Hovering over downtown Portland and the surrounding area, Mount Hood is a stoic, snowcapped peak that just seems to scream adventure.
Rising roughly 11,200 feet above the landscape, the highest peak in the state of Oregon is a true alpine wonderland that is home to numerous hiking trails, including part of the fabled Pacific Crest Trail, raging rivers and multiple ski resorts.
It is also one badass mountain.
Covered in glaciers, crevasses and volcanic fumaroles, Mount Hood is not a mountain to be messed with. But, with that being said, if you are someone with a bit of mountaineering experience plus a whole lot of gumption then you can very likely make it to the summit.
This adventure guide below should help give you a good idea of what it’s like to summit the peak from the south side (by far the most common side with such well-known routes as Old Chute, the 1 O’clock Couloir and the Pearly Gates), including information on how to reach the trailhead, the best time to attempt a summit push, and what gear you will need to bring with you.
If you are like me and have been staring up at Mount Hood and dreaming of reaching its peak, then this in-depth adventure guide to summiting Mount Hood is for you.
MAP OF MOUNT HOOD’S SOUTHERN ROUTES
Photo courtesy of Mt Hood Climber’s Guide by Bill Mullee
\\ How to Get to the Mount Hood Trailhead
If going up the south side of Mount Hood, then you will want to park and start your adventure near the Timberline Lodge Ski Resort and Hotel. There you will find plenty of parking — including a large lot that seems to specifically be for hikers and backcountry skiers to camp in. Bathrooms and water are available in the ski resort lodge (not the hotel) which is open until around 6 or 7PM. There is also a fancy restaurant in the Timberline Lodge, which is open from 7:30AM to 3PM and then again from 5:30PM to 8:30PM.
❔GOOD TO KNOW: the ski resort lodge also has a climbing registration room, which is where you will go to fill out your FREE climbing permit. While not required, it is a good idea to fill the form out just in case something does happen on the mountain. Keep a copy of the permit with you while hiking.
The closest town to the trailhead is going to be Government Camp, which does have a few lodging options, restaurants, a brewery, one gas station, and a small grocery store.
REACHING THE MOUNT HOOD TRAILHEAD FROM PORTLAND, OREGON
It takes just over an hour to reach the trailhead from downtown Portland (depending on traffic of course). The easiest and fastest way is to head up Highway 26, which passes through Sandy, Mt. Hood Village and Government Camp. Along the drive, there are multiple grocery stores and gas stations. You will need to turn off Highway 26 and head up the 10 mile drive towards Timberline Lodge (there is a large sign). Park right before the hotel in a large parking lot on the right.
REACHING THE MOUNT HOOD TRAILHEAD FROM HOOD RIVER, OREGON
If coming from Hood River, then you will need to instead drive up Highway 35, which passes through the very tiny town of Mt. Hood before skirting Mt. Hood Meadows Ski area. Stay on Highway 35 until you see a turn for Government Camp and Highway 26, take this, and then almost immediately take a sharp right turn onto the road up to Timberline Lodge. Park right before you get to the hotel. This drive should take just under an hour.
REACHING THE MOUNT HOOD TRAILHEAD FROM SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
If you are thinking of coming from Seattle, then you should plan to put aside 4 hours for the drive. While relatively scenic, this drive can also be quite congested if you hit it at a bad time (definitely try to miss rush hour traffic). To start, head out of Seattle on I-5 and pass through Tacoma, Olympia and Centralia.
Eventually, you will make it to the outskirts of Portland. Once here, head down Highway 205 before going east on Highway 84. Then exit on NE 238 Drive near the town of Gresham, and take that until it turns into Highway 26. Follow that highway until you eventually reach Government Camp and the turn off for Timberline Lodge.
CAR CAMPING AT THE MOUNT HOOD TRAILHEAD
More likely than not, you will want to stay near the trailhead the night before you start your summit push. While there are lodging options nearby — see recommendations below — if you want to save a few bucks as well as the necessity of driving early in the morning, then you can also just simply camp in the trailhead parking lot.
The lower parking lot (NOT the one next to Timberline Lodge) allows you to park and sleep in your car for free. The lot is flat, quiet, and relatively dark. You can also find bathrooms and water in the nearby ski resort lodge as well as food at Timberline Lodge (surprisingly not that expensive) or at the resort food court (only open during the day).
LODGING NEAR THE MOUNT HOOD TRAILHEAD
This historic and very unique lodge was actually used in the movie The Shining (the creepy one with Jack Nicholson). The hotel offers 70 rooms, a bar and restaurant, and expansive views of the surrounding mountain landscape. A night will cost anywhere between $200 USD and $400 USD depending on the room type and season.
BEST WESTERN MOUNT HOOD INN
Another nearby option is this economy hotel in Government Camp. Located just down the road and roughly 10 minutes from the trailhead, this hotel is a good option if you want to stay close but not spend a ton of money.
\\ The Best Time to Mountaineer Mount Hood
While you can technically climb Mount Hood year-round, the best time is going to be in late spring and early summer. During this period — mostly April to July — you can expect clearer evenings/mornings and decent snow conditions. Do note, that this is also the most popular time to climb, so you will very likely have to deal with others while on the trail (especially on weekends).
