hike: Lookout Mountain via Fret Creek
This hike to Lookout Mountain in Badger Creek Wilderness features western larches displaying golden yellow fall color, multiple viewpoints along the Divide Trail ridge, and of course, the summit of Lookout Mountain.
distance: 7.5 miles
elevation gain: 2,100 ft.
best season: summer to fall
drive time from Portland: 2 hours
parking pass: none
hike description: Mt. Hood National Forest – Fret Creek Trail #456A, Divide Trail #458
A few weeks ago, I hiked to Lookout Mountain from the High Prairie trailhead – the shortest trail to the summit. On this day, I was looking for a longer hike with more elevation gain so we started at the Fret Creek trailhead. I was also hoping to see golden yellow western larches in their transition from fall to winter.
Western larches (larix occidentalis) are deciduous conifers that grow in Oregon on the east side of the Cascades between 2,000 – 5,000 ft elevation. Just like deciduous trees with leaves that fall every autumn, larches lose their needles in the fall. But just before they do, they turn a brilliant shade of golden yellow. Note that the western larch is not the same as the alpine larches that grow in Washington. » Learn more about larches
This hike starts out gaining elevation right away, with several steep sections from the trailhead up to the junction with the Divide Trail. I was hoping to be hiking through a forest full of the smaller larches that we saw on the drive in. As it turns out, we were hiking in a forest with larches, but you have to look up to see the yellow-gold needles since these trees are up to 200 feet tall.
After heading steadily up the trail for two miles, we passed Oval Lake just before reaching the Divide Trail. The overnight temps have been cold enough lately to leave a thin layer of ice partially covering this shallow lake.
We turned right on the Divide Trail to reach Lookout Mountain. Along the way, the trail dips up and down alongside a ridge and then climbs up to the top of the ridge. Several side trails lead to viewpoints that are well worth exploring. On the last section of trail, we noticed a couple of backpacking campsites that I’d like to try out next year.
On the drive back, I stopped a couple of times to take photos of smaller larches alongside the road, capturing sunset color in the sky to the east.