I have been putting together an annual multi-day backpacking loop trek for my friends for the last 8 years. The goal was to find a 4 or 5 day trek of moderate difficulty based on a loop to simplify travel logistics. The first trek was through the Sisters Wilderness in 2011 and during each trek we would ask other backpackers what they thought was another great loop option. This advice truly led us to discover and confirm the finest multi-day backpacking loop treks in the Pacific Northwest. Since I have answered this question for other backpackers through the years I decided to create post to highlight these loop treks. The order presented is based on the order in which I discovered these treks. Please feel free to share your similar favorite loops.
There is a 50 mile loop that encircles the 3 Sister Peaks, however, I selected an approximate 35 mile route that starts from the Lava Lake Trailhead and cuts through between the Middle and South Sister peaks. This was my first multi-day trek for which I named the post “No Pain No Gain“, reflective of efforts and rewards of backpacking. The route adhered to the 4 to 5 day goal while adding the challenge of being up close to the Sisters. I would recommend the clockwise route with attention paid to water availability on the first day. Camp Lake through to the Chambers Lakes typically presents the challenge of climbing through snow but you need to experience the view from up there. You have to time this trek to allow for the snow crossing while also taking in a maximum floral display without too many bugs. The east section which is the PCT takes you through lush forests into lava fields. Passing through the restricted Obsidian area is not a problem, however, you want to time your climb over Opie Dilldock pass during the cool part of the day. The Mattieu Lakes near the start and finish offer good rest options. You could also consider doing this loop from the Pole Creek Trailhead.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness was enticing, however, piecing together a loop was not as obvious. I settled on using the Two Pan Trailhead to enter via the Minam Lake Trail and returning via the East Fork Lostine Trail while taking in all of the options provided by the Lakes Basin area. This loop requires crossing the 8548′ Carper pass to settle around Mirror or Moccasin Lakes. Here you have the option of expanding the loop up and over Glacier pass through Horseshoe Lake to Douglas Lake. Or you could just base from the basin area and do a few day hikes to fill your trek. Either way you must experience Glacier Lake. The lakes here are deep and can provide some good fishing. You come out completing the loop via the East Fork Lostine Trail with a shrinking awesome view of Eagle Cap.
Goat Rocks should end up on everyones list, however, with that popularity come the weekend crowds. The loop option is fairly defined with a starting point at the Berry Patch or Snowgrass Flats Trailheads. It could be treated as a 2 day loop, which is why you include spur hikes north & south on the PCT. Whether you go up Snowgrass or Goat Ridge Trails you will be doing the bulk of the climb and you typically will deal with the worst of the mosquitos and black flies. I like the Snowgrass Trail to the Bypass Trail over to the PCT. Once on the PCT portion of Goat Rocks you have access to Cispus Pass south or Old Snowy north which is worthy of a few nights. Then head over to the Lilly Basin Trail which takes you to the Goat Lake area. The lake is generally iced over, however, the campsite options around there provide an awesome view of the valley and Mt Adams. You may want to hike up to Hawkeye Point and you should be treated to herds of mountain goats above Goat Lake. Your hike out via the Goat Ridge Trail is essentially downhill.
The Glacier Peak Wilderness provides a classic 36 mile backpacking loop that takes you up a glacier to Spider Gap past the Lyman Lakes then over Cloudy and Suiattle Pass by Fortress Mountain and over to Buck Creek Pass and Liberty Cap. This trek is probably the most true loop and it may be the most challenging especially getting up to Spider Gap. You start at the Phelps Creek Trailhead and head up the Phelps Creek Trail as far as you can in preparation for the climb up the Spider Gap Glacier. Camping near the Lyman Lakes sets you up for the next climb to Cloudy Pass and then around to Suiattle Pass where you get your first glimpse of Glacier Peak. If time and energy allow you should consider including a visit to Image Lake along Miners Ridge. As you work your way around to Buck Creek Pass, Glacier Peak is positioned prominently to the west. Find a campsite with a view of Glacier and take a hike over to Liberty Cap. The final hike out is relatively easy from there.
