Pacific Northwest Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Beargrass blooming along Cloud Cap Road among dead, standing trees from the Gnarl Fire. Photo by Christina Wesseler.
Subalpine mariposa lily in a meadow near Cloud Cap Inn. Photo by Christina Wesseler.
Rock penstemon, dwarf lupine, and spreading phlox with Mt. Hood and Eliot Glacier in the background. Photo by Christina Wesseler.
Cooper Spur Trail
Forest: Mt. Hood National Forest
District: Hood River Ranger District, Mt. Hood Wilderness
Description: This trail up the side of Mt. Hood is only a 3 mile loop, and moderately strenuous, but affords a closer encounter with the mountain and its alpine wildflowers than many people experience. The trail begins at the historic Cloud Cap Inn and proceeds uphill through increasingly weathered trees, before you emerge on the snow-laden rock fields above the timberline, with views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier. Here there are colorful perennials which are buried under snow for the better part of the year. Take this trail in the late summer to see the views and wildflowers. The drive to the trailhead takes a while, but it also allows you to see the incredible, dynamic influence wildfire has on the forest. The Gnarl Ridge fire of 2008 burned through 3,000 acres of trees, including many already killed by mountain pine beetle, leaving rows of blackened tree trunks. The following year, there was an incredible bloom of bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) from the ash. Plants continue to recolonize this once barren landscape, providing beautiful opportunities for wildflower viewing.
Viewing: Remember at all times to be aware of the fragility of alpine environments. Take a moment to walk up from the parking lot toward Cloud Cap Inn. These dry meadows are vibrant with glaucous penstemon (Penstemon euglaucous), lupines (Lupinus spp.), and goldenrod (Haplopappus spp.). Look closer to find the showy white and yellow flowers of the subalpine mariposa lily (Calochortus subalpinus). As you head up the trail through mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and occasional twisted whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), be on the lookout for small wildflowers like partridgefoot (Luetka pectinata). As you hike out above timberline, you will see pink mountainheath (Phyllodoce empetriformis), rock penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), dwarf lupine (Lupinus lepidus), and spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) scattered across the rocky landscape. Follow the large rock cairns if you lose the trail. Take a right in the trail to finish your climb at a stone shelter, or continue on to views of Eliot Glacier.
Safety first: Bring plenty of water and dress for changing weather. The snow fields you encounter may feel cool, but wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the radiated light. Wear hiking boots sturdy enough to protect your feet if walking through snow and bring a walking stick if you need the support. Bring layers of clothing to prepare for the cool shade in the trees and wind which may blow at the top.
Directions: Drive Hwy 35 to the Cooper Spur Ski Area turnoff south of Parkdale. Follow this road for about 2 miles to Cooper Spur Junction, turning left onto Cloud Cap Road for 1.5 miles. Ignore the ski area entrance, and continue toward the Till Jane signs on a slow, gravel road for 8 miles. There are waterbars, so take it slow if you have low-clearance. At a T-junction, turn right toward Cloud Cap. The trailhead is on the right, and the Inn is on the left.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Mount Hood National Forest, Hood River Ranger District, 6780 Hwy 35, Mt. Hood-Parkdale, Oregon 970041 (503) 352-6002.
Closest Town: Parkdale, Oregon.