Elk Mountain Hike
Everything I had read mentioned that Elk Mountain was one of the more difficult climbs in the greater Portland area and it boasted a 2,000 foot gain in less than 1.5 miles. I had also read that Elk Mountain was steep with many areas requiring hand over foot maneuvering. The hike I set out on Started at the Elk Creek Trail head right next to the Elk Creek Campground and heads straight up the mountain. It then follows a ridge for several miles until it intersects with the Kings Mountain Trail. At this intersection I stayed right and followed the Elk Creek Trail down for 4 more miles until I had completed a full loop for a total of roughly 9 miles.
The Start of Elk Mountain
The start of the hike was exactly what I had expected: Steep, rugged and straight up the whole way. The hike to the top took a little over an hour including time to stop and enjoy the many amazing views along the way. Many of the corners you go around instantly turn in to a cliff and if you are not paying attention you could literally just walk right off the edge. There is a false summit on the way up that lacks any sort of view but does have the following sign which threw me off at first.
After the strenuous climb I finally reached the summit of Elk Mountain at exactly noon. There is no doubt you are at the summit as there is an amazing view and sign that says Elk Mountain Summit. I found a summit log that was put up there by the Mazama’s hiking group back in 2006 and made sure to write a short blurb and sign my name. From the top you can see all the way to the coast as well as to Mount Hood. At first I did not think I could get a good view of Mount Hood but then I realized I had to venture out closer to the cliff to see around the trees. I got pretty lucky with the weather cooperating. The summit is a good place to stop for lunch though after about 15 minutes I got too cold to stay any longer and had to move on.
The trail off the back side of Elk Mountain was not quite what I had expected it to be. The trail was extremely hard to follow because of the snow and except for a few week old tracks in the snow there was no sign of where to go. I followed my instinct for a good part of it and finally popped out on what looked like and old logger trail. The logging trail follows the ridge for a good mile or so and once you get on this it is pretty obvious where you are. The only problem was that everything on this side of the mountain was covered in snow so the going was slow and rough.
After figuring out where I was going I finally made my way to the Kings Mountain Trail and Elk Creek Trail Junction. Here I took a right and followed the Elk Creek trail down another 4 miles to the trail head. This part of the trip is possibly the most physically taxing because I was already tired and most of the trail had trees blown across it which made it very difficult. If I had to guess there were probably at least 200 trees across the trail or more that I had to go around.
Overall Opinion of the Elk Mountain Hike
Overall this was a great hike but I think I just did it at the wrong time of the year. The Elk Mountain trail was extremely difficult to follow at points and if it weren’t for the obvious peaks to use as reference points I would have probably gotten lost. I traveled well over 6 of the 9 miles on packed snow and thankfully it was pretty cold out so I did not have to worry about post-holing. I would not recommend this hike for someone who is not comfortable with the wilderness. I am sure that during the summer when the trail is visible it is a different story. The temperature was roughly 30-40 degrees and even so I still went through 90 ounces of water in my camel back. I would also recommend bringing plenty of food. This area is great and I plan on returning to hike Kings Mountain when there is less snow.
Check out the hike reports on Portland Hikers website: