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!