One of the most breathtaking and difficult hikes in the area, Mount McLoughlin will make you earn its rewarding views. The tallest mountain between the Three Sisters and Mount Shasta, this 9,495-foot young volcano is not for the faint of heart. With over 4,000 feet of elevation gain in just 5 miles, you will definitely feel the burn before you get there.
After leaving the parking area you will pass through a forest of Shasta red fir and mountain hemlock with scattered lodgepole pine and other trees. During this stretch you may be greeted by hungry mosquitoes in the summer months. Coming out of the forested slopes you will see only hardy whitebark pine, a subalpine species. The trail gets progressively steeper until you make it to the false summit, after which you will mostly be on all fours scrambling to the peak. The trail is hard to follow at this point, and it is recommended to stay on the ridge. On your way down, keep Fourmile Lake in sight.
It is favorable to start your trek at sunrise or shortly after to avoid having to run back down at dusk. It can take about three to four hours to climb to the summit and about the same amount of time to come down because of the sketchy and rocky terrain. Plan on eating lunch or a good snack at the top, and bring more water than you think you'll need.
Special equipment is not required in order to make it to the summit. Some people like to bring gloves for the last mile where you will be climbing over large volcanic rocks. Dogs are permitted on the trail, but you won't want to bring them if they are not fit enough to jump at least a few feet onto or over rocks. It is not uncommon for children to do this hike.
Depending on the season, it is wise to bring extra layers as the air temperature is generally 15 degrees cooler at the top. If you are climbing Mount McLoughlin when the peak still carries snow, be advised that it is very difficult to follow the trail. In addition, while weather at the trailhead may be nice, keep in mind that it can be and often is foggy and freezing at the summit. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bring a headlamp in case you don't make it back down as fast as you had planned.
This physically demanding hike will put to the test your favorite hiking shoes. Despite how difficult it may be, it is well worth the effort, not to mention the awesome pictures you'll take with your friends at the summit. And as the saying goes, when preparing to climb a mountain, pack a light heart!