This is a great loop trail around Mt. Hood with views many other mountains. I have decided to do this loop every year because it is so perfect and it provides me with a gauge for my overall health. The TT is approximately 40 miles with a number of potentially challenging stream crossings. The elevation low point is near Ramona Falls at about 3300′ with a high point on the east side at 7350′. There are many choices for a starting point with the most common being at Timberline Lodge. Clockwise is the more common route from the lodge on the PCT which takes you by the Zig Zag Canyon where you should consider detouring up to Paradise Park for an evening. Crossing the Sandy river may be the most challenging before you take in Ramona Falls. The PCT offers you a couple of options, I like the one up toward Yocum Ridge over to Bald Mountain before you head up the Timberline Trail toward McNeil Point. On the north side you cross through some old burns but the beauty is everywhere. Once past the Cloud Cap TH you climb to above tree-line typically crossing many snow fields. Copper Spur is a side trip option and then you work your way down to Gnarl Ridge. All of this area is arid and treeless. Cross Newton creek, pass some waterfalls and head through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area. The final push is to cross the White River and then climb back up to Timberline Lodge. This final climb can be challenging due to the sandy trail and exposure.
I hope these backpacking loops help you find that perfect trek.
A recent loop that I have just completed does deserve mention, however, it is more difficult than my top 5. It is the Devils Dome Loop in the North Cascades of Washington.
I will also throw in another option which is partially a loop, The Wild Rouge Loop diverges from the primary Rouge River Trail up to Hanging Rock.
When the backpacking stars align you have to go. Got back from a nice trip to Arizona with a Grand Canyon visit highlight to realize that the weather was perfect for a Southern Oregon backpacking trip on the Rogue River. Since I did the Wild Rogue Wilderness Loop a couple of years ago I was looking at the East end of the Rogue River Trail. I thought about starting at Marial and hiking up river, but the thought of that 2 hour drive on a terrible road with Brook convinced me to just start at the Grave Creek end and hike until I felt like turning around. We ended up turning around at Kelsey Creek at 14.3 miles. Overall a very leisurely 4 day 3 night 29 mile trip in perfect weather. However, the ticks were bad but not much poison oak on this part of the trail.
We got started at about 2:00 pm and ended up 7.1 miles at Slate Slide. The Rogue River Trail is in great shape and the frequent views of the river valley are as good as it gets.
All by ourselves next to the river was perfect for Brook not to feel like she needed to watch the trail. We found a washed up rubber soccer ball that Brook played with all night. One bummer though was not appreciating how sharp the slate was until I punctured my REI blowup seat cushion. We slept in until the sun dried out our tent, got on the trail by 11:00.
The second day again brought perfect weather and trail conditions. I knew we were about to descend in elevation just before getting to the Meadows Creek area so I decided to camp at a clear area above the trail at about 13 miles behind a very old Madrone Tree. I had decided that we would head back up river the next day due to concerns about ticks.
I setup camp and then took the daypack to hike on to Kelsey Creek. I was impressed with the Meadows Creek area for great camp sites. Tonight’s campsite was more in the trees above the trail so I had some issues with Brook wanting to monitor trail traffic, but she is all bark. I think we may have stumbled upon a relatively undiscovered old cabin foundation near our site.
Above was a larger clearing where a stream looked like it was diverted to multiple channels for irrigation. The old cabin had a fireplace foundation and the outline of a wall foundation. We found an old stovepipe and various other metal items. It was kind of cool envisioning what it must have been like living there.
The next morning we hit the trail by 9:00 am enjoying another perfect day, maybe even a little warm. We stopped at Slate Slide again so Brook could play with her rubber soccer ball. While there a number of rafters pulled in to take advantage of the eddy’s to cast a fishing line with good results.
My plan was to camp at Whiskey Creek, but I spotted a cool looking river site at Doe Creek so we traversed down to setup camp. This area turned out to be primo and we selected a nice area on grass near the river. A couple of women with a dog from Bend shared the upper part of the river area.
We settled in around 2:30 and took advantage of a beautiful warm afternoon to relax. Ducks were competing for river space, fish were jumping and a bald eagle was buzzing us. It doesn’t get any better then this.
Brook was exceptionally photogenic since she was extremely relaxed.
