Towering over northern Oregon and within eyesight of the streets of Portland, Mount Hood stands at 11,240 feet and is the highest mountain in the state. This dormant stratovolcano is home to ski resorts, summer recreation areas, and historic tourist attractions. It is also the centerpiece for the more than one million acres of Mt. Hood National Forest.
The main attractions of Mount Hood National Forest, including the Timberline Lodge and the Mount Hood Cultural Center, can be reached from downtown Portland by car in less than 90 minutes. Some of the hiking trails and other areas are a little farther.
Scenic charms in the national forest range from waterfalls, hot springs, and glaciers to varied wildlife and alpine wildflowers. In winter, it’s the snow that draws the crowds to the slopes. In summer, the evergreen landscape of Mount Hood National Forest offers activities that are a little more varied, including abundant hiking trails, climbing opportunities, and numerous campgrounds.
Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Mount Hood National Forest.
See also: Where to Stay near Mount Hood
1. Mount Hood Scenic Loop
The Mount Hood Scenic Loop is a pretty river-and-mountains drive that takes in Portland, Hood River, and Mount Hood National Forest. The first stretch connects the state’s largest city, Portland, with quiet villages and waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge.
At Hood River, this riverside drive takes a southerly turn on SR 35. The road heads toward the mountain, leading past agricultural land and the Hood River Valley to connect with US Hwy 26.
Also called the Mount Hood Highway, this route passes a number of historical sites, small communities, and attractions such as the Salmon River at Wildwood Recreation Site on its return to Portland.
The charming community of Government Camp is near the base of the mountain and features a quaint collection of ski shops, restaurants, and motor inns. Great views of Mount Hood line the entire route.
2. Day Hikes
There are about a thousand miles of trails in the national forest area, but most visitors gravitate to some of the most accessible and scenic routes. Lake trails are particularly spectacular. The two-mile Trillium Lake loop trail circles the pretty alpine lake and delivers wonder-worthy views of Mount Hood across the water.
Mirror Lake trail also traverses two miles for views of the peak beyond a glacial cirque lake, while Lost Lake has a shoreline trail and national forest campground near old-growth forest. Other trails visit waterfalls, alpine meadows, and the Old Oregon Trail route.
3. Backpacking and Multi-Use Trails
For overnight explorations and other forms of trail travel, Mt. Hood National Forest provides a variety of wilderness experiences. Backpackers gravitate towards overnight trails like the Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates Mt. Hood, or the Pacific Crest Trail as it makes its way through the national forest.
Overnight travel in the Mount Hood National Forest requires a wilderness permit, and most trailheads are equipped with a self-issue station.
For mountain biking, the fast-flying Timberline to Town Trail is always a favorite during spring, summer, and fall. Horse riders can also find their fill, as most trails in Mt. Hood National Forest are open to equestrian traffic, too. All forms of travel in the Mount Hood National Forest encounter potentially strong river crossings, and visitors should check trail conditions before making their trek.
4. Timberline Lodge
Constructed in 1937 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, the Timberline Lodge grew from depression-era beginnings into a prominent part of the national forest. Although the lodge has modern amenities, much of its décor and design has been preserved for the last 80 years, offering a step back in history with each visit and overnight stay.
Cinema fans will also find familiarity with the Timberline Lodge, as it was used as the exterior of the hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
The Timberline Lodge is a hub of activity within Mt. Hood National Forest throughout the year. During the summer months, hikers can access both the Timberline Trail and Pacific Crest Trail from right out the backdoor.
During the winter, the Timberline Lodge and Ski Area operates seven lifts, including five quad express chairs, for access to mainly intermediate and beginner runs. Timberline Lodge operates as a year-round ski facility thanks to the summer snow of the Palmer Snowfield.
Address: 27500 E Timberline Road, Government Camp, Oregon
Official site: www.timberlinelodge.com
5. Camping and Cabins
One of the best ways to enjoy the natural splendor of Mt. Hood National Forest is to spend the night within it. The Forest Service operates nearly 100 camping areas complete with picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. With plenty to choose from, campgrounds like Trillium Lake, Hoodview (Timothy Lake), and Still Creek are popular options that come with a view.
RVs are also accommodated in the many campgrounds within the forest. Primitive camping is also available near pullouts on Forest Service roads.
For those looking for other accommodation options, several Forest Service cabins are available throughout the different districts. This includes the unique Devil’s Peak Lookout in the Zigzag Ranger District, a retired fire lookout available on a first-come, first-served basis.
6. Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort
Operating 90 minutes from downtown Portland, Mt. Hood Meadows offers a wide range of skiing and snowboarding terrain. Most runs are intermediate or advanced, all accessed by 11 lifts (including five high-speed quads). Additional hike-to skiing is available on the Heather Canyon Super Bowl for those looking for more vertical than the highest lift-served elevation of 7,300 feet.
Concerts, clinics, and guided tours are offered at Mt. Hood Meadow throughout the season, and special Stay & Play packages are available with nearby hotels and lodging.
The mountain resort offers a free daily shuttle from Hood River and round-trip daily bus rides from Portland. Night skiing encompasses 140 acres at Mt. Hood Meadows and occurs every day between mid-December and early January.
Address: 14040 Hwy 35, Mt. Hood, Oregon
Official site: https://www.skihood.com/
7. Mt. Hood Skibowl
Another of the local ski resorts, Mt. Hood Skibowl offers a winter playground feel with four double chair lifts and five tows. The 65 runs are mainly intermediate and advanced, with a maximum vertical drop of 1,500 feet.
Mt. Hood Skibowl is well known for its night skiing throughout the season, with more than half of the routes lit. The hill also caters to snowboarders with a terrain park.
Skibowl also features Cosmic Tubing, which is a combination of laser lights, loud music, and cruising with a tube. The Mountain Express, also known as the The Mt. Hood Express, is a public transit line that delivers skiers to the slopes of Skibowl from the cities of Sandy, Government Camp, and Timberline.
Come summer, the mountain switches to adventure thrills like ziplining, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Address: 87000 East Hwy 26, Government Camp, Oregon
Official site: http://www.skibowl.com/winter/
8. More Mount Hood Skiing and Snow Sports
Other ski slopes and recreation areas serve an avid wintertime contingent. Summit Ski Area is a family friendly hill that’s significantly smaller and older than the other resorts, having been established in 1927. Also geared to kids, the compact Cooper Spur Mountain Resort has a small selection of runs plus tubing. It’s located on the northern slopes of the mountain, off Route 35.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also popular in the national forest. Several groomed trails dot the forest and are accessible via designated “Sno-Parks” (areas that have been plowed for parking).
A Sno-Park permit is required to use the dedicated winter recreation areas. The Teacup winter trails are a popular winter destination maintained by Teacup Nordic. The Trillium Lake Loop is also popular to traverse in snow.
Address: 10755 Cooper Spur Road, Mt. Hood, Oregon
9. Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum
Alongside a great view of the mountain, the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum provides a good look into the mid-nineteenth-century history of the area.
Featuring exhibits detailing earlier pioneers who explored Mt. Hood, the evolution of skiing on the mountain, and artifacts from its century-long status as a national forest, the cultural center and museum provides interesting insight into any Mt. Hood visit.
For those interested in hosting a group event, the spacious clubhouse and meeting room can be rented with advance reservation.
Address: 88900 Government Camp Loop, Government Camp, Oregon
Official site: https://mthoodmuseum.org/