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Timberline Trail around Mount Hood Hike

From Portland Hikers Field Guide

Mount Hood and the massive Zigzag Canyon from the Zigzag Overlook (Tom Kloster)


The Forest Service has officially closed the Eliot branch but there is a possible but difficult detour, see Eliot Creek Crossing. Might be good to do this in the first half so you can turn around if you find it too difficult. (observed 2010/9/2)

The hike around Mount Hood is one of the best hikes in the area. You get great views of Mount Hood, and of the surrounding territory including Cascade volcanoes such as Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. You can see the Coast Range to the west. You can see Portland and the Willamette River. You can see the Columbia River. You can see the desert to the east.

It's really interesting to see how the plants and geology vary as you go as low as 3300' by Ramona Falls through deep forest to barren lava flows as high as 7300' on the east side of the mountain.

Most people take 4 days and 3 nights, beginning and ending at Timberline Lodge, and go clockwise. A number of other alternatives are mentioned below. The detailed description is the same regardless of how you do it. At a few places there are several choices of route which can make the hike a little shorter or longer.

Compared to the "Dilbert World" we're used to, it's refreshing to get into the routine of getting up in the morning, eating, packing up, hiking several stretches with rest stops, finding a place to get water and camp, and repeating. Anyone that has the opportunity should do this hike at least once. You might like it so much that you want to try a longer trip such as the trail around the Three Sisters, the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, or thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Contents

Description

Start in front of the Timberline Lodge. Go west and up on any trail 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 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 of 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.

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 3.6 miles. Turn right here and continue climbing through switchbacks. You could stay on the PCT/Timberline Trail (through forest, only one signed junction go straight, several nice campsites next to Lost Creek) but going through Paradise Park only adds 400' elevation gain and no additional mileage and is well worth it.

On the Paradise Loop Trail, at mile 4.6 is the junction with the Paradise Park Trail and the beginning of the sprawling alpine meadows of Paradise Park. It's 5.5 miles down to the Paradise Park Trailhead near highway 26.

Continue on the Paradise Loop Trail. Cross Lost Creek at the 5 mile mark. This is a reliable source of drinking water year-round. A little further are the remains of the Paradise Park shelter in a grove of ancient mountain hemlock. There are a couple campsites here, but better sites are ahead. Inexperienced people 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 another branch 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. 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.

There are a couple more campsites just 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 Timberline Trail/PCT, reaching a well-marked junction at 6 miles. Turn right (northwest). The trail takes a long stretch steeply down.

At about mile 9 the trail gets close to Rushing Water Creek and several campsites off the trail a bit, next to the creek, which is good for drinking water.

At mile 9.2 the trail crosses the Sandy River. This is one of the more difficult stream crossings around Mount Hood. You have to cross on rocks/logs. There's no bridge. See Tips for Crossing Streams.

In the next mile, up to Ramona Falls, there are maybe a dozen campsites near the trail, explore any side trails you see. Get drinking water from Rushing Water Creek at the Sandy River crossing or at Ramona Falls.

The trail now goes along the Sandy River stream bed. At mile 9.6 is the junction with the Ramona Falls Trail. The PCT goes left, but it's more scenic and slightly shorter to stay right (unless you want to go to the Ramona Falls Trailhead which is left).

At mile 10.1 is Ramona Falls. This is a scenic spot that can be very crowded on summer weekends.

Just after Ramona Falls is a trail junction. The Timberline Trail goes right. The Ramona Falls Trail goes left. You have two choices, you can go either way.

If you choose to go left on the Ramona Falls Trail, it saves 1.6 miles and avoids some difficult trail. At mile 11.7 is a trail junction. The Ramona Falls Trail goes left (a little further is a horse crossing of the Muddy Fork). You want to take the PCT which goes right. There is a short section of trail that is primitive and marked with red flagging. Then there is a bridge across the Muddy Fork. At mile 13.9 on the PCT is the junction with the Timberline Trail where you can join the regular route for this hike as mentioned below (mile 15.5).

