Thursday, August 8, 2019

On the Shoulder of Mt. Hood: Twin Lakes and Palmateer Point

Upper Twin Lake
Here is a mountain hike that ticks all the boxes: easy to find? Yes. Good roads to the trailhead? Definitely. Easy-to-follow trail? Yep. Mountain lake? Two of them, actually, or three if you count Frog Lake near the trailhead. Amazing views from a dizzying height? Oh, yes. Backpackable? Certainly.
Lower Twin Lake

Perfect for families, beginning backpackers, and energetic dayhikers, this exceptional hike is only about an hour from the busy streets of Portland. Of  course, the only problem with it is that you weren't the first to notice it. For a more peaceful wilderness experience try going during the week, or during the "shoulder season." Don't let its popularity deter you in any case; it is a beautiful hike and well worth the effort even on a busy weekend.

To find the trailhead for Twin Lakes, drive out of Portland on Highway 35, then turn south on Highway 26. After about seven miles, turn left into Frog Lake Sno Park (expect a $5 daily fee if you don't have a Northwest Forest Pass). To the right is the road to Frog Lake Campground, a treed park beside a small, lovely lake that is plagued by its proximity to the highway. To the left you will find plenty of trailhead parking and a vault toilet.

The 3.5-mile (one way) lake hike begins on the Pacific Crest Trail near the restroom. Walk under a thick forest canopy of firs and hemlocks, climbing gradually on the wide, well-maintained trail until you near the top of a ridge and find Twin Lakes Trail #495. Drop down to Lower Twin on your right. It is possible to walk all the way around this, the larger of the two lakes, and weekday (or just lucky) hikers may well score a camp site beside the water. Continue on the main trail, which is now a bit steeper and narrower but never difficult. Upon reaching Upper Twin, take the trail to the right for a view of Mt. Hood over the lake. This lake is also popular but tends to be quieter than Lower Twin. Follow the path along the shore to find several delightful camp sites under the trees. Please note that these lakes are also popular with wildlife; be prepared to hang your food or use a canister just to be safe.

Trail #482, the "official" route
These scenic Cascade lakes are well worth the trip, but by investing a little more time a hiker can reap the impressive views from Palmateer Point. There are two ways to find Trail #482: the "official" way, and the route we prefer. To find the official beginning of the trail, look on the southeast shore of Upper Twin for a barely-marked trail that leads uphill, away from the lake. This route is dramatic, rocky, and narrow; in fact, this section is closed to horses for safety reasons. The path passes around the east side of a butte; the mountainside plunges straight down beside sections of the trail, and some spots are rather lightly maintained. While this segment is ruggedly beautiful and not heavily travelled, we recommend another route: follow the lake path along the east shore and watch for a signed forest trail near where the path turns to follow the north shore. This trail leads through peaceful woods filled with songbirds. Climb over the shoulder of Bird Butte, then watch on your right for a short spur that meets up with the Palmateer Trail.

Whichever route you have taken, you are now travelling along a treed ridge; notice an occasional lodgepole pine and even a few noble firs. Watch for a dry meadow on your left with abundant wildflowers and alpine strawberries in season. Now drop down to Palmateer Creek, a much better water source than the lakes. This creek originates in the marshy meadow to your left. Sharp eyes may find a few peaceful camp sites along this part of the route. Rise out of the creek bottom and take a spur trail to your right. Climb about a third of a mile to Palmateer Point; this part of the trail is a study in alpine rock gardens, with mariposa lilies, penstemons, and junipers taking center stage. Plan to spend some time on the point relaxing and taking pictures. Of course, snowy Mt. Hood rises to the north. The ridge to the right of it is Barlow Butte. The steep little valley below holds a piece of Oregon's history: the Barlow Road, where wagon trains passed on the last leg of their journey to the fertile Willamette Valley. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the high desert the weary pioneers had just passed through; hidden in the trees to the west lies their final trial, precipitous Laurel Hill.
Mariposa Lily

Return to the main trail and retrace the pleasant path to the lakes. There is also another option for dayhikers: instead of returning to the lakes, turn right on the main trail and make a loop using the PCT (there is also a side trail from here that drops down to the Barlow Road, meeting up with it near Devil's Half Acre Meadow).

