hike: Eightmile Creek Loop
In late October to early November, western larches turn brilliant shades of yellow and gold before dropping their needles. This loop hike on the east side of Mount Hood has masses of them.
distance: 7.4 miles (includes exploring a campground near the loop trail)
elevation gain: 1,080 ft.
hike description: OregonHikers.org – Eightmile Creek Loop
drive time from Portland: 1 hour 30 minutes
parking pass: none
I’ve been wanting to see larches when they turn yellow for a long time, and today’s hike east of Mount Hood was the perfect way to see quite a few of them.
There are two types of larch trees in the Pacific Northwest: the western larch, which is the only type found in Oregon, and the alpine larch, which is in northern Washington at higher elevations. Larches are unique because unlike all other native conifers that grow here, they turn color in the fall and then drop their needles. I love how delicate and soft they are.
This loop can be accessed at multiple trailheads – we started at the Bottle Prairie trailhead and did the loop clockwise. The trail is open to mountain bikers and hikers, and closed to all other users. From the parking area, we headed left (north) and continued a short distance to a junction with the Knebal Springs trail.
At the Knebal Springs junction, turn right onto the trail.
Located east of the Cascade crest, the trees and undergrowth are quite different from the western side of the Cascades. Manzanita shrubs and Ponderosa pines dominate the next section of trail.
Western larches were turning color, with green and bright yellow needles. I was so excited to be standing next to one!
The trail alternates through forest and open meadows, then heads along the side of a ridge with views to the south.
In the distance, we could see quite a few yellow larches mixed in with other conifers.
Another feature unique to the eastern slopes of the Cascades are these bright yellow-green lichens that grow on tree trunks and downed branches.
We took a short side trail to Five Mile Butte, which was occupied with people lucky enough to score a permit for the weekend.
Past the lookout, we continued to a viewpoint looking northeast, then found a spot to have lunch before continuing the loop.
Back on the trail after passing the lookout tower, the trail switchbacks down the ridge through a section thick with larches. We spent a lot of time gawking at all of them… it was larch heaven!
Western larch needles are soft and delicate, growing in circular bunches.
Back on a forested trail, we headed to the east end of the loop, then took a side trail to check out Eightmile Crossing campground.
The Eightmile Crossing campground looks like a great place to camp, with spacious campsites spread out in the forest along the road.
Back on the loop trail, we continued through forest for several miles to the trailhead.
When larches have a chance to get tall, they tower above the other trees. These were at peak golden color.
Back at the trailhead, I decided to do this hike every year to see the larches when they turn color. Soon snow will be covering the trails here, but I’d also like to return when wildflowers are blooming in the meadows.