Mount Hood – 11,249ft, pretty, and you can cycle around the whole thing in a day. This is my 11th time riding this route around Mt. Hood, each time with minor variations but each as impressive and inspiring as the first.
The ~85miles, 8,900ft ride, starts in Zigzag at the bottom of Lolo Pass Rd and makes a big loop around the mountain taking in amazing scenery and close-up views of Mt. Hood itself.
If you drive here, the parking area at Welches Middle School or Subway restaurant can be a geat place to start. If you are a coffee person, I highly recommend Mount Hood Roasters , located here. You have to drive 4minutes more, up 26, but trust me, there is no other coffee place that comes close to a good cup on Mt. Hood.
There are two versions of this route, the main one I will describe is the one that routes via NF16 Vista Ridge, there is another that goes to Parkdale via the town of Dee. Both are around the same length +/- 5miles , but the NF16 version requires an extra 1000ft of climbing, but it’s worth it. The ride can be broken into 6 basic parts each with amazing views, different themes, and vibes. Lolo Pass, NF1810, NF16 -Vista Ridge (exclude for Dee version), Cooper Spur, 35up, and 26 down.
Lolo Pass is a smooth climb that zigzags upwards under powerlines, reveals wide exposed scenic valley views and gains a few thousand feet. The first few miles of Lolo are smooth car frequented, tree lined, and chip sealed paved. Then right around Muddy Fork (mile x) turns into a narrower unmaintained smooth road that climbs to the summit of Lolo where the PTC trail crosses. The upper part after Muddy Fork is much less traveled by cars. Just at the summit, the road splits 3 ways. The first right goes back down alongside Lolo Pass to Muddy Fork. The other two roads NF18 and NF1810 come out at the same place further around mt.hood, but NF1810 is a much more enjoyable ride.
Make sure you take the correct road here, if you travel straight you will be on NF18, Take the road right, and as soon as you make the corner, it becomes gravel and you will see the PCT trailhead to your right and right in front of you is an amazing view of mt.hood on a clear day. (seen in the pictures below) At this point, you have 6.7 miles of gravel, the first section of gravel is the deepest, maybe a mile long and not that bad. This section descends a little where you have to be careful then rolls back up. From this point on the gravel gets lighter to more of a thin sprinkling that still needs you to keep your wits about you. for the next 6 miles. (for gravel riding tips here)
NF16 – Vista Ridge (this section doesn’t apply to the Dee route)
Before the end of Lolo Pass NF18 I turn East and climb up Vista Ridge / NF 16. This is a hearty initial climb but turns into rollers on the top with amazing views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. The road is chip sealed and of various qualities along the way and can be as narrow as 10ft wide in places. Traffic is very low and there are some campgrounds near Red Hill, but I have only ever seen a handful of cars on this road, going slow. After summiting and cruising the amazing views, you will go through a few small sections of flat gravel, only a mile and a half of gravel in total. Then you quickly descend through Red Hill, this is a fast (45mph if you are drilling it), windy, fun decent; in parts only one lane wide, so be careful on your speed and cornering. This will deliver you to the small town of Parkdale on the North East side of Mount Hood.
Cooper Spur Climb
Parkdale a small town known for its fruit farming and miles of orchards. It sits in a valley which reaches all the way down to Hood River and is surrounded by the mountain ranges to east and west. There are a few places here where food and water can be had. I normally stop at the local supermarket, which is right there as you enter the town and has decent sandwich wraps and all the regular sports drinks and waters. Definitely, stop here and grab a bite and some water before moving on to climbing Cooper Spur. The road up to Cooper Spur is fairly long at 5miles but not a steep climb (avg 4%). It’s a tree-lined climb and can be a welcome on a sunny day providing some good shade. The lower part roll through areas often frequented by wedding goers. After climbing 1150ft, at the pinnacle of the climb is Cooper Spur lodge, they welcome cyclists here and will help out with water, food or even beer! You are now at 3200ft and Cooper Spur Ski resort is just up the road. You will skip that climb and ride past onto some rolling but mainly downward sections to southbound Highway 35.
Highway 35 South
This starts off mellow, a river runs alongside some grandeur cliffs, pretty views, but soon the grade goes up and becomes quite monotonous. It’s here that you are exposed to full sun, and often afternoon sun, so be prepared to focus and crank it out. This is by far the most unrewarding part of the ride, but it’s the price you pay for the awe of the other sections. 9.8 miles long and an average grade of 3.8% climbing 1,700ft it’s pretty relentless and unrewarding. You will climb past a few campgrounds and ski resorts off to the side of Hwy 26 topping out at an elevation of 4300ft. This section of the ride is quite bad on days which exceed 85 degrees, due to the exposure and the sustained climb. If your day is like this, make sure you fill a bottle at Cooper Spur Lodge prior to this section and stop frequently.
Highway 26 Westbound
After all that hard work comes the reward – a sweet descent 12mile descent to where you started, complete with breathtaking views of Mt.Hood. If you are low on supplies or need water, you can stop at Government Camp at a public rest stop and gas station. The descent from here on back into ZigZag is nothing short of spectacular, considering you are riding alongside traffic. The shoulders are generally wide, clean and pedaling at 25mph+ is easy, amazing views of mt.hood around several corners await.
Afterward, I recommend grabbing a sandwich at a close-by place, called Wraptitude. Yes it sounds rather odd, but makes great wraps and serves beer and has easy parking. Location here.
Two routes via NF16, as described above, or this route via Dee, which has a small modification that removes 1000ft climbing and reroutes through Dee avoiding NF16 Vista Ridge. Both ways are great, NF16 has the edge in my opinion, but requires a little extra riding.
Circumnavigate Hood Riding Tips
- Have a cue sheet or gps device (no cell service in many areas)
- Carry at least 2 larger 20/24oz bottles, 3 if very hot.
- Since there are sections of gravel and it is pretty remote with areas of no cell service make sure you have newer durable tyres 25mm or larger
- Carry two tubes just in case and a self-adhesive tyre boot to repair sidewall cuts
- Money for food and water in Parkdale, Oregon
- Winter time ride? – no, not at all, snow, snow and snow.