Lower Twin
Mt. Hood, Oregon's highest mountain, draws visitors from around the world. Its rugged, snowy peak rises high above tree-covered shoulders that hold dozens of rewarding hikes, most of them popular and well-travelled. Some of those hikes are difficult and rugged, but Twin Lakes and Palmateer Point are an easy reward for anyone who can walk several miles and climb moderate slopes. Wear sturdy boots, carry plenty of water, and definitely bring your camera.

Alpine Lupine
Queen's Cup Lily

Bear grass

Coral-like fungus

Star flower

Lower Twin

Trail above Lower Twin (lake barely visible between trees)

Upper Twin with Mt. Hood

Indian Pipe

Bunch berry

Meadow near Palmateer Creek

Alpine Strawberries

Palmateer Creek flows from this wet meadow

Palmateer Creek

Wild rose

Cascade Lily

Palmateer Point


Summit of Palmateer Point

View over the Barlow Valley toward central Oregon


See you on the mountain!

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Highway 20 Side Trip: On the Banks of McDowell Creek

Heading out of Lebanon on its way to the Cascades, Highway 20 passes farms, fields, and scattered businesses. Travelers in this area are generally just passing through on their way to someplace else, driving right by unassuming Fairview Road without a second thought. Follow that little country drive, though, and you will discover a hidden gem: 110-acre McDowell Creek Park, with its four waterfalls tucked in a lush forest in the Cascade foothills.
To find the park, turn left on the aforementioned Fairview Road; follow it for about a mile and bear left onto McDowell Creek Drive. From here it is 7.7 miles to the park, but don't be put off by the drive; it is a lovely route, passing fertile pastures and pretty little farms. The road itself is well-maintained pavement until just before the park, and even towards the end it is never a problem for passenger vehicles.
Pull into the first parking area. Here you will find a scattering of picnic tables under a treed canopy as well as a vault toilet. Follow the sound of rushing water to locate the first falls: Lower McDowell Creek Falls, which drops a total of 20 feet in three tiers. The rocks here are popular with picnickers and sunbathers.

A hike of less than two miles leads to the other falls, and while the path is well-traveled and popular with families, it is definitely not barrier-free. Be aware that the stairs can be slippery when wet, and be prepared for a few steep areas. Consider the time of year, as well; like the majority of waterfalls, these are less spectacular during the dry season. In any case, though, it is a beautiful and justly popular hike for anyone who can manage stairs and some short climbs.
Royal Terrace Falls
This hike is a "lollipop" that begins at a footbridge over the creek. Walk among Douglas fir, alders, cedars, maples, and hemlocks. Take a side trail to view 120-foot Royal Terrace Falls, which drops in three sheets of water over a set of stone shelves. Return to the main trail and go left up some stone steps. Look for a small platform to see the top of Royal Terrace.

Crystal Falls
Cross a bridge over Fall Creek. This part of the trail leads high above McDowell Creek in a lush forest understory; look for vine maples, red huckleberries, sword ferns, and thimbleberries. Go right at a junction , cross the road, and continue on the forest path to a trailhead for Majestic Falls. Follow a series of steps to view the falls, which drops 40 feet into a crystal-clear pool. Follow a wooden stairway for more views of the falls, then cross a bridge and continue on the trail. Watch for 15-foot Crystal Falls, then cross the road again (if you reach the road without finding Crystal Falls, retrace your steps briefly as it's easier to find going that direction). Cross the road and follow near the creek. Go left at the trail junction, pass a disused trail on your right, and then go left at the next junction and cross the creek. Take one more bridge, just below Royal Terrace Falls, and turn right to return to the parking lot. 

Majestic Falls
While this may sound complex, the short trail is actually quite easily navigated; click here for a website that includes a small map to help with orientation. It is also possible to customize the hike for less walking and fewer falls; however, the short distance, the peaceful forest setting, and the ever-present sound of rushing water make the walk worth every step.

Next time you're headed out Highway 20 on your way to someplace else, take a little time and turn onto Fairview Road. Bring a picnic, and of course a camera. Take a walk under moss-draped trees in this peaceful county park, far from the crowds at places with bigger advertising budgets. Park for free, bring your dog, and relax beside McDowell Creek.

McDowell Creek Falls Trailhead

Lower McDowell Creek Falls

McDowell Creek

Side view of Royal Terrace Falls

Viewpoint at the top of the falls

Majestic Falls

At the base of Majestic Falls

The author near the side trail to Crystal Falls
The small side trail to Crystal Falls
Crystal Falls
McDowell Creek
One last look at Royal Terrace Falls as you complete the "lollipop"
Enjoy the creek, we'll see you on another side trip!