After a good meal we continued relaxing until the sun went down and the temps dropped. It was so nice I took a lot of videos to attempt to capture the experience. The moon was almost full so I left the fly off my tent to enjoy it. It was interesting watching Brook totally case the perimeter after I went into the tent. She is very committed to her role as protector. The dew turned out to be very heavy so I had to put the tent fly on around 1:00 am.
Morning was beautiful with early sun to dry things out. We checked out the historic cabin at Whiskey Creek, it was impressive. Overall this was an excellent backpacking trip.
My backpacking companion had a few weeks off at the beginning of May and I’m still retired until June so we searched for a challenging early season backpacking trip. Looking for a loop with good temps, flowers and minimal bugs led us to find this refurbished Wild Rogue Loop in Southern Oregon. Last year the Siskiyou Mountain Club with help from grants rejuvenated the 25 mile Rogue River Loop which is a conglomeration of the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest’s Mule Creek Trail 1159, Panther Ridge Trail 1253, Clay Hill Trail 1160A, and the Rogue River Trail 1160. This was necessary because of the damage done by the 2005 Blossom Fire after allowing the forest to heal for 10 years. The combined trail is one of the best in Oregon. The evidence of fire is minimal, the terrain is challenging and the scenic rewards are stunning.
Once this loop was chosen for our Spring outing, gathering trail details was more challenging, but critical feedback on the trailheads, poison oak and ticks was helpful.
I decided to use the Foster Bar Rogue River Trailhead, which happens to be the West end of the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. This entry was down river a bit further than I expected but access and facilities were good and taking in more of the Rogue River was a plus. Overall I think we stretched our trip into about a 40 mile hike. We completed the trip in three and a half days but probably should have stretched that to 4+. We could have used more information on campsite options.
We set out toward the beginning of the loop heading up the Rogue River on Sunday May 1st. A beautiful day that pushed temps up into the 80s. The trail is cut out of the North bank or wall of the canyon presenting you with moderate difficulty and plenty of river vistas.
The waterfall at Flora Dell would be wonderful for a cool dip. Obviously water is no issue, however, you rely on tributaries since direct access to the Rogue was generally not easy. On this beautiful Sunday we passed many backpackers, hikers and runners heading down river. However, we never encountered another human for the remainder of the trip. I will confirm that poison oak is plentiful until you get above 2000 feet. And yes, I had to deal with a number of ticks, humans can handle this, but I would not take a dog.
We decided to take the shortcut at Brushy Bar over Devil’s Backbone, a decision we questioned after comparing the added vertical to the shorter distance. Camping along the Rogue is primarily geared for the boaters but the camping area at Blossom Creek was perfect for our first night. Complete with a Bear Box and access to the Rogue for some fishing, it was excellent.
We definitely pushed ourselves on this first day but all was good. The second day took us through Marial to the Tucker Flat Trailhead in order to head up the West Fork of Mule Creek.
From our GPS PDF Map on Avenza it was obvious that water sources could be scarce as we climbed toward the top of the Mule Creek Trail.
It appeared that the site marked Camp Hope would be the most likely for water but there were 2 other streams just before there still flowing. The first is where we interrupted a black bear but he scurried off into the forest. Unfortunately the trail in this area does not offer great campsites so we pretty much camped on the trail. A thunderstorm accelerated our efforts to set up camp. Again we probably pushed ourselves a bit more then we would have liked on a warm day climbing 2500 ft.
The next day was focused on experiencing Hanging Rock, and it was all that I had hoped it would be.
I would rank it as one of the Top 10 scenic locations in Oregon.
After lunch on the Rock we had the Panther Ridge Trail to cover and then a decision about how far down the Clay Hill trail we could make before our energy gave out. The 4.25 mile 3000 foot descent back down to the Rogue to complete the loop is tough on old knees.
About half way down we found just enough flat ground to setup our tents just before the rains opened up for the evening. This was another tough day since we had to carry extra water knowing that there would be no more available before we needed to stop.
The fourth and final day presented essentially a downhill hike back to our car but it was another 9 miles with plenty of climbs for two old guys with tired bodies. Hiking the same segment on the Rogue River Trail was entirely different in the opposite direction. Overall this was a perfect time to do the loop.
The wildflowers were plentiful, bugs were still sleepy and temperatures were moderate.