15 Best Things to Do in Mount Hood National Forest

multnomah falls

Located only 30 miles east of Downtown Portland, Mount Hood National Forest is one of the most beautiful places in the American Pacific Northwest.

Considering the traffic and the distance by road, it takes nearly two hours drive to reach the protected area.

It is a mosaic of dense pine forests, mountain rivers and glacial lakes.

It stretches south of the deep Columbia River and offers more than 1,071,466 acres (or 4,336.07 km2) of pristine nature, home to large numbers of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and many others.

Mount Hood dominates the surrounding forest with its easily recognizable snow-capped mountain peak.

Although the whole area is unique, several local landmarks are remarkably beautiful and popular.

Here’s what not to miss while you’re in the forest:

1. Little Crater Lake

little crater lake
Little Crater Lake by Bonnie Moreland/Flickr

The Little Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful in the United States.

Despite its name, it is not actually a crater of a volcano but is rather a typical example of an artesian well with a depth of 45 – 49 feet (or 14-15 meters).

It is well-known for its crystal clear waters with a unique topaz blue color.

Although it seems irresistible, the lake isn’t suitable for swimming.

As its springs are fed by the melting snow in the mountains, its clear waters barely exceed the temperature of freezing.

2. Timothy Lake

timothy lake
Timothy Lake by Bonnie Moreland/Flickr

In contrast to the beautiful but freezing Little Crater Lake, Timothy Lake is definitely one of the most popular places to swim in Oregon.

Due to its small but nice sandy and rocky beaches and lovely weather, it attracts many visitors during the summer season.

The shallow water along the coast easily reaches a pleasant temperature for swimming during the summer months.

There are also excellent opportunities to practice different water sports, so if you visit Mount Hood National Forest, don’t miss it!

3. Multnomah Falls

multnomah falls
Multnomah Falls by Michael Matti/Flickr

Multnomah Falls is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest and is also the largest and tallest in Oregon.

It is located in the northern part of Mount Hood National Park, not far from the south bank of the Columbia River.

Its total height is 620 ft (approximately 189 m) and consists of two main drops, following one after another.

The taller one is more impressive. It falls from approximately 542 feet (or 165 m).

The bridge over the gorge is famous for its spectacular views.

However, if the photos are more important to you, then you should try your luck at the foot of the waterfall so that you can capture in frame the structure of the bridge too.

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4. Devil’s Peak

devil's peak
Devil’s Peak by David Prasad/Flickr

Devil’s Peak is a forest lookout whose main purpose is to provide a panoramic view of the whole area for protection and quick actions in cases of summer forest fires.

This place has remained completely unchanged over the years.

Actually, the only difference is that it is open to visitors nowadays.

However, the biggest attraction here is not the lookout (although the panorama is amazing!) but the hiking trail leading to the top.

It is considered to be one of the most beautiful and is also very easy, even if your level of fitness is not very high.

The route starts from Kinzel Lake and switches from one trail to another before you find yourself at the foot of Devil’s Peak.

5. Sandy River

Although you can find many picturesque rivers in the area of Mount Hood National Forest, the Sandy River (which is a tributary of the bigger Columbia River) and its surroundings are especially proud of their jaw-dropping natural beauty.

Along the banks of the river you can find beautiful small beaches, which are a really good opportunity to refresh yourself in the water on hot summer days.

If you are a lover of sport fishing you will truly enjoy this place because of the chance to fish Coho Salmon or Chinook Salmon.

If you are heading toward the upper reach of the river, you have the opportunity to enjoy some kayaking.

This part of Sandy River is more idyllic and secluded so you can find some really great places to practice relaxing and stress-revealing activities such as camping with your family or friends.

6. Elowah Falls

elowah falls
Elowah Falls by Joe Parks/Flickr

Elowah Falls is a majestic waterfall. It consists of one single drop which falls from 289 feet (about 88 meters).

You will find it not far from the south bank of the Columbia River, in Multnomah County.

Its location is considered part of the gorge of the Columbia River.

You will reach the waterfall after a short and easy walk.

Equally impressive at any time of the year, it is actually considered one of the most easily accessible famous sights of Mount Hood National Forest.

7. Upper McCord Falls

upper mccord falls
Upper McCord Falls by Ethan Trewhitt/Flickr

Upper McCord Creek Falls is one of the most remarkable waterfalls in Mount Hood National Forest.

They are relatively easy to find and reach, as they are located not far from the Columbia River.

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You will find them approximately 2 miles east of the Dodson community and not far from Elowah Falls.

