Close your eyes and try to imagine your best trail destination ever. Does it include spectacular mountain views and acres of wildflowers? Does it feature a fun trail that’s not too challenging? Do the views make you want to start singing, “The Hills are Alive”? Well then, you’ve just imagined the Paradise Park Trail on Mt. Hood.
Paradise Park is a huge alpine meadow situated above the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on the west side of Mt. Hood. If you go there four to six weeks after the snow melts you’ll be treated to a dazzling display of wildflowers, with Mt. Hood towering in all its splendor above the meadow.
The best way to reach Paradise Park is via the Paradise Park Trail. At 12 miles round trip, the route is too long for it to be appealing to most hikers, but it’s just right for horses. The trail runs along the spine of a ridge above the Zigzag River. You’ll slowly but steadily gain 3,000 feet of elevation in about 6 miles – very manageable for horses that are in moderate shape. This route has a few steep side slopes, but they are covered with trees so they don’t feel too intimidating. In late July/early August you’ll find only one small stream where you can water your horse, about 4.5 miles from the trailhead.
About 0.9 miles after crossing the horse-watering stream, the Zigzag Mountain Trail goes off to the left. Stay right, and in another 0.5 mile you’ll reach the PCT and the trail into Paradise Park.
Horses aren’t allowed in fragile Paradise Park, so you’ll need to tie them at the hitching rail you’ll find at the junction of the Paradise Park Trail and the PCT and then continue up into the park on foot.
The 0.6-mile trail from the PCT into Paradise Park climbs steadily, but you’ll be rewarded for your exertions with wildflower displays that become increasingly riotous the higher you hike. Purple lupine, orange Indian paintbrush, white Sitka valerian, and creamy spikes of bear grass are breathtakingly arrayed across the rolling hills. Mt. Hood soars overhead, providing the perfect backdrop for your best wildflower photos ever.
The Paradise Park Trail is covered in the Riley Horse Camp chapter of Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails by Kim McCarrel, available at www.NWHorseTrails.com.