The Vista Ridge Trail begins a little rough and quickly transitions into a soft dirt path before hikers meet a registration box. This is where hikers fill out a self-issue permit, as one is required to enter the Mount Hood Wilderness from May 15 through October 15. Beyond this registration point the forest of Douglas firs gives way to the skeletal remains of trees burned by the 2012 Dollar Lake Fire. The dead tree forest has its own beauty in the spring and early summer when butterflies dance around the wildflowers and bird songs bring it back to life. Blankets of avalanche lilies, purple lupine, mountain owl clover, Indian paintbrush and beargrass will be your companions along your hike, filling in the void of the forest and the meadows throughout. You'll enjoy spectacular views of Mount Hood as the trail heads straight toward and then around the mountain. Turn and look behind you for views of Mount Adams. Also, make sure you take in the view over Wy’east Basin and the Hood River Valley before departing from the Vista Ridge Trail.
To reach Cairn Basin, take trail 600H to Eden Park or continue up to the Timberline Trail and follow the sign to Cairn Basin. This section can be done as a loop on your way back to the trailhead. Whatever route you select, be sure to watch for Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier from the trail in addition to the ever-present meadows and Mount Hood views. The trail meets up at Cairn Basin after crossing Ladd Creek. There is no bridge here, and the terrain can be a little more difficult on the upper trail as compared to the Eden Park Trail. This creek can be powerful, and it may not be safe to cross if there is a lot of glacial runoff. Visit the stone shelter and wander around taking in the views of the mountain and meadows filled with flowers. The Civilian Conservation Corps built stone shelters that shielded workers from the wind, rain and snow as they built the Timberline Trail in the 1930s. These shelters are all stout and basic structures consisting of a dirt floor, a metal roof, and a fireplace. Three of the original six shelters still stand today. There are several campsites here as well.
You can return from here or extend your hike on to McNeil Point. Those who continue will cross another creek, which is smaller than Ladd Creek. As you hike up the ridge you will be face to face with the mountain and will have beautiful views behind you. Cross the boulder field and reach the McNeil Point Shelter soon after. Take a break here and enjoy the views before returning by the way you came or by creating a loop with the alternate trail.