Get to know Mount Hood on a hut-to-hut biking trip
Circle routes give up-close views of the pointy peak, with cozy accommodations each night.
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
MOUNT HOOD, Ore. — We all love camping, right? Or at least we say we do. But there are parts I don’t love, namely rain, bugs and the possibility that a bear will try to get into my food — or worse, into my tent.
In some parts of the Pacific Northwest, there’s a handy solution: hike-in or bike-in huts or cabins (ski-in, in winter) that may not have all the amenities of a hotel but still put a roof overhead.
I went to Mount Hood territory recently to check out one of these possibilities. On a summer day with Portland temperatures in the 90s, I headed for a hut on the volcano’s northern flank, glad to be at high elevation.
My destination: one of five scattered structures Cascade Huts operates on a by-reservation basis throughout Mount Hood’s foothills, on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service. During the summer, most people cycle from one hut to another. It’s a three-, four- or six-day loop, depending on route, that takes you along old roads, paved roads and unpaved but maintained trails.
The huts are nothing extravagant — the green metal structures are equipped with bunk beds and sleeping bags for five to eight people, depending on the hut. In the summer, if you have a small group, you may share a hut with another party. During the winter when you reserve a hut it is yours for the night. For summer visitors, a rudimentary kitchen is stocked with supplies including food, water and a propane stove.
Not fancy, but they allow you to pack light and sleep indoors, and the location is hard to beat.
You’ll want a sturdy mountain bike and some experience on hills to tackle one of these multiday trips, although most anyone with reasonable skill and fitness can do the shortest option.
The Cascade Huts folks send maps and GPS coordinates to make sure riders don’t get lost. Bring your own detailed maps; countless dirt roads and trails crisscross these parts, and the last thing you want to do is get lost and have to camp in the wild when you anticipated a hut at the end of the day.
The company offers a few touring options. Three-day trips to the two Surveyors Ridge huts south of Hood River are better for kids, inexperienced riders and lazy folks like me. They range from 5 to 11 miles of riding per day without extensive elevation change. A more challenging option for reaching these huts starts at lower elevation and involves longer distances.
“You don’t have to be an Olympian to ride these, especially the three-day,” Cascade Huts’ Cara Yasui told me. “That’s been the biggest hesitation with people inquiring. You don’t have to be an advanced rider to do it.”
The classic tour is a four-day loop that starts and ends in Hood River, circumnavigating Mount Hood’s pointy peak and touching on civilization in the form of small towns (a welcome beer break for many): Government Camp, Rhododendron and Zigzag.
Distances on this tour range from 27 to 43 miles per day, with a few long climbs and some trickier route finding. The track winds uphill, downhill and (rarely) through flats; gaining, losing and regaining elevation. The first day alone involves 6,000 feet in elevation gain, so be prepared to do some work.
At least you’ll be huffing and puffing through the most peaceful alpine setting imaginable for long-distance cycling. Much of the route is forested, with wildflowers brightening the scenery. The occasional stream or lake provides a chance to jump into cool water.
Snowy Mount Hood dominates the view. You can be in a forested valley without much view at all, but ascend that next ridge and there it is, looking almost reach-out-and-touch-it close.
When I went, cool air and thick clouds moved across the mountain, bringing periods of rain and bringing a welcome break from the hot, sunny weather I’d suffered through in the valley. I didn’t take off my jacket until I’d been moving for a while.
Once you’ve reached your hut at the end of the day’s ride, you can explore nearby single-track on foot or wheels, energy permitting — or just pour yourself a beverage and watch the sunset turn the mountain pink.
Not into cycling? A couple of the huts are within doable hiking distance of Cascade Huts’ sister property, Lost Lake Resort, on the mountain’s north flank. Hikers can start there, hike about 8 miles to a hut and return.
The resort itself includes a handful of rustic cabins (they have electricity, but running water comes from pumps outside), lodge rooms with all the amenities and a campground, all surrounding a pretty alpine lake with its own views of the volcanic peak. The development is low-key but offers fishing, boat rentals and hiking trails.
I hiked up to the Lolo Pass hut, and while I’d seen many views of Mount Hood before, it did appear startlingly close from this vantage point atop a ridgeline.
In the winter, three Cascade Huts near Sno-Parks south of Hood River are accessible via 2 to 12 miles of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. The setup is a bit different from in summer: You have to bring your own food. Compared to digging out a winter shelter, that thought is even more appealing than a hut in summer.
Christy Karras is a Seattle-based freelance writer.