The Timberline Trail is a famous trail traveling completely around the base of Mt. Hood. You’ll walk through picturesque meadows, see Mt. Hood and its forming glaciers from all angles, and pass by the famous Timberline Lodge. While there are some trail joggers who report completing the 40-mile loop in one day, the loop is most often completed as a 3-5 day backpacking trip. Day hikers can access the trail from many different points, choosing which section they prefer and how far to travel. Adventurous backpackers are gifted with many opportunities for extending the trail with detours such as Paradise and Eden Park Loops, or with extra climbing along the Cooper Spur Ridge or Yocum Ridge trails. Besides the experience of Mt. Hood from all angles, this trail also includes several waterfalls, lush meadows, and thick forest.
Overnight backpacking requires hikers to fill out a permit, but they are free and available at most trailheads. There are abundant sources of glacier-fed streams for water sources. Much of the trail is above alpine level, but it is still strongly recommended that water be filtered, boiled, or treated before drinking. The larger glacier streams are too silty for drinking, but many other fresh-flowing creeks and streams provide fresh mountain water. Campfires are allowed in specified locations, with additional restrictions being a possibility during the dry season.
The difficulty level of the trail comes from its length and strenuous stretches of intense elevation gain. Because of the long winter season, the best time to complete this trail is from July to September. The trail is cleared of logs and maintained one section at a time during the summer, so during the early weeks of July there might still be logs blocking the route and large patches of snow. The trail is well marked by signs and large rock cairns, but a GPS or map will come in handy, especially early in the trail’s season. To complete the Timberline Trail you are required to cross many glacier steams, so make sure to read about safe stream crossing methods and bring extra socks!
Timberline Trail is accessible through many different points and trails such as Ramona Falls Trail, Timberline Lodge, or Cloud Cap parking lot. This description begins at the Timberline Lodge; make sure to park in the designated spots for overnight backpackers and fill out your trail pass. This is also an excellent opportunity for final use of restrooms or a warm cooked meal at the Timberline Lodge before heading out. This trail description travels around Mt. Hood clockwise, heading towards Paradise Park from the Timberline Lodge.
From the lodge you will head west along the Timberline Trail, which here overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Mountaineer Trail. Descending into Little ZigZag Canyon, you will come across Hidden Lake Trail, or Trail #779. There are camping options if you follow south along Hidden Lake Trail, or continue west along Timberline Trail towards Paradise Park. You’ll eventually intersect with Trail #757 and Trail #758, which create the Paradise Park Loop. Most hikers stay along Trail #200/#600 (Pacific Crest Trail/Timberline Trail), but those wanting extra miles can travel #757 or #758 before rejoining the main trail. These trails take you through Paradise Park. Early in July hikers will enjoy the Alpine area’s wildflowers, including lupine and towhead babies.
Once the two trails rejoin paths, #757 and Timberline #600, travel along the Pacific Crest/Timberline Trail heading northwest towards the Sandy River Crossing. Soon after crossing the Sandy River, the Timberline Trail turns right, heading east toward Ramona Falls. Here travelers can take advantage of the majestic Ramona Falls view before the grueling ascent up Bald Mountain. Along this ascent, you will come across the Yocum Ridge Trail #771. Past Yocum Ridge be careful; the trail is highly exposed because of landslides and trail erosion. Once past Muddy Fork Crossing, you will begin climbing Bald Mountain. There is a shortcut to the right, halfway up this climb, that is well-marked by trail signs. Whether you take the shortcut or not, you’ll finish this part of the trail descending Bald Mountain Ridge towards McNeil Point.
Moving from McNeil Point, the trail connects to Eden Park Trail, which is 17 ½ miles into the trail. Hiking the Eden Park Loop will connect back to the Timberline Trail and provide a scenic meadow, but it does add half a mile with a 600-foot elevation change. This area is the Cairn Basin, sitting at roughly 5,800 feet. Beyond the basin is an unmarked trail to Dollar Lake (usually marked by cairns). It is roughly 19 miles into the hike and is a popular camping area that is just .3 miles from the main Timberline Trail to the lake itself. Just one mile further is the Elk Cove Trail (Trail #631), which has campsites just a half-mile from Timberline Trail and includes a water source from the creek traveling through the Elk Cove Meadow.
The next two landmarks for the trail are the Coe Creek Crossing and the Compass Creek Crossing. Compass Creek is a good source of drinking water and nice, flat campsites. After crossing Compass Creek, you begin hiking the new trail crossing the Eliot stream. While the new trail is longer and features many switchbacks, it is much safer than what is left of the older scramble between the East and West Eliot Moraines. Once finished with these grueling switchbacks up the trail you will come across Cloud Cap Campground. This is now 25 miles into your adventure! From Cloud Cap, it is just 1.2 miles to the Cooper Ridge Spur shelter, a historical stone shelter built for protection for climbers and backpackers. Another .8 miles until the highest elevation point of the Timberline Trail, which is 7,350 feet.
The next major intersection is with the Gnarl Ridge Trail (Trail #652). Just .8 miles from this trail intersection is the Newton Creek Crossing, which can be difficult at different times of the year. After the creek crossing however, there are ideal campgrounds with photographic views of Mt. Hood and soft ground ideal for sleeping and pitching a tent.
After crossing Newton Creek, you will cross Clark Creek before entering into the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. The end of this ski area is marked by a gravel road crossing right before intersecting with Trail #667, the Umbrella Falls Trail. Just before the gravel road is Mitchell Creek, which is the last reliable source of water on the trail. Another mile and a half and you will cross the White River Crossing, the final major creek crossing on the trail. From here, the final three miles do include difficult elevation gain, but glimpses of the Timberline Lodge should provide motivation for finishing this epic trip! At the 37th mile, Timberline Trail again overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail, leading you back to the Timberline Lodge, where a cold celebratory drink or a hot meal awaits those in need.
The Timberline Trail is rich with history, circling the geographical monument of Oregon and the Mt. Hood National Forest. Near Cloud Cap is Mt. Hood’s first modern day trail site, dating back to 1885, but of course the area was well known by Native Americans before European contact. Many of these local Native American Tribes called the mountain Wy’East, before the Mountain was renamed in 1792 for a famous British naval lieutenant.
During the 1930s Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp provided the labor and financial support to build the modern day Timberline Trail. In 1934 the original trail was completed as a 37.6 mile loop. The original trail included six stone shelters, of which three today still exist. These three structures can be found at: McNeil Point, