The long drive and short time on this trail may deter some, but the view from the top of Chinidere Mountain is one of most spectacular in the area. On a clear day, you'll enjoy a 360-degree view of all the surrounding volcanoes, canyons, valleys, and even a bit of desert.
From the parking area, head toward the information sign through the campground and follow the signs for the Wahtum Express. This leads to 250 wooden steps that descend to the edge of Wahtum Lake. "Wahtum" is a local Native American word that translates to "pond" or "body of water."
At the bottom of the stairs, look for a big tree with two Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) signs that stands next to a lakeside campsite. Turn right here to head north on the PCT. This is the beginning and end of the loop. Going left here would lead to a much steeper climb to the top.
The trail gradually climbs through a forest of hemlocks that is punctuated with an impressive array of wildflowers and different underbrush ranging from bunchberry, thimbleberry, vanilla leaf, columbine, huckleberry, and salomberry. Occasionally the trail crosses a tiny spring, and after about a mile the trail begins to meander through a more open forest with a beargrass-covered floor and a seemingly infinite number of trees. At 1.9 miles you will reach the junction with the Herman Creek Trail.
Keep heading straight for another tenth of a mile to find the Chinidere Cutoff Trail that descends to the left, which will be the return route; continue another 100 feet and find a Chinidere Mountain sign and stay right to leave the PCT and begin the climb to the peak. You will gaining about 400 feet in just a third of a mile. Be sure to watch for a side trail that leads into the open at one of the first switchbacks. Take this detour to find a rocky scramble up the west side of the mountain and some interesting rock benches. Otherwise, continue on the true trail to reach the top.
The trail narrows as it climbs a ridge that is lush with wildflowers. Mount Hood becomes visible just as the trail reaches the ridge, and the breathtaking, 360-degree view can be fully enjoyed once the summit is reached. Look to the east to see Wahtum Lake and the Hood River Valley. To the left is Dalles Mountain and the deserts of Central Oregon. The big peak with all the radio towers is Mount Defiance, the highest point in the Columbia River Gorge, and to the left is Mount Adams. The ridge that sits just in front of Mount Adams is Tomlike Mountain, and off in the distance are Mount Rainer and Mount St. Helens. Down below to the west is Eagle Creek Canyon and Tanner Butte in the distance beyond. Look for rusty cables left over from an old Forest Service fire lookout and man made pits and tent sites constructed from the surrounding rocks.
To head back to the parking area, follow the trail back to the Chinidere Cutoff Trail that drops off to the right. It is a steep descent to the lake, and the trail will cross a stream or two depending on the time of year. A pipe that was once used to supply water to the some of the campsites on the north shore of the lake will become exposed on the way down. The trail passes several marked campsites before it crosses the East Fork of Eagle Creek on a logjam. The trail then intersects with the top of Eagle Creek National Recreation Trail. Stay left to continue around Wahtum lake, passing more campsites and a spot on the lake's shore that provides a view up to the peak of Chinidere Mountain. Find the steps back up the Wahtum Express to the parking area just past the big tree with the PCT signs.