Mt. Hood Oregon is a winter playground, but it’s an amazing outdoor destination in the summer months as well. Located just an hour from Portland, Mt. Hood National Forest offers stunning mountain vistas for hikers, backpackers, campers, and kayakers. The central ‘town’ is Government Camp, which is a smaller community of outdoor-focused shops and dining, but the actual towns of Welches and Rhododendron are nearby and have more options. Families can fill their days walking in the woods, swimming in alpine lakes, and enjoying the fun of Mt. Hood’s ski areas in the off-season. Here’s what to do on Mt. Hood in summer!
Spend a day at Trillium Lake:
This stunning lake sits beneath Mt. Hood, allowing families to view the mountain from just about all points. You can camp here, though most of the sites are away from the water in the woods, but the best feature is the day use area, which offers picnic areas lakeside around the whole far side of Trillium. Bring the water toys, including stand-up paddle boards and rafts…but no motorized craft. Plan to come early to get your pick of day use spots! You can also hike around the lake, which is a two mile loop.
Best hiking in the Mount Hood National Forest:
- Paradise Park: An eye-popping wildflower meadow lies about five miles west of Timberline Lodge via the Pacific Crest Trail. We saw blooms as late as early August. The route dips in an out of several of the southwest side’s big glacial stream canyons.
- Cooper Spur: This hike starts from Cloud Cap on the mountain’s northeast side. Take the Timberline Trail, then veer off toward Mount Hood on the well-trod path along Cooper Spur. When you get to Tie-In Rock, at 8,600 feet, it’s time to turn around.
- Mirror Lake: Always popular with day hikers, this hike begins on the south side of U.S. 26 about one mile west of Government Camp. It leads to a lake that reflects Mount Hood, and is a great place to sample local huckleberries in late August/early September.
- Tamanawas Falls: This five mile loop is easy to moderate along the east fork of the Hood River, and starts off Hwy 35 past Government Camp. You can scramble up the back of the falls if you’re daring.
- Ramona Falls: You cross the Sandy River and follow along the PCT for this seven-mile loop to and around Ramona Falls, arguably one of the most scenic of falls in Hood River National Forest. This is a fantastic hike…see photo below!
- Timothy Lake: Start at Little Crater campground south of Mount Hood, which is a wonderful sight in its own right…this tiny lake is very deep and has an incredible blue color, much like its big sister, Crater Lake. Then tour around Timothy Lake for a 13 miler, with places to swim along the way.
Go mountain biking:
Families can try gravity-based mountain biking (lift-served) at Mt. Hood SkiBowl, one of Mt. Hood’s three local ski resorts. If you’re looking for something less steep but just as challenging in terms of exertion, Mt. Hood National Forest is criss-crossed with free mountain biking trails as well. We opted for SkiBowl mountain biking, at the West entrance of the resort.
It involved a $39 day lift ticket to ride the chair up with our bikes, and all-day access to their single track and dirt roads. If you need to rent bikes, they start at $15 for one hour, or up to $45 for all day. I rented for four hours for $35, and having a quality bike with shocks and sturdy tires was well worth it. Of course, you can bring your own bikes, too.
If you bike at SkiBowl, be aware that Monday through Friday, only one chair is operating, giving access to the front face of the mountain with one main intermediate run and one black diamond run that ends in a bike park with various elements. To find more trails, simply go left at the top of the chair and access several additional green and blue single track runs via High Road or Low Road (dirt roads). You’ll be given a map when you get your lift ticket. On weekends, even more of the mountain is open.
Note: I would say it would be good to be at least an intermediate mountain biker to safely navigate even the green runs here.
Play at Mt. Hood SkiBowl:
Not sure if you want to mountain bike? SkiBowl’s East Entrance has all sorts of fun summer activities, ranging from mini golf to go-karts to a bungee jump and bungee trampolines. There’s a canopy walk that’s similar to a ropes course, but much more low-key, and those ‘human hamster balls’ where you get into plastic balls and roll around. In other words, lots of fun to be had. You can get a day pass for all of it for around $40 a person, or pay for things a la carte. If you want to try the alpine slide, that’s over on the West entrance by the mountain biking. Go early if you want to really open up the track and go fast, as it gets congested later in the day, slowing everyone down. Disc golf is also located on the West side.
Where to eat:
First and foremost, opt to eat one breakfast at Timberline Lodge’s famous breakfast buffet. It’s $15 per person, and worth every penny. Plus, you get to explore this historic lodge located right at the base of Mt. Hood. It’s stunningly beautiful, with gorgeous mountain views, and a great starting place for a shorter hike around the base. Their breakfast buffet is served in their historic dining room, and includes numerous egg and meat dishes, huckleberry pancakes, house-made granola, fresh pastries and fruit, and even a Bloody Mary bar.
Rathskeller Alpine Bar and Pizzeria is located in the town of Government Camp, which is a small community built around the ski industry. In summer, it’s sleepy but quaint. The pizza joint in town has great slices, but also a friendly atmosphere with an arcade/game room for the kids.
High Mountain Cafe: this sandwich shop is located in Government Camp, and has the best sandwiches we’d tasted in a long while (but maybe we were just really hungry!). It’s counter service, so it’s quick!
Volcano Cone is a little kiosk ice cream place in Government Camp. The ice cream is nothing amazing, but the staff is very friendly and it’s an easy place to grab a nice dessert. Also look for various food trucks in Government Camp during the day, including Asian cuisine and gourmet hot dogs.
Where to stay:
Cabin rental: We rented this HomeAway rental cabin in Government Camp via Vacasa. It was a rustic A-frame with a wood-fired stove and an outdoor fire pit, plus sleeping for eight. While small, this cabin was just what we needed, and no more. We could walk into Government Camp or to Ski Bowl.
Local campgrounds: numerous Mt. Hood National Forest campgrounds are located in the Mt. Hood area. All of them are rustic, with pit toilets and no showers or plumbing. They are are very pretty and in wooded areas.
Resorts: A few resorts are in the area, though Mt. Hood is better known for camping and rustic rentals. Stay in Welches, just a few miles from Mt. Hood, at Resort at the Mountain, or at Collins Lake Resort closer to the action. Both are good options if you want a more pampered experience.
Have you been in the Mt. Hood area? What do you like to do there?