If you’re after a world-class nature escape within easy reach of Portland, Oregon then look no further than Mount Hood National Forest. Packed full of dense pinewood trails to hike and roaring rapids to raft, there’s plenty to see and do in this lush protected region. The pièce de résistance, however, is the ice-capped stratovolcano of Mount Hood–a true mountain climber’s delight!
Stretching south of the Columbia River Gorge until the foothills of Mount Jefferson, this million-acre nature lover’s playground offers a variety of exciting recreational activities year-round. During the winter months, alpinists descend on this winter wonderland in droves to ski its adrenaline-packed downhill runs. The Timberline Lodge and Ski Area is the most famous resort, although other options abound. When the weather warms up, hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, campers, and RVers come to relish in the ruggedly beautiful terrain. Boating, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, rafting, and foraging are other popular pursuits.
Such is Mount Hood’s allure it’s become one of the most popular national forests in the entire U.S., attracting over four million visitors each year. RVing is big business in Mount Hood National Forest, as it has 28 RV campgrounds to choose from. We’ll highlight the top three later in this article for your convenience.
Mount Hood National Forest is just a 90-minute drive from central Portland along Highway 26. Highway 26 is a smooth and well-maintained highway, making it a breeze to traverse in an RV or with a large trailer. Some of the smaller routes that branch off the main road are a different story, so make sure you check road conditions before you head out. Many of the smaller remote roads are only accessible via bikes and 4x4’s. Don’t forget to add Mount Hood Scenic Loop into your itinerary to relish in one of America’s greatest drives.
During long weekends and holidays, it seems like half of Portland is going to and from Mount Hood. Expect heavy traffic and plan accordingly during these periods. Wildlife does periodically wander onto the road, so keep an eye out for sudden hazards. Mount Hood’s roads close during the winter from early December until the all-clear is given in early spring. Access to the ski resorts is still available.
The family-friendly Trillium Lake Campground is a hit among RVers for its uninterrupted views of the volcano and the chance to partake in aquatic activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. Hikers love the two-mile Trillium Shoreline Trail, while the historic Timberline Lodge is a quick 10-mile drive away.
The campground has 52 tent and R.V sites to choose from, some of which are open to reservations. A table, campfire ring, and grill are available at every site. Vault toilets and drinking water are included. RVs and trailers up to 40 feet long can be accommodated. You are welcome to bring your pets with you during your stay.
Lost Lake Campground is another excellent lakeside option for RVers to enjoy views of the water and the glaciers of Mount Hood. Be sure to wander along the Old Growth Boardwalk to appreciate one of Oregon’s most beautiful old-growth forests firsthand. This campground is among the most popular in Oregon, so expect plenty of company on weekends. Aquatic activities like kayaking and fishing are particularly popular.
Campsites come with a picnic table and a fire ring, while drinking water, showers, and pit toilets are available on site. A nearby general store stocks the essentials. Note that a three-night minimum stay is enforced during busy periods. RVs and campers up to 32 feet long can be accommodated. The campground is typically open from May to October.
If you want a modern camping experience, head to Spring Drive RV Campground since it’s one of the few campgrounds in this National Forest that offers electric, water, and sewer hookups. Open from April to September, this campground offers some shade and privacy among pine and fir trees. You can enjoy cooking and serving dinner on the fire pit, grill, and picnic table provided at your site. You’ll be within walking distance to some scenic hiking trails and picnic areas.
Only self-contained RVs or trailers are permitted to camp here. Tent camping is prohibited, and there are no toilet facilities or drinking water on-site. There are eight sites to choose from, with a maximum vehicle length of 40 to 50 feet, depending on the site. Your furry friend is welcome to camp with you since pets are welcome.
Boating is a popular pastime in Mount Hood’s glistening lakes. Although personal watercraft such as jet skis aren’t allowed anywhere in the park, motorized watercraft are fair game on Timothy Lake, Clear Lake, and Lake Harriet. Note that there’s a 10 mph speed limit in places across all these waterways. Kayaking, canoeing, river floating, and rafting are popular throughout the park, especially the northern limit of Columbia River Gorge.
The 11,239-foot Mount Hood brings in over 10,000 adventurous climbers each year, making it America’s most popular snow-capped peak. However, that doesn’t mean Mount Hood should be taken lightly. The strenuous seven-hour ascent is a technical affair that requires specialist equipment such as an ice axe, crampons, a helmet, and ropes. Unless you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll want to tackle this one under the watchful eye of a trained guide. Nevertheless, climbers ascend Mount Hood every day during the open season from April to June. Breathtaking views of the dormant volcano’s 11 active glaciers make the climb entirely worthwhile.
Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots in your campervan since Mount Hood National Forest is a hiker’s paradise with hundreds of miles of lush trails to choose from. A section of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail cuts through the park near the historic Timberline Lodge. Other outstanding cross-country adventures await on the Zigzag Canyon, the Old Salmon River Trail, and the McNeil Point Trail. Note that the high altitude trails close sometime between late October and early July due to snowfall. As always, check locally before heading out.
Thrill-seekers make their way to Mount Hood during the winter to hurtle down its exhilarating alpine trails. A number of commercial ski areas are available, including Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood Skibowl, and the child-friendly Cooper Spur Mountain Resort. If you are taking kids along on your RV trip head to the Summit, which is a great spot to learn how to ski. Timberline is a popular spot for experienced skiers and snowboarders.
If you want to see some of the stunning wildlife Oregon has to offer, make sure you bring some binoculars along in your camper. Some of the most common mammals to spot include cougars, bears, coyotes, deer, and elk. Birding enthusiasts will have a great time spotting stellar’s jay, wild turkeys, and even golden eagles. Head out to some of the popular viewing spots like Fivemile Butte Lookout, Flag Point Lookout, or Clear Lake Butte Lookout.
One of the best ways to soak in Mount Hood National Forest is by exploring it on horseback. If you are bringing the horses with you in your trailer there are over 1,000 miles of trails to pick from. You can explore vast landscapes like the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness Area that is filled with the lush peaks of the Cascade Range and cascading waterfalls. There are also plenty of short, easy trails such as the Hidden Meadows Trail.