[/caption] Beautiful hiking trails are abundant along Mt. Hood but one that really stands out is the Top Spur Trail! Even though some of the hiking trails that traverse along the Mt. Hood Wilderness can get pretty busy, the Top Spur Trail is a great trail route that takes you away from most of the congestion. The weekends can get pretty busy, like ALL of the trails but at least you will have less crowds to deal with and the views are second to none. You can pretty much choose your route and either head towards the summit, follow along the Pacific Crest Trail, hike to one of the shelter’s or hike to one of the many creeks that are born near the head waters of the many glaciers in the area. This photo was taken from the southern flank of Bald Mountain and since I wasn’t using a tripod I decided to get some of the wildflowers in the foreground. I knelt down as much as possible and made sure to get the mountain and as much of the flowers as I could but making sure that both the mountain and the wildflowers were in focus. There are dozens of waterfalls tumbling down from the cliffs as well as several species of butterflies and numerous wildflowers growing along the wilderness.
[/caption] A birds eye view of Mt. Jefferson and Jefferson Park with Russell lake looming smack dab in the middle of the Wilderness. Late July, August and September are the best times to visit the Jefferson Park wilderness. In fact, any other days of the year will be either covered in snow and impassable or you will find yourself trudging through steep slopes that are too dangerous to cross. The forest road that you need to drive is about 7.5 miles and once the snow level drops, the entire road will be closed and that will make your journey that much more demanding. I couldn’t imagine snow-shoeing or cross country skiing to the Park but I assume that people can and have done it. However, the best thing about visiting during the summer months is that you can swim in the lakes, view the wildlife, photograph some of the creeks and waterfalls and most importantly, you can view the hundreds of wildflowers that grow throughout the wilderness. If the day is sunny when you visit, you’re pretty much guaranteed some of the best photographic opportunities. So, I would plan on bringing your tripod and as many lenses that you can carry. I actually saw a snow owl leaping from a tree and flying away as I was taking a photo of the mountain with my wide angle lens. Unfortunately, my camera was on my tripod and I didn’t have a telephoto to get a shot but the owl was gone before I was even able to see where it flew off to. I took this shot from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which can be seen in the photo in the lower right hand corner.
[/caption] One of the best hikes in the Mt. Hood wilderness is the Timberline Lodge Trails that follows north along the PCT and then connects to the Paradise Park trail. The hike starts at Timberline lodge and all of the trails are clearly marked just north of the lodge. The entire loop is over 12 miles and has over 2300 feet of elevation gain. However, the most difficult part of the hike isn’t the distance or elevation gain but the volcanic ash that you have to hike on. It’s like hiking on sand but very steep and hard on your pelvis. Your recovery time is almost double as any other long and steep hike that you have ever done. It doesn’t help that the trails have been trampled by millions of hikers but to make matters worse is the amount of ground up ash left by the activity of Mt. Hood’s violent history. You will have to navigate down and then up again through two canyons that are 200 feet and 700 feet respectively. That’s 1800 feet of elevation change from just two of the canyons alone. The trail is very dusty and dry but there are dozens of creeks that flow through the trails so there is no shortage of water to cool off or clean the sand from your body. If you make the hike in late August you will be surrounded by millions of lupine and other wildflowers. You will literally smell the wildflowers for most of the hike and it will literally smell like your standing in a flower shop. The hike itself parallels the mountain but due to the deep chasms the hike is very difficult and grueling. However, you will be glad that you made the hike since you have the opportunity to hike up to some of the mountains most spectacular scenery. There are several waterfalls cascading down the steep canyons that are almost impossible to get to but close enough that you can get some great photos. There are also thousands of butterfly’s and bees engulfing the flowers.
[/caption] Smith Rock State Park is located in Central Oregon and is a short drive from Highway 97. If you plan on hiking around the trail system that encompasses the park you will want to bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen and lots of camera gear.
[/caption] The Bonneville mountains are located in the Eagle Cap wilderness and are located just east of Eagle Cap mountain. Eagle Cap mountain is actually just behind Bonneville mountain but isn’t viewable from the area where I was standing. The lake in the foreground is Aneroid lake but if you want to get a view of Eagle Cap you would pretty much have to hike back towards the Wallowa Lake trailhead and head up the Ice Lake trail. There is another hiking trail past Aneroid lake but that hike takes you towards Dollar lake and I’m not sure if you would have a very good view of Eagle Cap.
[/caption] The Santiam river offers some of the best views of the foothills along the western slopes of the Oregon Cascades. There are trails that will take you up to 5,000 feet so you can look over the forest below and view the many foothills that dot the landscape or you can hike the many trails that follow along the dozens of creeks deep within the forest. During the summer months you can cool off in the creeks and in Spring and Fall you can enjoy the beautiful setting of the ancient forest.
