The trailhead is easy to access from Portland; drive Highway 26 up Mt. Hood, then take OR 35 north for 7.8 miles to a turnoff on your left. A decent gravel road leads a short distance to a parking area. There are restrooms here during the busy season, and a marshy area across the road hosts a variety of wildflowers during summer (look for spires of tiny, white rein orchids). There was once a campground in the trees behind the parking area, and decaying picnic tables still hide amongst the bushes. Please note that a Northwest Forest Pass or a day-use fee is required here.
Several trails can be accessed here, including a side trip to Sahalie and Umbrella Falls. Take the Elk Meadows Trail into the forest and gradually begin the three-mile climb. About one mile in, you will encounter energetic Newton Creek. This creek is not to be trifled with; we once nearly lost our dog crossing it during a high flow. Look upstream and see the canyon it has carved (Newton Creek Trail follows this canyon to meet up with the Timberline Trail). Downstream, the creek has taken out an entire campground. Be aware that flows are often higher in the afternoon than they are in the morning due to snow melting during the day. Unfasten the hip belt and sternum strap on your pack and look for a makeshift log or rock crossing, if available. This website has good information on crossing mountain streams safely.
As you explore the meadow, you will discover that it is flowing with icy-cold water. Glacial melt trickles everywhere in thin rivulets, and the soil remains soft and moist in many areas throughout the summer. Mt. Hood dominates the skyline, and as evening approaches it seems that cold air rolls downward from the glacier and rises from the water underfoot.
On our last trip, we snuggled deep into our sleeping bags for a long autumn night under the chilly stars. Then, during some pitch-black hour, we heard it. A shrill whistle, eerie, almost mechanical-sounding. It grew into a squeal and rose, louder and louder, into a guttural roar. It was immediately answered from another direction. Bull elk, challenging each other while we lay on the ground in our tiny, thin tent. They bugled throughout the night. At times, whole herds of hooves pounded the trail just a few feet away. All that remained of them in the morning light was a multitude of hoofprints. Now we know how the meadow got its name.
Either return to Elk Meadows the way you came, or retrace your steps on the Timberline Trail and take the Newton Creek Trail to make a loop. Be aware that the creek crossing can be difficult; use caution.