backpack: Burnt Lake, East Zigzag Mountain & Cast Lake
On this two night backpacking trip, we hiked in to Burnt Lake to setup camp and day hiked to East Zigzag Mountain and Cast Lake.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 3.3 miles, 1,433 ft. gain
- day hike options: East Zigzag Mountain, Cast Lake
- best months: September-October
- location: Mount Hood Wilderness; nearest town: Zigzag
- land management: Mount Hood National Forest: Zigzag Ranger Station
- trail conditions: Burnt Lake Trail #772
- hike description: OregonHikers.org
- permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
This was a plan B destination after Google gave us the wrong directions to a different location on Mount Hood. I’ve backpacked to Burnt Lake twice before, so I already knew what to expect without having any info with me. In addition to day hiking to East Zigzag Mountain on this trip, we also hiked to Cast Lake – which I hadn’t seen before.
Day 1 – hike in via Burnt Lake North trailhead
3.3 miles, 1,433 ft. gain
The trail to Burnt Lake goes through a mixed-conifer forest that burned in 1904 and 1906, leaving numerous still-standing shells of former old-growth cedars. The first couple of miles on the hike in are at an easy grade, then the trail turns to head uphill on a steeper ascent to Burnt Lake.
The trail crosses over several streams on the way, all of which are easy to rock hop in late summer. We opted to skip the side trail to Lost Creek Falls, but it is well worth exploring if you have time to do so.
After a steady ascent, we reached a rockier section of trail along a ridge with a view of Mount Hood.
When we reached Burnt Lake, we turned into day use area A and followed the trail on the left along the lake to reach campsites.
We found a couple of empty campsites next to each other and set up camp in one of them. This is either part of camp #5 or #6… I never saw a sign for #6.
As we were pitching our tents, a couple came up to ask us about other campsite availability but also to warn us about bees that were stinging people at the lake. They ended up camping in a site above the main trail, but a group of four young women came in later and setup camp in the site right next to us. We ended up getting to know them a bit after they were also stung by bees nesting in the ground right in their campsite. Regardless of the bee situation, they were a lot of fun to camp next to and hang out with on the second night. : )
After setting up camp, we hiked on the trail that goes all the way around the lake, then had dinner and soon it was hiker midnight – which I define as when it gets dark dark (8pm on this trip).
Day 2 – day hike to East Zigzag Mountain and Cast Lake
5.7 miles, 1,451 ft. gain
Since this was my third time backpacking at Burnt Lake, I was hoping to explore farther than I had before while here so we headed up East Zigzag Mountain with a plan to hike to Cast Lake from there.
From the lake, we took the Zigzag Mountain trail up to East Zigzag, stopping at a trail junction and heading the other direction for a quarter mile first for a viewpoint. After the junction, the trail gets much steeper as it climbs up to the ridge of East Zigzag.
A viewpoint along the lower section of the ridge has great views of Mount Hood, with Burnt Lake far below.
Continuing past the viewpoint, the trail heads through the forest for a short way before reaching a view of the top of East Zigzag and the steep trail up to it.
Along the way, we passed the junction with the Burnt Lake South trail.
We stopped at the top to have lunch at the former lookout site. In the open areas, fall color was more visible – with huckleberry shrubs turning shades of red and purple.
Leaving the top of East Zigzag, the trail continues along another section of open ridge with views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Rainier to the north and Mount Jefferson to the south.
The rest of the trail is a bit less traveled but easy to follow. At a junction with the Cast Lake trail, we turned left for a short distance and then turned right on the Cast Lake trail. The landscape here has a different feel than at Burnt Lake – more open and more rugged. Most of the campsites are located high above the lake, and there are two campsites at lake level with great water access.
Fall color along the trail at Cast Lake
Heading back up to East Zigzag on the return hike.
When we reached the switchback section of trail above Burnt Lake, the lighting was perfect for capturing the beauty of this forest.
Day 3 – hike out
3.7 miles, 1,433 ft. loss
The hike out the last morning was fairly easy, taking us about 2 hours. We saw more day hikers coming in than we had the day before, and the parking lot was full when we arrived back, with a few cars parked along the road. Even though I hadn’t planned on backpacking at Burnt Lake this time, it was great trip to a familiar location with the beauty of fall around us.