Not to be confused with the there-and-back ski up to the Clear Lake Butte Lookout, this loop runs all the way around Clear Lake Butte and features a side trip to Little Crater Lake. At just over 12 miles, the loop is considerably longer than the lookout adventure, though the minor elevation gain keeps the loop a very doable course for intermediate skiers with the time to do it.
To begin the clockwise loop from the Skyline Sno-Park, look for the Forest Road 42 trailhead at the northwest corner of the parking lot. Both the Sno-Park and the surrounding trails are the home ground for the Mount Hood Snowmobile Club, which also volunteers to groom and maintain the area, so be aware that you will be sharing the course with snowmobilers. Keep to the sides of the trail when possible, and know that the entire loop uses forest roads that are more than wide enough to share.
Stay on Forest Road 42 past the road to Clear Lake Butte until you reach Forest Road 58, and turn right. A few words on the route here: in low snow moments, such as in the spring or during a low snow year, the roads beyond the Clear Lake Lookout may become bare in spots, though it may be possible to ski on the road shoulder. The junction of Forest Roads 44 and 58 is on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, so try to stick to the road. There are some junctions on Forest Road 58 that are not clearly signed, so take a map and keep track of your progress to avoid unintentional exploration.
If you have the time and energy, from the junction with Forest Road 44, continue for approximately two miles on 58 to the turn off for the Little Crater Lake campground. This little detour is not only beautiful, it is the halfway point of the loop and a good place to stop for lunch. The artesian spring-fed lake is very small, and there is no crater; the name actually comes from the water’s clarity, which is reminiscent of Crater Lake. The Mount Hood Snowmobile Club deserves recognition for building the trail and viewing platforms around the lake.
Returning to Forest Road 58, turn left and continue for approximately 2 miles. Just before the junction for roads to Timothy Lake you will find Forest Road 2660 leading uphill to the right. Make the climb and stay on 2660 for nearly 1 mile, then turn right onto Forest Road 4290. This stretch of the loop runs just south of Clear Lake, though there are close up views of the lake from the road. Forest Road 4290 climbs slightly and turns southward, away from the lake, just before it returns you to Forest Road 42. Turn left to return to the Sno-Park.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.