McNeil Point, Mt Hood
An eleven-mile hike from the Top Spur trailhead to McNeil Point shelter and above on the north side of Mount Hood on a sunny, 80-degree late-August day, with no forest fires in the area sending up smoke. The Timberline Trail ascends gently mostly under a tree canopy from Top Spur to the McNeil Point junction, with two steep meadows offering spectacular views as McNeil Point comes into sight. The McNeil Point trail offers great views and varying terrain as it works its way across the mountain side and up.
Even this late in August, plenty of wildflowers are still in bloom: lousewort, paintbrush, giant mountain aster, bistort, monkey flower, lupine, western pasque flower, goldenrod and more, plus blue huckleberries for snacking and red berries on occasional devil's club, bunchberry, and mountain ash along the trail. No more avalanche lilies or heather blossoms.
The rock shelter at 6,100 feet on McNeil Point was built as one of a series of shelters on the Timberline Trail during its construction in the early 1930s. However, planners soon relocated the trail to a lower elevation, bypassing the shelter, apparently because the route to the shelter had snow too long into the summer and would be difficult to maintain--obvious enough at one section where the trail has crumbled away as it crosses a rock outcropping. The shelter had been completed before the trail realignment, so it's still there as a wonderful destination for hikers wanting to go well above the Timberline Trail.
The view from the shelter is excellent, but it was worth going up the trail above the shelter for even better views. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and even Mt. Rainier appeared on the horizon, with cloud covers obscuring the tops of Adams and Rainier as the afternoon progressed. Dozens and dozens of forested ridge lines stretched into the distance. Directly below and slightly to the east, the burned trees of the 2011 Dollar Lake fire have turned Vista Ridge an aged gray against the deep green of the other ridges. Lost Lake shimmered a deep blue.