With a long and steady climb, this trail makes for a great workout for runners.
Cast Creek Trail #773 is a steady 5+ mile trail leading up to Zigzag Mountain on the west side of the Mt. Hood Wilderness, with plenty of switchbacks to help mitigate the grade. The trailhead is in the day use parking area of Riley Horse Campground. Turn to your left (east) when you get into the campground. Do not take the Sandy River Trail. Take the Cast Creek Trail out of the campground, and it soon crosses an old reclaimed road bed near a tributary drainage and then heads up a forested ridgeline to Zigzag Mountain, crossing the head of that same tributary stream. That is the only sign of water on the trail so take plenty of water for this dry 2,500-foot climb to the top of the mountain.
Once at the top of the monotonous, though not punishing, climb to Zigzag Mountain, Cast Creek Trail offers nice views in the rhododendron openings. The trail tops out on the ridgeline and then drops over the other side a short ways to the end of the trail and the intersection with Zigzag Mountain Trail #775
. At this point, you could continue west (right) on Trail #775 for 500 feet to the Cast Lake Trail #796
and continue 1/2 mile to Cast Lake. Or you could turn east (left) on Trail #775 and run the 1/2 mile along the ridgeline to one of the peak points along Zigzag Mountain to get more spectacular views of Mt. Hood and surrounding 360-degree vistas. Return back on the Cast Creek Trail or consider a longer 12 mile loop trail using Zigzag Mountain #775 and Horseshoe Ridge Trail #774
which will return you to Riley Horse Campground just below the entrance.
The Cast Creek Trail is open to horses and some equestrians from the horse camp use the trail. However, this trail receives much less use that other nearby Mt. Hood Wilderness Trails like Burnt Lake and Ramona Falls
. If you encounter horses, those on foot must yield. Step to the downside hill of the trail, give them plenty of leeway, and don’t make sudden movements or loud noises.
Cast Creek Trail is a denser second growth forest of Douglas fir and western hemlock and the shade means there is less undergrowth. However, once you get to the higher elevations with more mountain hemlock and noble fir, there are large openings with rhododendrons, loads of bear grass, lupine, Indian paintbrush columbine and other subalpine wildflowers!