This is the best time of the year — when trails are often crowded, dry and dusty and temperatures climb into the 90s — to take advantage of the county’s many upper-elevation recreational outlets. Stretching between Highway 35 and Dufur, Road 44 is a long-established route through the densely forested transition zone between southern Hood River and Wasco counties.
Among the many dozen back roads and trails that crisscross through the area, Surveyor’s Ridge Trail (#688) is among the oldest and longest and is by far the most scenic.
Surveyor’s Ridge Trail offers several out-and-back and loop options for hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders. In this installment of Get Out, we explore the 13-mile stretch from the south trailhead at Road 620 to the bottom of Oak Ridge Trail at Smullen Road in Mt. Hood.
The trail runs north to south along the ridgeline that separates Hood River and Wasco counties. It starts at about 4,280 feet and ends at about 2,650 feet, and although it has become a popular outing for mountain bikers, it remains a great route on foot. Judging by the signs of larger animals on the trail, it is also still fairly popular on horseback.
Rolling singletrack through thick forests and open meadows, wildflowers and berries lining the trail and sweeping vistas await around every corner. Although it loses elevation overall, the trail is definitely a good hard hike or ride, with plenty of climbing mixed in with rolling downhill sections. It’s not until the last mile or two that the trail heads back downhill toward the highway.
Highlights from the trail include an up-close view of Shellrock Mountain, multiple unobstructed vistas of mounts Hood and Adams, Rainier and St. Helens and the option for a short scramble to the top of Rim Rock; the site of a former lookout tower and one of the best places around to have lunch and a quick siesta.
If you run a shuttle from the bottom of Oak Ridge, the last couple miles of trail consist of steep and rocky switchbacks that will give your knees or brakes a good run for their money. It’s one last burn before the end of a great adventure.
Other options are to start at the bottom and do an out and back; in which case you’d be better served by starting at the trailhead off Road 630 near the power lines. Road 17, also known as Surveyor’s Ridge Road, runs all the way from Pine Mont Drive to Road 44 at Brooks Meadows and is a good option for the way up as it is a steadier grade than the trail. A shorter option is an out and back to the campground at Gibson Prairie, which can be done as an out and back or loop using Road 17.
For an extra workout or as an outing in itself, consider the climb to Bald Butte. The trail heads north from the Road 630 parking area and is a steady climb to the top. Striking views in all directions await as a reward.
Other popular trails in the Road 44 vicinity to check out are: Dog River, Eight Mile, Fifteen Mile, Gunsight Ridge, High Prairie and Knebal Springs.