Paradise Park from Timberline Lodge Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Timberline Lodge Trailhead
- Ending Point: Paradise Park
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Distance: 12.1 miles round-trip to Paradise Park
- Elevation gain: 2300 feet
- High Point: 6,080 feet
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Seasons: Summer and early Fall
- Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
- Backpackable: Yes - follows the Timberline Trail
- Crowded: Summer weekends to Zigzag Canyon overlook
Paradise Park is best known for its wildflower displays in July and August, but this hike is a classic mountain trek on many levels. In addition to the mountain vistas and wildflowers, the route passes several waterfalls and offers unique views of the high country south and west of Mount Hood. Though popular, the crowds thin out at the daunting lip of the Zigzag Canyon, and the trail is rarely crowded on weekdays. The trip also has the distinction of beginning at Timberline Lodge, which offers overnight lodging and meals.
There is a maze of nature trails surrounding Timberline Lodge. Pick any on the east side of the lodge, and climb uphill to the generally well-signed Timberline Trail (no. 600), which is also the Pacific Crest Trail (no. 2000) along this stretch. Turn left, and pass above the lodge and under chairlifts as the trail gradually descends through meadows. Though the cliffs of Mount Hood are ever-present above, the view also includes Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters, to the south.
At 1.2 miles, the trail makes a brief descent into rocky Little Zigzag Canyon, an easy, bridgeless crossing. For the next mile, the trail descends into forest, passing the Hidden Lake Trail (no. 779) on the left. There is a campsite (but no drinking water) below the trail just before this junction. There's another campsite (with no drinking water) below the trail in another 0.1 mile.
The Timberline Trail then curves across a series off sloping meadows before suddenly reaching Zigzag Overlook, the lip of gaping Zigzag Canyon at 2.2 miles. The view includes the meadows of Paradise Park, across the canyon, and rugged Mississippi Head, the mesa-like formation at the head of the canyon. This would make a good destination for an easy hike (Zigzag Overlook from Timberline Lodge Hike).
You will notice a faint, unmarked trail going steeply up. Adventurous people could take this up for better views. There is no water up there anywhere and in the summer it can get quite hot because there's no shelter. This is also the return for an off trail hike around Mississippi Head as described below.
From the Zigzag Overlook, the trail quickly descends a cool, forested slope for one mile to the bottom of Zigzag River Crossing. The stream is generally easy to cross without wet feet, but can occasionally present an obstacle during periods of heavy snowmelt. Be sure to look upstream for dramatic Zigzag Falls, which often forms snow caves at its base.
From the canyon floor, the trail climbs steadily, crossing a side stream, then reaching a junction with the Paradise Park Loop Trail at 3.9 miles. Turn right here (you will be returning on the other fork) and continue climbing through switchbacks.
This hike goes to the end of Paradise Park and then back on the Timberline Trail for a total of 12.1 miles round trip. If you're too tired for this, at any point you can turn around and retrace your steps for a shorter hike.
Another off trail route goes steeply up here. You could go for about 1 mile to 7000' on a relatively easy, but steep trail. A further route, possibly dangerous, goes up and around Mississippi Head, the distinctive cliff above and to the right. See Above Paradise Park.
Back to our hike, from the Paradise Park Trail junction, continue on the Paradise Loop Trail. Cross the South Fork of Lost Creek at the 5.4 mile mark. This is a reliable source of drinking water year-round. A little further are the remains of the Paradise Park shelters in a grove of ancient mountain hemlock. There are a couple campsites here, but better sites are ahead. Inexperienced people that are tired from the hike and drop their packs right here, so these sites are often taken.
The route continues to the right here, curving through exceptionally scenic meadows, punctuated by rocky bluffs and Mount Hood towering above. There are also excellent views of the rugged Zigzag Mountain arm of the Mount Hood Wilderness, to the west, and the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, to the southwest.
Next, the trail crosses the North Fork of Lost Creek. This is another reliable drinking water stream. There are a number of nice campsites here. You can go straight up at the stream. You can go a little further and then down a trail to the site of an old lookout. You can keep going down to another more sheltered site, and keep going down from there to the Pacific Crest Trail. You can look down the Rushing Water Creek Canyon and see the Pacific Crest Trail traversing the slope. A little further on the Paradise Loop Trail is another trail going down to a campsite. A little further is a trail going up - in about 0.1 mile is a huge rock, maybe 20 feet high, with a campsite next to it (very exposed in bad weather). There are two plaques on the rock memorializing two former Forest Service employees. You can continue up from here pretty easily to 7000', and connect up to the route around Mississippi Head mentioned above. Further on the Paradise Loop Trail, you cross the headwaters of Rushing Water Creek, a seasonal source of drinking water, and a couple more campsites below the trail.
The Paradise Loop Trail comes within a few hundred feet of Paradise Branch canyon, before turning downhill in a switchback. If you have the energy and interest, walk through low alpine scrub and meadows to the edge of the canyon for a sweeping view of Mount Hood, Reid Glacier and several waterfalls on the Paradise Branch.
After taking in the view, return to the main trail, and begin a gradual decent back to the Pacific Crest Trail, reaching a well-marked junction at 6.3 miles. Note that the distance from here to the Timberline Lodge is the same on both the Timberline Trail and the Paradise Loop Trail. The Paradise Loop Trail route has an extra 400' elevation gain and loss.
Turn left, going south, on the Timberline Trail and curve through a mix of forests and small meadows, passing a tall, wispy waterfall on Rushing Water Creek, and a pair of energetic waterfalls on Lost Creek, at the 6.8 mile mark. Just after, when the Timberline Trail reaches the south bank, there is a faint trail going up to Paradise Park.
Continue on the Timberline Trail to Lost Creek Crossing. There are campsites above the trail before and after Lost Creek. From here, the route gradually descends through forest to the junction with the Paradise Park Trail (no. 778) at 8.0 miles, then another 0.2 mile to the earlier junction with the Paradise Park Loop Trail. Retrace your steps here for the remaining 3.9 miles to the trailhead at Timberline Lodge.
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