Just a short drive outside of Portland, Oregon, is the state’s highest peak. Mount Hood is 11,239′ and it’s the perfect destination for your next weekend adventure. Mount Hood is one of the most climbed glaciated peaks in the world; it’s estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 people attempt to reach its summit per year. The most popular way up the mountain is via the Hogsback Route on the south side of the mountain, and while many climbers stage their summit attempts from campgrounds down the mountain or by car camping in the Timberline Lodge parking lot, a decked-out camper van is an ideal basecamp.
The moderate (basic mountaineering skills required) and fairly non-technical nature of Mount Hood’s Hogsback Route, combined with easy access via a well-maintained road running to the Timberline Lodge at just under 6,000 feet, make this trip popular with both novice and expert mountaineers alike, but the free car camping in the Timberline Lodge parking lot and 24-hour bathrooms at the “Climbers Cave” just outside the Wy’East Day Lodge make this the perfect place to park a camper van and stage a climb.
If access to one of the world’s most sought-after summits and free camping isn’t enough, the Wy’East Day Lodge, located just a short walk from the parking lot, features a shop that sells everything from magazines (perfect for killing time while waiting out fickle Pacific Northwest weather) to touristy tees that help memorialize your climb. The lodge also features a handful of fireplaces which deliver an easy way to dry out soggy post-climb layers or to simply escape the tight confines of the van. And if you don’t feel like cooking, you can always hit up the Wy’East Cafe for a bite to eat. Most importantly, inside the day lodge is the Y’Bar, which has saved more than one summit celebration when someone forgot to pack a few post-climb beers.
With so many people car camping in the parking lot and such easy access to amenities in the Wy’East Day Lodge, you might wonder why you would choose a van over simply sleeping in your car or pitching a tent further down the mountain. One great reason for sleeping in the parking lot, especially for those not accustomed to sleeping at elevation, is that at roughly 6,000 feet it provides a chance to acclimatize. Most people’s sleep quality suffers while at altitude and the homey interior and comfortable bed found in one of our van rentals goes a long way to ensure you’re ready to make the 4-8 hour trip, over almost seven miles, while gaining 5,000 feet in elevation.
Another great reason for choosing a van is the preferred times for climbing Mount Hood. Many climbers leave the Timberline parking lot for Mount Hood’s summit between 11 PM and 1 AM, as an early departure helps avoid rockfall high on the mountain and soft snow on the descent. It also helps avoid the crowds and subsequent bottlenecks that come with climbing such a popular mountain. Which reminds us, do this trip on a weekday if you’re seeking a more solitary experience. Pick up your camper van in Portland on a Friday afternoon and you can be catching some quality Zzzs at the Timberline parking lot before the sun sets. Even better, there is no hassle of waking up and driving to the trailhead—it’s right there, just across the parking lot.
Equally great is returning from a successful summit to a decked-out camper van. Depending on when you get back, you can pop celebratory beers from the fridge, whip up a quick breakfast in the kitchen, or simply go back to sleep in the even-more-comfortable-after-summiting bed. If you feel like you have a lot of calories to replace, the breakfast buffet served in the Timberline Lodge is delicious.
Another great aspect of using a self contained camper van is the ability to sit out bad weather. As if the weather in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t trying enough, thanks to Mount Hood’s elevation and prominence, it rises 7,000 feet higher than any peak within 70 miles. The mountain’s weather can change in an instant, and sun one minute can be snow the next.
And, if you’re lucky enough to get great weather and able to blast up and down the mountain, a fully stocked camper van is perfect for celebrating your success. Since the ideal season for climbing Mount Hood is early May through mid-July, the weather is usually great, especially if you head to the campgrounds down the mountain. Break out the drinks, snacks and a Helinox Sunset Chair and give your tired legs a break.
If you’re not quite done adventuring yet, but looking for something a little more mellow, try Lost Lake Campground and dip your legs in its soothing waters or break out the fishing pole for some angling and try to catch dinner.
After a big weekend exploring Mount Hood, make the short drive back to Portland and begin planning your next 4×4 camper van adventure.
If you’re interested in climbing Mount Hood but don’t feel comfortable with your climbing skills, get a guide. Timberline Mountain Guides guide trips on the mountain from May to July.
Words by Tim Peck