If you choose to go right on the Timberline trail, there is a section of narrow trail with a steep cliff and slides and a difficult stream crossing. This was officially closed for a while but as of 2010 was repaired but it's still difficult - better to take the PCT instead. At mile 10.8 is the Yocum Ridge Trail, stay left on the Timberline Trail. At about mile 12 are a couple slides. There's a narrow crossing but it's difficult and possibly dangerous. At mile 12.9 is the crossing of the Muddy Fork one of the more difficult stream crossings around Mount Hood. See Tips for Crossing Streams. There are campsites shortly before this crossing. At mile 14.7 is a junction with the unmarked Bald Mountain Cutoff Trail going right (up). This is a shortcut that bypasses Bald Mountain, saving about 1.4 miles. The only disadvantage to taking this shortcut is you miss Bald Mountain which is very scenic (see Muddy Fork Hike). At mile 15 is the face of Bald Mountain. You get great views south. This is a very steep meadow. The trail is rather narrow with a cliff to one side at some places. If you're afraid of heights this might bother you.

At mile 15.5 is where the two previously mentioned choices meet back up, the junction with the PCT. The PCT south is to the left and the PCT north is straight ahead. You want to go right, staying on the Timberline Trail. There is a campsite right next to the trail to the north. This junction can be very crowded so you don't get much privacy, but if you're pooped after the long hike up from Ramona Falls this site might look pretty good.

At mile 15.9 is the north junction with theBald Mountain Cutoff Trail mentioned earlier, stay straight.

At mile 16.1 is the junction with the McGee Creek Trail which comes in from the left (1.3 miles to the McGee Creek Trailhead). Stay straight.

At mile 17.3 are several viewpoints that look up to Mount Hood and down into the Sandy River Canyon. From the PCT junction to here is pretty crowded summer weekends. There is a place for a tent just above the trail in the brush next to the first viewpoint. There's another place for a tent right at the high point.

At mile 18 is the unmarked junction with the McNeil Point Scramble Trail. You could take this loop for 1.5 miles until it rejoins the Timberline Trail. It's an extra 0.5 miles and 300' of elevation gain. The first part of the trail up to McNeil Point is very difficult - requires you use your hands a bit. There is a year-round drinking water stream and a number of nice campsites.

At mile 18.5 is the signed junction with the Mazama Trail #625 (previously known as the Cathedral Ridge Trail) which comes up from the left. It's 3.1 miles to the Mazama Trailhead.

At mile 18.9 is the signed junction with the McNeil Point Trail. This officially maintained trail is a much easier side path to McNeil Point

At mile 19 is a somewhat difficult stream crossing of one branch of Ladd Creek. This is the outflow of the Glisan Glacier above. This stream is too silty to drink out of, but there's another small stream that would be better, right next to the main stream.

At mile 19.2 is the signed junction with the Eden Park Trail which comes in from the left. You could take this trail, and loop around to the Vista Ridge Trail and then back up to the Timberline Trail taking an extra 0.5 miles, and losing and then regaining 300' of elevation. Eden Park is a very scenic meadow area.

Right after the Eden Park Trail junction is Cairn Basin which goes for about 0.3 miles along the Timberline Trail. There's one of those stone shelters, which could be a life saver in a storm. There are about 6 campsites all along here on both sides. If they're all busy, try taking the trail up past the shelter and you can find a few more campsites.

At the far end of Cairn Basin is another somewhat difficult stream crossing, the other branch of Ladd Creek. It's too silty to drink.

At mile 20.3 is the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail #626. This is the return from the loop through Eden Park. It's 2.7 miles to the Vista Ridge Trailhead.

At mile 20.4 is Wy'East Basin, a scenic alpine meadow. There aren't any good places to camp here. There's a nice drinking water stream.

At mile 20.6 is the junction with the Pinnacle Ridge Trail #630. It's 3.4 miles to the Pinnacle Ridge Trailhead.

At mile 21 is an unmarked side trail going to the right (up) to Dollar Lake, which is 0.3 miles from the Timberline Trail. There are three established campsites there. They may be full on summer weekends, this is a popular place summer weekends, surprisingly because it's so far from any trailhead. From here, there's a one mile side trip up to Barrett Spur.

At mile 21.8 is Elk Cove and the junction with the Elk Cove Trail #631. This is a nice meadow area with great views towards Barret Spur and Mount Hood. There are about six campsites along the Elk Cove Trail within 0.5 miles of the Timberline Trail. These are in the forest and usually aren't that busy. You can get drinking water from the stream going through Elk Cove.

At mile 22.8 is the difficult crossing of Coe Creek.

At mile 23.8 are two campsites within about 0.2 miles of each other. They are sheltered in the forest and right next to the trail. There aren't too many people walking along here so they're not too bad. You can get drinking water from a branch of Coe Creek or three branches of Compass Creek that are nearby.