Winter brings lots of snow, which could be nice for some of the higher sections. But that precipitation also means lots of storms (and plenty of wind). Plus, temperatures in the winter can be downright coooold. During late summer and early fall, rock falls are very common and hard to really mitigate. Crevasses are also much more exposed.
❔GOOD TO KNOW: if there is one thing to know about summitting Mt. Hood, it is that later in the season it is very important to try to start your summit push early in the morning. Like many other big mountains, getting up to the top earlier in the day is almost always safer. In the case of Mount Hood, while storms are definitely a possibility, it is actually more important to summit as early as possible so you avoid rock falls and have better snow conditions on the final steep stretch.
\\ What Gear to Bring With You to Summit Mount Hood
Mount Hood is a legitimate glaciated mountain and therefore having the right gear is pretty paramount. Even though it isn’t that tall — less than 12,000 feet — do not underestimate this peak. Make sure you have proper gear, including all mountaineering gear (crampons, ice axe, helmet, etc.) as well as plenty of warm clothes.
❔GOOD TO KNOW: a question I had when planning my Mount Hood mountaineering adventure was whether I should bring a rope. While I did use one on Middle Sister, I didn’t on Hood and felt like this was definitely the better choice. Obviously, do what feels best for you, but I think it is easier to go rope-less, especially on the final push. You will likely see some guiding services using ropes in the final section, so be aware of this on your way up and down.
For a hike like this, layering will be your best friend. Since you will be starting quite early in the morning, make sure you have a warm jacket, gloves, and a headlamp (or two, just in case). But also try to wear a thinner thermal shirt underneath because unless the temperature is very cold at the start of your hike, you will probably get quite hot once you start really moving uphill. By the time I reached the Silcox Hut (about a mile in) I was just in my thinner thermal shirt and waterproof pants (even the gloves and stocking cap were off).
But, once I got to Devils Kitchen and took a break to wait for the sun to rise, I quickly cooled down and donned my thickest jackets (a puffy and windbreaker), gloves and stocking cap. Likewise, the summit of Mount Hood can be brutally cold. Even though I got lucky with a day with minimal wind, I was still shivering at the top.
Fast forward to an hour later during the descent and I was shedding all of my layers once again. Once the sun comes out and the temperature starts to rise you too will likely start thinking about how wonderful sandals and shorts will be back at the car.
💬 INSIDER TIP: definitely keep your sunglasses and sunscreen handy for when the sun does pop out (it can be blinding with all the snow). Apply regularly, especially at the summit and on your hike down.
WHAT I BROUGHT WITH ME TO SUMMIT MOUNT HOOD
Very important, especially for the final section before the summit.
Mine are older and in somewhat rough shape but they do the job; this pair by Lowa is perfect for a Mount Hood summit push.
I saw some people with two ice axes and others with just one. I think this depends on what you are more comfortable with. I used just one and felt totally safe. This one by Black Diamond is very similar to the one I used.
Super important to have with you for rock falls are relatively common. I put mine on right below Crater Rock and didn’t take it off until I was well past the rocky sections on the way down.
I carried a 40-liter backpack from REI and had plenty of space for all of my gear, food, layers and water. Try to use a bag that has a specific place for a water bladder and loops for your ice axe.
Try to bring an extra pair (and some batteries) just in case the first one dies.
Probably not that necessary but also doesn’t hurt to have.
PHONE WITH OFFLINE MAP
I felt very comfortable route-finding using Gaia GPS for the climb up. Make sure that no matter what mapping service you are using you have the map downloaded and usable offline.
I carried my trusty 3-liter Camelbak bladder as well as another 1500 ml water bottle. While I did end up only consuming the water from my bladder, it was nice to know I had something reserved just in case. I will say that the bladder did freeze slightly at the top, so be prepared for that if it is extra cold out.
Maybe one of the most important pieces of gear for the summit. Make sure to wear a pair of gloves or mittens that protect against water and wind, are nice and insulated and can grip your ice axe.
Great for wind protection, especially at the summit when the wind can be absolutely brutal. I wore a Cotopaxi jacket (this exact one) and loved the fit and large pockets.
For extra warmth, pack a puffy jacket that can be worn under your hard shell. This one by Patagonia is perfect for those cold mountain summits.
The perfect base layer keeps you warm without adding much bulk. I have been wearing a Nike thermal shirt for years and love it.
Similar to above, try to wear a pair of tights that keep you warm without making it hard to move around in. I recently got some Lululemon active tights and love them.
A recent purchase that was a long time coming. Waterproof pants help keep you warm both in bad weather (especially rain, sleet and snow) as well as when you are out playing around in the snow itself. Mine are from REI Co-Op and so far they have held up really well — even after multiple long hikes and glissade trips in sub-optimal snow conditions.
Wear a pair from the start and pack an extra just in case your first pair gets soaked or you need an extra layer for warmth. I ended up putting my second (bigger) pair on once I got to Devils Kitchen because my toes started to go a bit numb.
Great for both wind and sun protection.
Anything that helps keep your head and ears warm works; though make sure to bring one that can be worn comfortably under your helmet.
