuttling them toward the brawny ridge of Cooper Spur and the end point at Tie-In Rock. A quaint, stone shelter no bigger than a tiny house rests at the wayside as you climb, a battered remnant originally constructed for mountaineers looking to escape the weather. Wood posts affixed to Jenga-like cairns also provide subtle guidance through any lingering tufts of snow amid the barren rock fields and perennial wildflowers. (During peak season, you can probably just as easily follow an REI Outdoor-schooler to the top of the summit.) Trekking poles are recommended.

2 hours from Portland: Take I-84 past Hood River and take Oregon 35 south. Drive 35 miles, turn right on Cooper Spur Road and follow it to Cloud Cap Road before turning right toward Cloud Cap Saddle Campground. Navigate the bumpy road, turn right at the T-junction and park at the trailhead a mile up. $5 recreation fee.

McNeil Point

The burly ascent to the rock shelter atop McNeil Point's is rarely shy of 7 hours in duration, but it provides aquintessential hiking experience through Hood's northern contours. Itstarts with a short excursion up the Top Spur Trail before latching onto the famed Pacific Crest Trail and again onto the southern leg ofTimberline Trail, which allows for majestic snapshots of Hood and theMuddy Fork as you exit a vaulted glade and traverse around BaldMountain. Steep, grassy meadows and a pair of alpine ponds provide evenbetter vantage points before meeting the Mazama Trail, leading youtoward a kaleidoscope of heather and the newly bestowed McNeil PointTrail. Then, it's a lengthy push up a string of rocky ridgelines, overthe pristine headwaters of McGee Creek, and final ascent onto the barrentable at the top. It's simply remarkable looking onto the pathfrom aside the shelter, especially given that blue-hued glaciers flankyour sides and Hood towers just beyond reach.

1.75 hours from Portland: Follow U.S. 26 to Zigzag and turn left on East Lolo Pass Road. Turn right on Forest Road 1828 (paved) at the first junction and then left on Forest Road 118 (gravel). Follow signs for the Top Spur Trailhead and park along the road. $5 recreation fee.

8. Defiance-Starvation Loop

Distance: 11.6 miles

Defiance-Starvation Loop is meant to exhaust even the most seasoned of day hikers. It's a path specifically designed to climb a staggering 5,000 feet within 6 miles, rendering it a prime training candidate for summiting Hood, while permitting jaw-dropping views encapsulating every notable peak within Oregon and Washington along the way. Despite beginning with an unassuming walk along a portion of the old highway, the Mount Defiance Trail soon winds beneath Lancaster Falls before jetting nearly straight up via a chain of tiresome switchbacks. Makeshift cairns later mark the western path along the Defiance Cutoff Trail, but they're not to be missed considering that the short, rocky section offers up the hike's best views of Bear Lake and the central Gorge. Sadly, the view from the summit is unimpressive—it's obscured by radio towers and service workers dawdling in their Ford pickups—but taking the Warren Lake Trail and then Starvation Cutoff on the return trip delivers dwarf forests and lakeside views. The loop also works in reverse, but honestly, it's going to hurt either way.

1 hour from Portland: Take Exit 55 off I-84 and park at the Starvation Creek Trailhead. Head west along the abandoned freeway shoulder following signs for Mount Defiance Trail. $5 recreation fee.

9. Yokum Ridge

Distance: 16.4 miles

Anyone can take a quick dip in the Sandy River outside of Troutdale, but it's a different story to ogle the fragile meadows and the behemoth Sandy Glacier at its source. The Yocum Ridge hike is essentially a two-part ordeal beginning at the Ramona Falls Trailhead, one that carefully ferries you along the turbulent Sandy River to a seasonal bridge where you can cross and link up to the Pacific Crest Trail. From there, either direction leads to the brilliant cascade of Ramona Falls, one of the most recognizable in the state, and the junction to the Timberline Trail and ridge beyond. You'll gain nearly 3,000 feet in elevation hiking the ensuing trail and wave of switchbacks, passing whitewater creeks and stunning vistas showcasing the Sandy River and Hood. An obvious meadow at the top, bridled with wildflowers in the summer and punctuated by the distant echoes of falling ice, signals the hike's end for those who don't want to risk the unstable slope to Yocum Ridge proper.

2 hours from Portland: Follow U.S. 26 to Zigzag and turn left on Lolo Pass Road. Turn right on Forest Road 1825, cross the bridge, and bear left on Forest Road 1825-100 at the junction. Drive another half mile, turn left on Forest Road 1825-024, and park at the Ramona Falls Trailhead. $5 recreation fee.

Overnighters

Wild started a frenzy. The film based on Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir about her 2,650-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail has done more for boosting thru-hike permits than John Muir or Ansel Adams ever could. PCT permit requests are up 300 percent, but that doesn't mean there isn't room on the narrow trails encircling Mount Hood for a few more. Many of the backpacking jaunts straddle popular day hikes, while longer trips thread between crowded destinations along the fabled Timberline Trail before bearing into wilderness.

Wahtum Lake

The Eagle Creek Trail doesn't stop when you reach Punchbowl Falls. The scenic, cliffside path serves as the perfect start to a multiday trek leading to the emerald waters of Wahtum Lake, granting backpackers dizzying views from atop frail bedrock and creekside camping once you enter wilderness at the 800-foot mark. You can quickly mount nearby Chinidere Mountain from the lake for a quick view of the surrounding Cascade volcanoes, or simply begin an alternative descent down the PCT and Ruckel Creek Trail if you prefer dense, forested plateaus over the gushing waterfalls that lined your trek up. If not, just brave the crowds and head back the way you came for a shorter excursion.

45 minutes from Portland: Take Exit 41 off I-84, directly after the tunnel, and follow the signs for the Eagle Creek Trailhead. $5 recreation fee. 

Vista Ridge to Barrett Spur

The Timberline Trail, which goes all around Hood, has been effectively closed since 2006, when a storm created a huge gulley at Eliot Creek. The short trek from Vista Ridge to Barrett Spur is an excellent option for those looking to tackle a portion of the mountain, though, especially given the scenic vistas and handsome wildflowers repopulating the area in the aftermath of the recent Tilly Jane burn. Wy'East and Cairn basins both provide ample camping and a perfect base camp for ascending one of the primitive paths to Barrett Spur, which conveniently separates two retreating glaciers and provides bird's-eye views of the Vertical Limit-esque crevasses lining Hood's northern peak.

1.75 hours from Portland: Follow U.S. 26 to Zigzag and turn left on Lolo Pass Road. Turn right on Forest Road 18 and again on Forest Road 16. Continue another 5.6 miles to the large intersection, turn right on Forest Road 1650, and park at the Vista Ridge Trailhead.