The Umbrella Falls Loop near Mt Hood Meadows is an amazingly beautiful trail that not only offers views of not one, but two waterfalls, and also takes hikers across multiple runs of the ski area. During July and August, those ski runs are loaded with flowers. The trip is much shorter than many of the trails that travel up the flanks of Oregon’s tallest mountain, but the rewards are just as plentiful.
Begin your hike from the Elk Meadows Trailhead near the Mt Hood Meadows Nordic Center. You can choose to travel the loop in either direction but I went clockwise. I have reason for it. That’s just what I did. You can also access the trail from the alpine parking area of Mt Hood Meadows, but then you would start your hike at the high point and I ain’t down with that. Anyway, the trail can be a little tricky to find, but it heads out from the trailhead across the street and a little bit past the restroom.
Once you find the trail, it will quickly cross a small stream and meadow and then you will find yourself crossing the road once more. The trail then dives into the woods as it slowly climbs for ¾ of a mile on its way to Sahale Falls. You will then reach a side trail that travels a tenth of a mile to an overlook of the falls. You can’t get the best vantage point from here, but there are a couple of options. If you are a good scrambler and can hike up (and down. Down is harder) nearly vertical embankments, you can climb down to the falls. From here, you can sit right in the pool at the base of the 65 foot main tier. However, if you don’t feel up to sliding down and still want a good view of Sahale, don’t sweat it. On the drive home, rather than heading out the way you came in, continue up past the trailhead and the road will loop around and cross over the East Fork Hood River. You can hop out of your car and get a perfect view, complete with all three drops, from there.
Once you leave Sahale Falls, head back to the main loop and head left to continue your hike. Bear Grass, Lupine, and other flowers really start to pop up in this area in the less shady spots. The majority of the climbing will occur on this stretch, as the trail gains over 500 feet in a little over a mile. Then, you will reach a second junction. Head left and travel the third of a mile to Umbrella Falls.
Umbrella Falls tumbles down a staircase of rock, dropping 59 feet in the process and is extremely beautiful and unique. There is a footbridge just below the falls, and climbing down to the water is fairly easy. There are some logs to chill on and eat a snack or lunch in a very relaxing setting. Enjoy yourself, but also prepare. Because there is more awesomeness to come.
When you are ready, turn around and hike back to the previous trail junction. You may be thinking that you just have a long walk through the woods to get you back to the trailhead at this point. You are wrong. So wrong.
From the trail junction, it is about a third of a mile to the first ski run at Mt Hood Meadows. As you break free from the trees, Bear Grass, Lupine, and Paintbrush will be blooming everywhere. If you look up the mountain, you will even be able to see the summit of the mountain itself peaking over the horizon. It is pretty awesome. And there are lots of ski runs. And they are all awesome. You even get to walk under the Hood River Express Ski Lift.
Just before the first run, you will start heading downhill and you will drop 800 feet in the next mile and a half. You will be popping in and out of wildflower filled meadows for the next ¾ of a mile. After returning to the trees for a while, you will pass over one more run, and a trail will be heading down the run. This is a mountain bike path and not the right way, so just keep heading straight away. You will encounter the final trail junction 0.4 miles before the trailhead. Once you encounter the Elk Meadows Trail, make a right and continue on to the parking area.
The Umbrella Falls Loop begins at the Elk Meadows trailhead near Mt Hood Meadows Nordic Center. To reach it, travel 7.2 miles east on Highway 35 from the junction with Highway 26, and make a left just after passing over a small bridge over Meadows Creek. The trailhead is on the right side of the road, about .3 miles from this intersection. Don’t take the main Mt Hood Meadows exit off of 35, as this will take you to the wrong part of the ski area. The turn off you are looking for is a little more than a mile further down the road.
Passes: Northwest Forest Pass is required at this trailhead.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: The trailhead is accessible year round, but you will likely find snow on some park of the trail at least into May.
Flowers: Flowers are usually blooming in July and early August, with the Bear Grass blooming on the early side of that.