Essential for the final stretch to the summit and for the whole hike back down. Once the sun comes out, the snow can be absolutely blinding. I have been wearing this pair from Sunski for a couple of months now and love them (honestly thinking of investing in a pair of their mountaineering-specific options).
Another should-have on the mountain. Make sure to apply regularly and maybe more often than you’d think on the way down. The sun is intense.
CHAPSTICK (WITH SUNSCREEN)
Keep the sun protection going by packing a tube of Chapstick that includes SPF and reapply liberally.
How much food you bring depends on you, but definitely err more on the side of caution than not. I packed a full deli sandwich, some granola bars, trail mix, spicy pickles, and jerky. I ended up not eating too much on the hike up but definitely scarfed the sandwich down at the top.
I always bring my full-frame digital camera with me — though in this case I was a bit hesitant to use him at the top just because of the cold.
\\ Route Dangers and Things to Be Aware of When Summiting Mount Hood
Mount Hood is a serious mountain and therefore you should only attempt it if you are prepared for technical climbing and glacier travel. Below are a few of the key dangers and things to keep in mind when you are pushing up the mountain yourself.
A pretty well-known danger of mountaineering on Mount Hood. Always keep an eye out for falling rocks, either from natural causes (like snow and ice melting in the sun) or from being kicked down by climbers above you. Rock fall danger is actually one of the main reasons you should start your climb early in the morning when the ice/snow conditions are better and why you should always wear a helmet in the so-called “danger zone.”
Always stay aware of your surroundings, especially when you get to the Old Chute when other climbers will be right above you. Likewise, be respectful of other climbers coming up when you are heading down from the summit. Usually, the uphill climbers get the right of way.
Always check avalanche conditions before setting out (check Mount Hood’s here). Know the signs of avalanche danger and stay vigilant. Avalanches are more common in the winter, but they can still be a danger any time of the year after a big snowstorm (especially if it is directly followed by warm weather).
Another one of the more well-known dangers on Mount Hood. Crevasses are a very real thing to be aware of on this hike — especially on the way up when you will be hiking (likely) in the dark. The two main crevasses to be aware of are near the Hogsback, especially if you take the alternate route across and up the Old Chute.
PUSHING YOURSELF TOO HARD
I am all for pushing your limits, but at the same time know what your body can safely handle, especially when it comes to doing things at higher elevations. Altitude sickness is not only uncomfortable but it can also be dangerous (learn the signs of altitude sickness here). If you start feeling lightheaded, nauseous, or get a headache, slow down, drink plenty of water and, if necessary, cut the climb short and head back down.
💬 INSIDER TIP: on my climb up I took a break with other mountaineerers right next to the Devils Kitchen. While it seemed like a good break point (right before the Hogsback, on a flat, protected section) it is often directly in the path of the sulfur-y clouds that are produced from the nearby fumaroles. After about 10 minutes of breathing the fumes in, multiple people in the group started to feel sick (one even puked). I would suggest instead taking a break either farther down (and out of the wind path) or farther up near the base of the Old Chute.
\\ How to Prepare to Summit Mount Hood
I would definitely suggest only attempting this mountaineering adventure if you are in good physical shape. While I do believe that the body is amazing and can be pushed quite past what we think our limits are, in this case, I think for overall safety and comfort it is important to know what you can handle. This mountain is big. And it is steep.
That being said, there are a few things I would definitely suggest doing before summitting Mount Hood to help ensure a more enjoyable day out:
| Do a couple of other bigger mountains first. And if possible, try to find ones with some snow/ice and glaciers. I did Middle Sister down near Bend, Oregon before Mount Hood and found it to be quite a nice warm-up adventure.
| Work on your cardio. Hike a lot, go for long bike rides, or do some trail runs. Get your body used to pushing itself for hours on end. The trail to the summit is uphill the whole time, so try to do adventures that also include a good amount of elevation gain (your calves and hamstrings will thank you).
| Try to acclimate beforehand. This can be sort of tough, especially if you live in or around Portland or Seattle, both of which sit at lower elevations. While Mount Hood is not a super tall mountain in the grand scheme of things (the summit sits at 11,249 feet) it is still a good idea to try to acclimate to the elevation change beforehand (altitude sickness sucks so try to avoid it at all costs).
| Know your gear inside and out, especially your ice axe and crampons. Take them out for a practice run or take it a step further and actually take a mountaineering class. While crampons are pretty self-explanatory, it is still really important to use them before stepping onto a more intense mountain like Hood.
The last section before the summit — the Old Chute or 1 O’clock Couloir are not to be underestimated. You will definitely want to feel comfortable in your crampons before heading up. And this is even more true with your ice axe: know how to self-arrest if you slip, and also how to use it to get up steep, icy sections (because the last couple of yards are exactly that).
Climbing Mount Hood is one epic outdoor adventure. The scenery, the challenge and of course the reward make this long day out on the mountain 100% worth it. If you are a mountaineerer looking to test yourself, then make sure to add this iconic volcano to your adventure bucket list.
Hopefully, this in-depth planning guide helps you prepare for your own epic mountaineering adventure. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or reach out directly.