At mile 26.3 is the difficult crossing of Eliot Creek. The Forest Service has officially closed this crossing and has threatened to fine people attempting the crossing. In spite of this, some hikers have recently successfully crossed the stream. There is an alternate, difficult crossing higher up, see Eliot Creek Crossing. (observed 9-2-2010)

After you cross Eliot Creek, the trail goes up to the east side bank. The trail then start down towards Cloud Cap, but if you want, there's a shortcut that saves 100' of elevation loss/gain and 0.1 miles. Follow a trail up the east bank for about a mile until you reach the Cooper Spur Shelter, where you can get back onto the Timberline Trail.

Assuming you don't take the shortcut, follow the trail down to a junction at mile 26.9 to a junction with a side trail 0.2 miles to the left to Cloud Cap Trailhead. There is a campground that is probably full summer weekends, but you can find a place to put your tent somewhere. There is a drinking water spigot and a nice pit toilet. This is a busy place summer weekends. There are crowds of people within a mile or so of the trailhead.

Go back to the Timberline Trail, and continue up the trail to mile 27.9 and the junction with the Tilly Jane Trail #600A. To the left, the Tilly Jane Trail goes down to the Tilly Jane Trailhead about a mile below. Straight ahead is the Timberline Trail. Go right on the Tilly Jane Trail.

It's 0.1 miles up to the Cooper Spur Shelter, one of those stone shelters around Mount Hood. This would be a nice place to know about during a storm. There are flat areas nearby for a number of tents. The closest drinking water is about 0.5 miles below on the Timberline Trail. From the shelter, cut across slope on a faint trail over to the Timberline Trail.

Continue up the Timberline Trail to mile 29.1 to the Timberline High Point. This is the highest point (7300') of the Timberline Trail. There are a couple streams before the high point until late August, and there's another drinking water stream just after the high point. In September, this stream may only flow in the late afternoon and you may have to dam it up to form a pool and wait for the silt to settle before you can get water. There are a couple ridges that go east from the trail with some flat areas for a tent, but this is extremely exposed and not good in bad weather.

In another 0.2 miles, there's a high area above the trail, which is the highest point of Gnarl Ridge, where you can find a flat area for a few tents. This is a little more sheltered than the Timberline High Point.

After a while, the Timberline Trail follows the top of Gnarl Ridge with excellent views. At about mile 30.2, the trail leaves the top of Gnarl Ridge and there's the remains of one of those stone shelters and on the opposite side of the trail are some flat areas that could hold an army of tents. There is no nearby drinking water, the closest is at the Timberline High Point or Newton Creek below.

At mile 31.2 is the junction with the Gnarl Ridge Trail #652 which is 3 miles down to the Hood River Meadows Trailhead.

At mile 31.9 is the difficult crossing of Newton Creek). Just after the crossing is are several nice campsites a little off the trail. There's also a small drinking water stream.

At mile 32.1 is the junction with the Newton Creek Trail #646 (3 miles down to the Hood River Meadows Trailhead). Walk a short distance down here for some excellent views south.

At mile 33 is a somewhat difficult crossing of the Clark Creek.

Over the next 2.5 miles are a number of beauteous streams and little water falls and several campsites. This is all in the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area, so you see occasional signs of man, but it's a novelty compared to the wilderness so maybe its okay. You normally see ski areas when they're covered with snow. At least there aren't zillions of people.

At mile 35.5 is the junction with the Umbrella Falls Trail #667. Just before this is a gravel road, the only one you'll see on the entire Timberline Trail. Just before this is Mitchel Creek, the last time you'll find drinking water for a while. After the trail leaves the meadow and enters forest, at the next switchback in about 0.1 mile, there's a spot above the trail that's flat enough to sleep. Neither of these are that great.

Then you go steeply down to the most difficult crossing of the White River Crossing. There are large flat areas to sleep at if you brought drinking water from Mitchel Creek. The White River is too silty to drink out of.

At mile 37.9 is the junction with the PCT which comes up on the left from Barlow Pass, 4 miles away. Stay right on the Timberline Trail/PCT.

At mile 40.2 is the end of your trip, back at Timberline Lodge.

Alternate Trips

The most common trip is 4 days/3 nights clockwise from Timberline Lodge. Given the trailheads and campsites listed below you can cobble together your own trip.