[/caption] Gnarl Ridge is located on the eastern slopes of Mt. Hood and it’s a great day hike as long as you start early enough and plan on hiking during the summer months since the snow can stay well past Spring. Drive south on 35 from Hwy 26 and park at the trail head that’s just before you get to the Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic parking lot. The hike is about 10.2 miles round trip but if you’re willing to trudge up Elliot Glacier you can continue until your leg give out or the terrain gets too difficult. I stopped at about 7,500 feet when my legs started burning and the terrain was getting pretty difficult. The photo was taken from the viewpoint at 6,500 feet and it provides an awesome view of Mt. Hood and of the surrounding area. You can hear the snow and ice cracking as the birth of Newton Creek juts through the glacier and rumbles through the rocks. You will also have a chance to see numerous rock slides down the massive Gnarl Ridge area as they hurl down towards Newton Creek. There are several species of alpine vegetation and you’re guaranteed to see several hawks and an occasional bald eagle soaring high above. You may want to bring a wind jacket since the wind can really howl. I took this photo with my Canon T1i and my Tamron 12-24mm wide angle lens. I set the focal length at 14mm and had the aperture at F-8 and the shutter speed at 1/125 second. I made sure to attach my CIR-PL and warming filter and set the ISO at 100 and the white balance at -2. The photo was taken on July 18th and it was about 5:15pm so the sun was still pretty high but at least I was able to keep the sun at about a 90 degree angle. You can see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters in the distance. You can also get a great view of Mt. Adams but in the other direction. This photo gives somewhat of a 3D appearance since it looks as though you’re falling down the ridge towards Newton Creek. I would highly recommend this hike to anyone that wants to hike along an alpine mountain wilderness and have the opportunity to hang out along a glacier.
[/caption] Squaw mountain is a little known hiking spot that offers some of the best views in the Oregon Cascades. Only a few remnants of the fire lookout tower remain but at least the view is still there. You can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson from its summit. And best of all, you have an amazing view of the rolling foothills that make up the Cascade mountain range. If you look closely in this photo, you can see the tip of the North Sister and Mt. Washington in the distance. This photo also doesn’t show any of the logging scars left by the timber industry. However, there are plenty of scars surrounding the mountains and it’s almost impossible to avoid having them in your photos. This photo was taken on 6/12/10 at about 5:20pm and as you can see the weather was absolutely amazing. There was a few feet of snow still covering parts of the trail but the summit was mostly void of snow due to the sun exposure. I was using my Canon T1i and my Canon 18-55mm kit lens. I had the focal length at 24mm and attached my CIR-PL and warming filter. I made sure to use my tripod, bubble level and remote switch in order to avoid any camera shake. I had the camera in program/normal mode so the aperture was set at F-7 and the shutter speed at 1/100 second. I had the ISO at 100 and the white balance at 0. You are almost guaranteed to see several hawks and even a bald eagle and keep a sharp eye out for owls since you will be hiking through an old growth forest. You may even want to bring a book since the view and solitude is so amazing that you really won’t want to leave.
[/caption] One of the most photographed spots along the Smith Rock hiking trails is near the start of the trail that leads to the footbridge that takes you over the Crooked river. Looking west you can see the Cascade mountains as well as the most recognizable rock formations in Central Oregon. I have never posted this particular photo scene since I believe that there are just too many photos from this vantage point but I decided to finally post this photo since it really looks pretty cool. You can see Black Butte in the distance with just a little bit of snow on its summit. If you want to enjoy one of the best hiking trails in Central Oregon I would recommend visiting Smith Rock State Park. I’ve enjoyed hiking during the winter just as much as summer and you don’t have to worry about the heat or the summer crowds. It’s also one of the best areas for photographers with over 8 miles of scenic trails and every inch of the trails offering a photo opportunity. There is absolutely not a single spot in the park that doesn’t offer a great photo. I would highly recommend packing a wide angle and a telephoto lens as well as a CIR-PL and warming filter. I pretty much use my 17-70mm lens. I would also pack a tripod to ensure that you don’t end up with any blurry photos. However, you will be doing so much hiking that you will likely only use your tripod when needed since it would take you several days to hike the entire park while setting up your tripod for every photo opportunity.
[/caption] If you stand near the southern most edge of Sparks Lake you will be able to get a fantastic photo of Broken Top and its reflection. However, you need to be be patient since it can be rather windy which will cause the reflection to disappear. You will also want to visit just prior to sunset and plan on chasing the best photographic opportunity. late Summer or earl Fall is one of the best times since the sun is lower and the lake is quiet. The lake will also be about 5 feet shallower so you will be able to walk around parts near the lake that are normally flooded and unobtainable. Make sure and bring your tripod, bubble level and remote switch since you don’t want any camera shake and you will be very impressed with the photo opportunities. I would also recommend attaching a CIR-PL and warming filter in order to maximize the color saturation.