Hike 37
The Mt. Hood National Forest
Bluegrass Ridge Loop Hike
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Map of the Bluegrass Ridge Loop Hike

Length: 14 mi RT
Elevation Change: 2700' gain
Season: Summer thru Fall
Difficulty:    Difficult
Permit: NW Forest Pass Required


 Click for PDF Topo Map of this Hike 

This is a difficult hike with exceptional rewards and challenges. This hike is NOT for everyone. ONLY those with alot of experience in crossing fast moving creeks should even consider this hike.

The trailhead is along state highway 35 and is marked Polallie. You have to cross highway 35 from the parking area, so use extreme caution due to the fast, high volume traffic along this stretch of the road.

The trail that you use to begin this hike is the same trail you can use to reach Tamanawas Falls, so the first mile and a half are well traveled and in excellent condition. Also you are likely to meet other hikers on this first part of the hike, but after you pass the junction to Tamanawas Falls, you will most likely not see another soul until you reach Elk Meadows.

The biggest challenge of this hike is not the 14 miles and the 3000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, but it is the two crossings of Cold Springs Creek. Each time that I have done this hike, I have had no problems getting across the creek while hiking up to Elk Meadows, but each time I complete the ridge loop and have to cross the creek to get back to the trail leading back to the trailhead, well, this is a serious problem. But, more about that later.

After passing the junction to Tamanawas Falls, you will enter the Mt Hood Wilderness where you are to sign in. About a mile later you will come to the junction of the trail that you will use as your return route, completing the Bluegrass Ridge loop part of the hike. Continue on the main trail as you hike towards Elk Meadows. Then in about another mile the trail crosses Cold Springs Creek. If the water is too high to wade, you will have to find fallen debris along the creek and carefully make your way to the other side.

Once on the other side, the trail climbs as it parallels the creek. In about another mile, if the weather if favorable, you will be able to catch glimpes of Mt Hood just to the west of you. In another mile you will come into an area that was badly burned in a forest fire back in 2006. The hike will take you in and out of burned areas for the next mile or so, but when you reach the junction at Elk Meadows, you will find the forests still lush and green.

At this junction, I usually go straight ahead and walk out into Elk Meadows. There is a shelter there and again, if the weather if favorable, you will be treated to world class views of Mt Hood. In season, the meadows are overflowing with wildflowers. After your time here, return to the previous junction and head east toward the cutoff trail that will take you up a steep 500 foot climb onto Bluegrass Ridge. Even though most of the area that you will now hike in has been badly burned, cairns and markers are in place to keep you on the trail.

When you reach the top of the ridge, and hike north along Bluegrass Ridge, fantastic views await you, if of course the weather cooperates. To the south is Mt Jefferson, and to the north you will see Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, and Mt St Helens from time to time. All the while, magnificent Mt Hood is standing there in full view on your west side. Below you on the east side is the West Fork of the Hood River and rising to the east of that is Lookout Mtn.

In spite of the terrific damage left behind from the forest fire, the trail does pass through occasional live standing timber. In season this ridge is a floral garden, and in the fall you get to enjoy the colorful mountain larches as they turn gold. As the trail works its way north along the ridge, it slowly loses elevation. At times you will pass through dense young forests full of debris. The last half mile of the ridge, the trail really begins to descend toward Cold Springs Creek. And here will be your greatest challenge.

The crossing of the creek is so dangerous, that I felt it necessary to say so in RED. It took me some time to find a log of adequate size and stability to manage a way across Cold Springs Creek. BE AWARE OF THIS REQUIREMENT BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO TAKE THIS HIKE. It is a very long walk back the way you came, if you cannot find a safe way across this creek. And keep in mind, that there is inherent danger in crossing any creek, much less doing so by walking or crawling across on a log. Trail reports as recent as June 2015 are that there are several downed trees on the west side of the loop and GPS navigation is extremely recommended for this hike.

There used to be a fine bridge here, but it was washed out long ago. Once you get across the creek, it is a short hike back to the main trail that will take you back to the junction you passed earlier and to the trailhead where you began this adventure.

Mt. Hood seen from Elk Meadows
How to get there:

 Click for PDF Directions Map of this Hike 

Follow Oregon Hwy 35 south of Hood River or north from Hwy 26 near Government Camp until you come to the road to Cooper Spur. Just a hundred feet south of that junction on the east side of Hwy 35 is the parking area for the Polallie Trailhead. To access the trail you have to walk across the highway, so be careful.

Note: This is the same trailhead for the Polallie approach to Tamanawas Falls and for the Bluegrass Ridge Loop hike.

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