The waterfall is easily recognizable and unique because it is divided into two separate cascades, each of them 64 feet (19.5 meters) high.

8. Lost Lake

lost lake
Lost Lake by Beau Rogers/Flickr

Lost Lake is one of the most visited places in Mount Hood National Forest. It is a favorite place for swimming, water sports and fishing.

Lost Lake is a natural phenomenon that still cannot be fully explained.

Once a year the lake drains away in a hole of volcanic origin in the ground.

Scientists only know that there is a labyrinth of underground canals in the porous volcanic rocks.

However, no one can give a reasonable explanation why the lake loses much of its water for some period of time in winter as well as where the water goes after draining down into the hole.

9. Paulina Lake

paulina lake
Paulina Lake by LDELD/Flickr

Located at 6,331 feet (1,930 m) above sea level, Paulina is a crater twin lake with a unique natural beauty and fresh mountain climate.

Even if it seems like a very tempting idea to swim here, you should know that the water is mostly of snowmelt origin, thus very cold even in July and August.

Hiking trails run along its shores, revealing a breathtaking panorama.

The draining water, known as Paulina Creek, has graved a beautiful small gorge into the rocks.

The mountain creek forms a lovely twin waterfall which attracts a number of tourists.

The area is also known for its thermal springs.

10. Tamanawas Falls

tamanawas falls
Tamanawas Falls by nosha/Flickr

If you visit Mount Hood National Forest in late spring or early summer, Tamanawas Falls should be at one of the very first positions in your to do list.

The waterfall changes beyond recognition over the course of the year.

Of course, during the high water season, for example in April, May, June and even July, the waterfall looks like a spectacular curtain of water.

Then it dramatically descends from the 110 feet high black volcanic rocks into the shady canyon.

11. Trillium Lake

trillium lake
Trillium Lake by Ted/Flickr

Lake Trillium is one of the top swimming destinations in Oregon, beating in this respect even the most popular beaches along the coast of Pacific Northwest.

It attracts tourists because of its comfortable and cozy little beaches along the coast, as well as because of the pleasantly warm waters in the shallows along the shore.

Most people visit the wonderful Trillium Lake during the summer months, especially in July and August.

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Except for the great conditions for swimming, the lake is also known for its wonderful hiking trails in the area.

If you need just some rest, then fishing is a great alternative.

12. Mirror Lake

mirror lake
Mirror Lake by Amy Meredith/Flickr

The beautiful glacial lake is a magnet for visitors, especially during the months of July and August.

Because of the proximity to Portland, it is a very popular weekend destination during the summer holiday season.

Apart from its beauty, Mirror Lake is well known for one of the most enticing hiking trails in the area.

Its name is Mirror Lake Trailhead and its total length is 4.4 miles, which is about 7 kilometers.

For the lovers of swimming, the lake looks like a dream. However, you should know that the water is very cold. Actually, it barely reaches 55°F even on very hot summer days.

13. Clear Lake

clear lake
Clear Lake by Thomas Shahan/Flickr

Clear Lake is one of Oregon’s treasures.

It is located in the southern part of Mount Hood National Forest and is well known for its crystal clear turquoise waters.

The lake is an attractive place for water sports, hiking, swimming, kayaking and canoeing.

As you can expect, Clear Lake attracts swimmers for its limpid waters, most of which comes from springs.

Only a small part of the water is of snowmelt origin but it is still very cold even in July (only about 43°F).

14. Ramona Falls

ramona falls
Ramona Falls by Evan Lovely/Flickr

Ramona is another beautiful waterfall to visit within the Mount Hood National Forest.

It is located at the upper reaches of the beautiful Sandy River. It is famous for its unusual appearance.

The height of the waterfall is about 120 feet (or about 36.5 meters), but once you see the falls, you won’t forget them.

You can reach the place following the extremely beautiful forest trail Ramona Falls Trailhead.

You can reach the trail by car. Once there, however, you should be prepared for a long walk in the forest. Actually, the total length of the loop is 7.1 miles or about 11.4 km.

15. Bagby Hot Springs

bagby hot springs facilities
Bagby Hot Springs Facilities by IndigoFairyX/CC BY-SA

Bagby Hot Springs is located in a uniquely beautiful area that falls within the Mount Hood National Forest.

You will find it approximately 67 kilometers southeast from Downtown Portland.

The springs are relatively easy to reach, following a charming hiking trail with a low level of difficulty.

The main springs are 3, with temperatures ranging between 120 and 138°F (or between 49 and 59°C). The spring is believed to have a number of health benefits.