From Hood River, drive Highway 35 south for 15 miles until reaching the town of Mount Hood. Turn right (west) at an intersection marked for Parkdale. Drive this route for another two miles until making a right at Clear Creek Road in the town of Parkdale. Drive 2.8 miles, turning right (west) on Lawrence Lake Drive. At the lake, turn left onto Road 2840 for one mile, parking where the old Road 650 split from 2840.
From the trailhead, cross Pinnacle Creek and walk the old Road 650 for 1.3 miles, past a sharp bend in the road to the old trailhead (keep an eye out for logs thrown across the road signaling the real start to the trail). Once the trail leaves the old road, it rises through a nice ridge-crest forest of moss-covered trees. After only one mile up the trail, the views of Mt. Hood start to open up, complete with a couple of nice viewpoints along the way that are very nice for breaks. At three miles, the trail crosses a little creek, which may require getting a little wet during the summer when runoff from the melting snow is at its peak, but the crossing should not pose any serious risks. The trail meets Elk Cove at 3.5 miles with great views of Coe Glacier and the north face of the mountain. Great camping sites can be found in the forests at the end of the trail. This area of the Mt. Hood Wilderness is amazing. In my opinion, Elk Cove offers the best views of Mt. Hood, from it's best angle. The wildflower displays are also pretty amazing during certain parts of the summer, so plan to spend lots of time exploring this area.
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Just hiked Trail #631 to Elk Cove this weekend. Still a bit of snow, but the wildflowers are in full bloom: lupine, avalanche lily, indian paintbrush, bear grass, buttercup, and more on the way! There is a forest fire up on Gnarl Ridge that sent a bit of ash over our way with a huge smoke plume.
I came up from cloud cap tailhead and the bridge over eliot stream was still out for the winter making it very hard to cross. Lots of steep snow fields with raging water underneath were unnerving to cross also. No bridge at the coe branch. had to cross it with 34 degree waters up to our knees without being able to see what we were stepping on. I'm sure it'll be safer in a couple of weeks
I've always gotten to Elk Cove via the Vista Ridge Trail's upper trailhead. If you're into less elevation gain but want to get to this spectacular place this might be your best bet. The first mile is hard but once you're up near timberline it is quite easy hiking over to Elk Cove. I've taken people of all skill levels and never had a problem.
FYI, the correct driving directions call for a LEFT turn rather than a RIGHT turn in Parkdale.
>>Drive this route for another two miles until making a right at Clear Creek Road in the town of Parkdale.<<
I visited Elk Cove in mid-July, and it was gorgeous as always. However, I wanted to suggest an alternate trail. Although the Elk Cove trail that Forrest describes here is indeed the most direct way to Elk Cove, the first 1.5 miles on the old gravel road are highly un-scenic, and there is a fair amount of climbing. The Vista Ridge trailhead is app 1500' feet higher than this trailhead, and you don't need to deal with hiking along a gravel road. The overall hiking distance is longer to Elk Cove, but my legs are always less tired when using the Vista Ridge route. Plus, you pass by Wy'East Basin, Dollar Lake, and 99 Ridge, all of which are quite scenic in their own right.
Did this hike at the end of may and it was great! Still a bit of snow but easily negotiated. Avalanch lily's and some other flowers were out in the meadow and more appear to be on the way.
My all-time favorite hike anywhere on Mount Hood! Best seen in late September when the slopes on Barrett Spur turn bright shades of red and orange.
Here is a site with some great photos of Elks Cove. I too Highly recommend this trial. Begining of July is a nice time to go for the flowers. http://web.pdx.edu/~vanessa/hikes/
Elk Cove is fantastic, and this trail provides such easy access.