Main image for Elk Meadows to Gnarl Ridge Time to Read: ~5 min

After buying Elizabeth some brand new trail shoes from Road Runner Sports in Portland she was good to go for our hike the 2nd day. After reading a lot of hike descriptions we settled on Elk Meadows to Gnarl Ridge. One of the challenging things about the Hood area for us is that we have done a lot of the hikes already. Of course we can always repeat them, but it is nice to find new opportunities as well.

Our original plan had been to circumnavigate Mt. Hood on the Timberline trail as a family, taking 3 days to do it. However, there are several challenging stream crossings, 2 nights of wilderness camping and a lot to carry. The kids really weren't game. Since it is their vacation too we obliged, saying we'd pick day hikes we could all agree on instead.

This hike looked like a good choice. It isn't too far from Portland and it has a lot of beauty for a not too long trek.

And we got lost

The directions to the trail head were rather simple, yet somehow we made our turn one road too soon. We ended up getting to see the parking lot of Hood Meadows ski resort, but we were not in the right place to start our hike. After just a little more driving down the main road we realized where we were supposed to be starting our hike. Without much delay we were heading out for our day on trail.

Stream crossings

A few years ago when we were hiking with my sister Sarah we crossed the Muddy Fork river and it was a challenging cross. It probably took us almost an hour looking for the perfect opportunity to go for it. Later on the same hike we encountered a really challenging bridge cross on the same river. It was one of those crosses that you may have considered turning around and just heading back if it weren't the last mile of your already long hike.

On this trail we hit our first crossing only to see that the bridge was closed. A little worried since it was less than a mile in, I started to look around. Oh, there's a horse crossing just upstream. Perfect. We bounded across that and continued our journey.

When we hit the 2nd crossing, there was a log bridge high in the air. The route took you off trail a bit and the water wasn't all that swift. There were a couple of places where I thought we'd be better off just crossing the stream without a bridge. Of course I was also looking up at that bridge thinking that I didn't want to fall off it while crossing.

Creek crossing

Creek crossing

As we started to cross, I couldn't help but thinking that the surface was flat and plenty wide. There was absolutely no way one should fall off this bridge, but somehow when you look down at the water below you feel this is a distinct possibility.

Lost again

After the crossing there was no evidence of trail. We looked around a bit and nothing. A couple of guys were on the other side so we asked them. They pointed downstream and said "that way." Ok so we headed that way. We wandered awhile and there was really nothing to let us know where to go. Ultimately we found a little faint trail that took us up our next path of 8 switchbacks. Between Elizabeth's shoes on our first hike and getting lost 2 times in less than an hour I was feeling like we were really not the most prepared family.

Soon we were chatting along on the switchbacks and the kids were counting them. We knew there were 8 from the guidebook. This portion of the trail reminded us a lot of the Timberline down to Zigzag canyon. It was fun, shaded and there wasn't much exposure.

Elk Meadows

Elk Meadows

Elk Meadows

We arrived at the perimeter trail for Elk Meadows. There is supposed to be a lovely meadow in the middle of this trail and there was a meadow. However, when hiking in August, you realize that you just missed the beautiful wildflower blooming of late July! There were a lot of bugs, and no views making this portion of the hike rather dull. Luckily it was short, and we'd be heading upward soon enough.

The ascent to Gnarl Ridge

The name of this hike is so appealing. We spent that final ascent wondering what Gnarl Ridge would look like, and chattering about our hike. I asked Elizabeth one too many times how her shoes were. She gave me an earful about how she didn't enjoy hiking. They were fine but they didn't make her enjoy this hike. Ok. I'm thinking, "I'd rather be circumnavigating Mt. Hood," while my daughter is saying she doesn't like to hike at all.

This is one of the gnarly trees we saw along the trail as we got closer to our destination.

This is one of the gnarly trees we saw along the trail as we got closer to our destination.

We've arrived at Gnarl Ridge

I don't know what I was expecting, but somehow arrival was just ok. It was pretty and I was happy to be out of the tree cover, but it wasn't especially amazing. There was a lovely canyon, but it wasn't as pretty as ZigZag and after the hike around the meadows I was already thinking about how boring it would be to go back down. However, we enjoyed our lunch up there, looked at the views and hung out for awhile. One thing about this hike is that there was a lot of haze from wildfires so you couldn't see any of the things you were supposed to see. I do think that on a lovely clear day I would have been blown away by the views. s

Time to head down

The trek down went quickly and uneventfully. We had enjoyed our lunch at the top so no one was hungry or thirsty, and Elizabeth's shoes didn't slip so we could make quicker progress. The elevation was also a lot more gradual than Kings mountain, so this felt really easy after yesterday's hike.

When we arrived to the stream crossing where we had taken the high log bridge we decided to take the alternate route across. We had noticed this downstream when we were searching for the trail at the start of the hike. I remember noting that with this being a glacial fed stream that the water would be higher in the afternoon, but at the time it would have been a joke to cross. Still, even with higher water, it wasn't a challenging cross. The first half of the stream is on rocks (not seen in the picture) and the 2nd half had a lovely little log suspended over it.

Crossing the creek again

Crossing the creek again

Trillium Lake

Last year when we went to the Mazamas Mountain Running Camp, one of our outings was to gather at Trillium Lake. We met to talk about training plans, managing injury and just to hang out since it is gorgeous! We thought it would be fun to bring the kids back there so we drove the short distance down the road to check it out.

Unfortunately shortly before we arrived, Elizabeth got a bloody nose. The poor girl had to shove kleenex up her nose to make the little jaunt to see the lake. Scott and I rinsed our feet and legs off in the water and posed for a picture before heading back to our car.

Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake

It's the girl from Roadrunner Sports

We went back to our parking spot to spot a couple getting into their car right next to ours. I looked at her and said, "Roadrunner sports, right?" She had mentioned when we checked out the evening prior that she had two days off and would be heading out to Mt. Hood area for the first time! Sometimes this world we live in feels so small. What are the odds that we'd run into her during the 15 minutes we spent at Trillium Lake? When we shared the story with Sarah and Adam they grinned and said that kind of thing happens all the time in Portland.


It's always fun to see the path and times on Strava, so here is that!! Interested in reading another point of view? Check out Scott's hike report on Elk Meadows to Gnarl Ridge.