- Rating: Moderate
- Activity: See Wildflowers
- Distance: 6.5 miles round-trip
- Time: 3½ hours
Wildflower lovers would do well to steal a July afternoon away from Portland’s rose blooms and seek out Mount Hood’s impromptu floral display on Laurel Hill, where white and pink rhododendrons create a summer spectacle. Oregon Trail settlers hoping to avoid treacherous rapids on the Columbia River once used ropes and pulleys to navigate this steep, three-mile section of the Pioneer Bridle Trail, which today passes abandoned mine shafts en route to 30-foot-wide Little Zigzag Falls. Head back early, and you can stop at the Zigzag Ranger Station, where the Wy’East Rhododendron Garden hosts 50 varieties of flower in a wild festival of color.
ROUTE: The trail begins at the wooden sign marking Pioneer Bridle Trail No. 766 on the north side of U.S. 26, just east of the junction with Forest Service Road 2639 (signs on U.S. 26 direct drivers to FS Road 39), and winds east through the rhododendrons. Within one mile, easy switchbacks mark a 700-foot ascent to the top of the hill, where an old mine shaft opens deep into the earth. After the shaft, you’ll pass a rocky slope—home to scurrying pikas—and soon come to a tunnel built in 1935. Take the tunnel underneath the now-abandoned Mount Hood Highway, and follow the trail over a small footbridge and onto the deserted pavement. The old road heads northeast for 200 yards to the Little Zigzag Falls Trailhead. This easy 0.3-mile trail traces Little Zigzag Creek to a wooden bench, the perfect spot to pause and watch the foaming falls crash onto mossy rocks below.
DIRECTIONS: Follow U.S. 26 east for 45 miles to a pullout on the north side of the highway, six miles past the Zigzag Ranger Station, just east of Forest Service Road 39 (NW Forest Pass required, $5).