Several trailheads that aren't too far off the Timberline Trail:

  • Timberline Lodge Trailhead - about 1/4 mile off the Timberline Trail, the access road is two lane paved, the only place on the Timberline Trail with a restauraunt and other facilities
  • Cloud Cap Trailhead - mile 26.9, about 1/2 mile off the Timberline Trail, the access road is about 9 miles of gravel a bit rough at some places
  • Top Spur Trailhead - mile 15.5, about 1/2 mile off the Timberline Trail, the access road is about 3 miles of single lane paved and 1.6 miles of fairly good gravel
  • Ramona Falls Trailhead - mile 9.6 or 11.7, about 1.2 miles off an alternate route to the Timberline Trail, the access road is about a mile of single lane paved, the parking area has a reputation for vandalism

Presuming you do the hike in several days, choosing nice places to camp can make the hike better. These tend to be more exposed - another school of thought says you should camp at sheltered places and experience the exposed scenic areas while you're hiking. A number of campsites:

  • Paradise Park - mile 5, alpine meadow with great views, at least a dozen campsites spread along about a mile, year-round drinking water
  • Ramona Falls area - mile 10, forested area, Ramona Falls is a scenic destination, at least a dozen campsites in the mile south of the falls including the area next to Lost Creek, drinking water from Lost Creek or Ramona Creek
  • Cairn Basin area - mile 19.2, alpine meadow with some forested places, at least a dozen campsites at Cairn Basin and within one mile west, drinking water from McGee Creek one mile south, a creek just south, and the creek at Wy'East Basin
  • Elk Cove - mile 21.8, alpine meadow, about six campsites within 1/2 mile of Timberline Trail along the Elk Cove Trail in forested area, drinking water stream just west of the Elk Cove Trail junction
  • mile 23.8, two campsites between Coe Creek and Compass Creek in forest right next to trail, drinking water from a tributary of Coe Creek at 5700' about 1/2 mile east of main Coe Creek or from the several branches of Compass Creek
  • Cloud Cap Trailhead - mile 26.9, in a forested area, right next to the road, picnic tables, all the sites are taken on the weekend but you could find a place to put your tent, it costs $10, there's a drinking water spigot
  • Cooper Spur Shelter - mile 27.9, alpine area with great views, not too many plants, there are some flat areas for tents near the shelter, drinking water from Cloud Cap Trailhead, the Tilly Jane Creek about 1/2 mile below the shelter, or the streams at the Timberline high point
  • Timberline High Point - mile 29.1, extremely exposed alpine area not good in bad weather, there are two ridges that go east from the high point with flat spots for tents, and another spot about 1/2 mile south maybe 0.1 mile off the trail at the highest point of Gnarl Ridge, drinking water early in the season from a stream just north of the high point, a stream just south of the high point is probably good all year but maybe only in the late afternoon
  • Gnarl Ridge Shelter - mile 30.2, spots for a dozen tents on the other side of the trail, you can go a ways off the trail for privacy, closest drinking water is at the high point or Newton Creek Crossing
  • above Mount Hood Meadows - mile 32.1 to 35.5, alpine meadow area with some forested areas, there are about a dozen campsites over a 3.5 mile stretch between the Newton Creek Crossing and the Umbrella Falls Trail Junction, get drinking water from a small stream just west of Newton Creek, Mitchel Creek just east of the Umbrella Falls Trail junction, or several streams in between

If you start at a place other than Timberline Lodge, then part way through the hike, you can stop for a bite of real food and/or a drink.

Several possible hikes:

  • Start at Timberline Lodge. Go clockwise. Camp at the Ramona Falls area, Cairn Basin area, and at Gnarl Ridge (bringing water from Cloud Cap Trailhead).
  • Start at Cloud Cap Trailhead. Go counter clockwise. Get water at McGee Creek and camp at the viewpoint below McNeil Point. Camp the next nights at Paradise Park and just past the Umbrella Falls Trail junction.
  • Start at Ramona Falls Trailhead. Go clockwise. Camp at the far end of Cairn Basin, Newton Creek (12 mile day), and Paradise Park (13 mile day).
  • Start at Top Spur Trailhead. Go clockwise. Camp at Cloud Cap Trailhead, just past Umbrella Falls Trail, and Paradise Park.
  • 5 day hike to prolong the enjoyment. Start at Cloud Cap. Take the McNeil Point Trail and camp somewhere along it. If you're not too tired take a side trip up from here. Camp near Ramona Falls, then Paradise Park. Take a short side trip above Paradise Park. Camp the last night after the Umbrella Falls Trail junction.

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Portland Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.