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Complete Guide to Hiking the McNeil Point Trail

The McNeil Point Trail is one of the premier hard hikes near Portland, Oregon. It climbs to the flanks of the ever-present Mount Hood and provides incredible views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens.


The trail is incredibly popular, with hikers willing to spend at least 6 hours in Mount Hood National Forest. The well-maintained trail weaves through hemlock and ash trees, circles Bald Mountain, and out of now where shows off the great western flank of Mount Hood. Many a hiker has found themselves stunned as Wy'east showed itself through the dwindling trees as you near McNeil Buttress.


For most people, it'll take at least 6, if not closer to 8 hours, to complete the entire hike. If you choose to descend via the climber's trail, you'll face another obstacle that may add time or cut time off from your day out.



Getting to McNeil Point Trail

Use the map below to navigate the McNeil Point Trail, which starts at the Top Spur trailhead.





Best Time to Hike McNeil Point Trail and Conditions

The best time to hike the McNeil Point Trail is between April and November. Using the trail throughout the year is possible, but it is far more difficult in the winter season and requires winter experience and gear, including snowshoes, an ice ax, and even a rope. The winds can be heavy and quite dangerous.



McNeil Point Hiking Trail Map

Here is a map of the McNeil Point trail, including important waypoints.




What to Know About the McNeil Point Trail

  • Permit: Northwest Forest Pass is needed to park at the trailhead.

  • Dogs: Dogs are allowed on the McNeil Point trail but must be kept on a leash. Some dogs might struggle with the rocky terrain.

  • The trail can be made into a loop if you have the time and experience.

  • There is a pit toilet at the trailhead.


View of the west side of Mount Hood along the McNeil Point Trail
View of the west side of Mount Hood along the McNeil Point Trail


McNeil Point Trail Overview

Here are the key facts you need to know to hike the McNeil Point Trail, including elevation gain, mileage, and how much time you'll need to carve out for your trek.


The McNeil Point Trail gains nearly 3,000 feet as you trek along this gorgeous out-and-back or loop adventure (more about this later!). It originates at the Top Spur Trailhead, traverses past Bald Mountain (often the destination of other hikers), and then up to an old rock shelter just below McNeil Point.


It should be noted that the trail is closer to 7 miles if you turn around near McNeil Buttress rather than continuing on to the shelter and then using the climber's trail to descend.


​Distance

Elevation Gain

Time Required

Difficulty

​10 miles

​2,700

​6 hours

​6/10

The hike starts at the Top Spur trailhead near a well-marked trail and large parking area. It's not uncommon to see cars lined up hundreds of feet down the road when this wider area fills up.


There is a pit toilet at the trailhead that's best avoided if you can manage it.



The first part of the trail gains elevation steadily while moving through a beautiful, open forest that includes hemlocks and fir trees. Also, keep an eye open for huckleberries! The path is rocky here but is easily navigated if you keep an eye on your feet.


One of the many fantastic views of Mount Hood along the McNeil Point trail
One of the many fantastic views of Mount Hood along the McNeil Point trail


Just up the trail, you need to turn right on the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT; take this for 0.1 miles before turning either left or right.


The right-side trail takes you around Bald Mountain and then across its eastern slope. Mt Hood, or Wy'east appears directly ahead and is spectacular no matter what time of year it is. This path is slightly longer but is far more scenic than the left-hand trail. If you do decide to go left, you'll walk through the still beautiful but repetitive forest.



Some hikers choose to turn around here, opting for a far shorter day out but with a great payoff. If you continue on, you'll weave through now more-spaced-out trees until you break out of the forest and see another fantastic view of Mount Hood.


The trail continues straight on, gaining little elevation before you pass through a campground with water. A few switchbacks get you to the top of McNeil Buttress. This is another great turnaround point if you don't want to make the day into a loop. In fact, this is where most hikers choose to turn around.




Ascending towards Mount Hood along the McNeil Point Trail
Ascending towards Mount Hood along the McNeil Point Trail

The next section of the trail is harder to see and more difficult than before. It's also rockier and can sometimes disappear if any snow is left this low.


Even though your path has become slightly more difficult, the views of Rainier, Adams, and Helens, some of the best mountains to climb in the Pacific Northwest, are hard to look away from.


The McNeil Point rock shelter, which would do little to truly shelter you from a storm, is right before your option descent to a climber's trail.


Did You Know? The term "climber's trail" is used to describe an unmaintained, steep, hard-to-navigate path that most hikers do not use.


This is not a suitable descent, or ascent for that matter if you fear heights or lack experience on a steep, sandy, and rocky trail. If you're not confident in this kind of terrain, this "shortcut" may take longer.


But it is the more exciting way down! This path will connect you back to the main trail. From here, make your way back out and to your car the same way you came in.



McNeil Point Camping

The McNeil Point trail is home to an array of wonderful dispersed camping spots. The most popular area is four miles into the trail. It's in an open meadow with running water nearby and incredible views of the surrounding hills.


There are a few areas around the trail, such as near the lake, that have very clear "No Camping" signs. These are fragile areas that the Parks Service is trying to maintain.



FAQs

Is McNeil Point a hard hike?

Yes, for most hikers, the McNeil Point trail is difficult. It's long at 10 miles and gains close to 3,000 feet of elevation. Its difficulty is also increased if you choose to use the climber's trail to create a loop.


How long is the McNeil Point trail?

The McNeil Point trail is 10 miles long if you decide to descend the climber's trail and make your day hike a complete loop. The hike also gains around 3,000 feet in elevation and may have snow on it as late as August.


Where is the McNeil Point trail?

The McNeil Point trail is in Welches, Oregon in Mount Hood National Forest. Visitors can find the trail by driving down Lolo Pass Road and then getting onto FS road 1828 or Muddy Fork Road and taking this up to the Top Spur trailhead.



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