The Twin Lakes and Palmateer Point Loop at Mt. Hood National Forest is a beautiful moderate to difficult 12.8-mile forested loop hike that takes you past two mountain lakes, a viewpoint, and the Barlow Road.
You can make any number of loop options here, including dozens of ways to shorten or lengthen your hike. The forest is primarily a typical pacific northwest montane forest, with a huckleberry and vine maple understory. In early fall, the huckleberries are abundant, and in late fall, the huckleberries turn a brilliant orange. This hike is mostly located within the Mount Hood Wilderness Area, so special wilderness rules apply.
From the Frog Lake (Pacific Crest / PCT) Trailhead, just off of NF-2610, start hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) northbound, heading northeast, toward Twin Lakes. Ascend a major switchback, then soon come to a junction with the southern end of the Twin Lakes Trail #495. The trail so far is wide and in shaded forest.
At the junction, keep straight on the Pacific Crest Trail to do the loop clockwise. You will return on the other trail here. Continue on a long, flat stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, gradually rising up a small rise, before heading gently down to a junction with the northern end of the Twin Lakes Trail #495. You can return on this trail to shorten the hike, but you will miss out on Palmateer Point. The PCT throughout this section is partially shaded, but more open around the highest point. Lots of huckleberry growing in the understory.
From the junction, keep straight on the Pacific Crest Trail, quickly reaching the junction with the Palmateer Trail #482. This is the trail to take to continue the loop, and you can take it now to shorten the hike..., or do what I did and continue on the PCT northbound to reach the Barlow Pass Trailhead–an alternate trailhead to start the loop from, too, if you want. The trail barely loses any elevation as it makes a beeline for the trailhead.
At the Barlow Pass Trailhead, check out the remnants of the historic Barlow Pass Road that crosses right through where a picnic table now lies. There are several interpretive/memorial signs here too, marking the Barlow Road.
Make your way back down the PCT, back to the junction with the Palmateer Trail #482. Turn left onto this trail, then shortly pass a junction with the Devil's Half Acre Trail #482A on your left. Keep right, staying on the Palmateer Point Trail. The trail is more open and narrower, but never difficult to follow.
After a while, reach the junction with the Palmateer Point Trail departing to the left. The Palmateer Trail #482 angles right. Make a left onto the Palmateer Point Trail, and make the very short ascent up to the overlook. From the open top, take in the views of Mount Hood and the vast Barlow Creek valley below. NF-3530 running down along the valley bottom closely follows the original route of the Barlow Road.
Head back down the way you came up, back down to the junction with the Palmateer Trail #482. Make a left onto this trail, continuing down the trail. Reach a junction with Trail #495 Spur Trail 2, departing to the right. You have two choices here. Take the more maintained, easier route, or take the slightly more scenic, but less maintained (more brushy and hard to follow) trail. Both are of similar distance. To make the easier option, turn right onto the spur trail to meet up with the Twin Lakes Trail #495, then turn left, down to the Twin Lakes. To do the slightly more scenic (and harder to follow) option, continue on the Palmateer Trail #482 (signs here also denote it as "Palmateer View Trail #482," or as simply "Trail 482." This section of trail is also closed to horses, according to the sign. Probably because of how narrow it is, plus the side-angle stepping it requires. This route is the one shown on the GPS track, and the one I chose to hike. It adds an element of interest, to an otherwise monotone forest hike.
Continuing down the Palmateer (Palmateer View) Trail, it gradually ascends and descends multiple times through sometimes tall, overgrown huckleberry shrubs and brush. This section is notably greener and "wetter" than much of the rest of the loop hike up to this point, too. After a bit of ascending, it traverses along the side of a ridge separating the trail from the Upper Twin Lake. The trail grows increasingly more open, passing a limited rock overlook over the Boulder Creek valley, then descends gently down to the Upper Twin Lake, and joining up with the Twin Lakes Trail #495 (the meeting point with the "easier" option mentioned earlier). Campsites here, and you can even make a loop around the lake on social trails.
From Upper Twin Lake, take the Twin Lakes Trail #495 from the seasonal lake outlet on the south end of the lake, down the mountain. After a quick descent over two to three switchbacks, reach the Lower Twin Lake. A short use trail departs on the left down to the lake's edge, and you can even make a loop around the lake too. Many campsites here too. Continue on the Twin Lakes Trail #495, skirting around and above the lake, gently ascending to meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn left (southbound) onto the PCT. From here, it is just retracing your steps back down the PCT to the Frog Lake Trailhead, where the hike began.
Hikers and backpackers can find parking at the coordinates provided. The parking lot is large enough to accommodate a few dozen vehicles.
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