Updated: Nov 28, 2022
A short, snowy hike to a large lake in Mount Hood National Forest.
Lake Name: Wahtum Lake Lake Coordinates: 45.5820, -121.7943 Lake Elevation: 4000′ Access: Trail Distance: 0.53 miles (round trip) Elevation Range: 3717′ to 4050′ Ascent/Descent: +215 ft / -240 ft Trails: Wahtum Express Trail No 406J and PCT #2000 Trail Type: In and out Note: I just hiked down to the lake’s edge and back out. This could be made into a loop trail around the lake, but it doesn’t follow along the edge the whole way. Date hike was done: 11-10-20
My mom and I decided we wanted to try going to Wahtum Lake before snow made it impossible to access. We had to drive around Mt Hood, taking I-84 to Hood River instead of driving over the mountain. The roads that lead up to the lake were windy, but paved, which was a pleasant surprise. The last 2.5 miles of driving toward Wahtum Lake there was snow everywhere.
We had to stop and put chains on the car to be able to keep going forward. We got to the trailhead and campground area above Wahtum Lake where we were the only ones there. It was very cold, windy, and snowing. We bundled up and tried to figure out where the trailhead was. There was a good 5″ of snow on the ground. It was a snowy winter wonderland.
With all the snow and no tracks in the snow, I couldn’t find the correct trailhead to start from, so I cut through a campsite and hiked to the wilderness sign I could see in the distance. At the wilderness sign there was a trail marker and we were able to follow the trail all the way down to the lake’s edge. The trail rapidly descended down to the lake.
The Wahtum Express No. 406J Trail really is an “express” down. The reason the trail is an express all the way down is because it’s a staircase the entire way. There are 256 steps and the trail is 0.2 miles one way. There is an alternate trail for horses.
It was quite the fun little workout. The steps were uneven and varied in height. The Wahtum Express Trail met up with the PCT which wrapped around the lake. There was an easy lake’s edge access point right along the PCT. I was surprised the lake wasn’t frozen over or even starting to freeze. It was foggy and snowy. I was amazed at how large the lake was. There was a very chilling wind blowing across the lake. It was 0.25 miles from the trailhead to the lakes edge.
We decided not to do the loop that goes around the lake since it doesn’t follow the shoreline the whole way. We climbed back up the stairs, it was quite the leg workout in the snow. I was able to follow the “official” trail to the trailhead instead of cutting through the campsite again.
The snow was light and fluffy and wasn’t packed down. We were able to do the hike without microspikes or snow shoes (not that snowshoes would work on the stairs.) If it wasn’t fresh snow, I’d highly recommend bringing along microspikes.
This could be made into a longer hike by looping around the lake on the PCT, but it doesn’t follow along the lakes edge the whole way and there is elevation gain.
Trailhead (Wahtum Express Trail): 45.57782, -121.79326
Wahtum Express Trail & PCT Trail Junction: 45.57932, -121.79442
Wahtum Lake edge: 45.57945, -121.79435
How to get there (from Dee, OR)
Take NF 13 out of Dee for 4.9 miles. The road V’s, stay to the right and continue on NF 13 for 4.6 miles. Turn right on FS 1310 and proceed for 5.7 miles. The trailhead and campground are to the right.
Lake Coordinates: 45.5820, -121.7943
Hood River Ranger District map location: T1N R8E S10
My Wild Adventure is not responsible for your safety, any possible injury, or anything that happens if you choose to follow anything on this website. Maps are not intended to be used for navigational purposes, but to give an overview of the route taken. By going outdoors you are solely responsible to know your strengths and limitations, be aware of current conditions and proceed with the appropriate caution. My Wild Adventure is not responsible for your choices and the outcome. Reference my disclaimer for more information on being responsible outdoors.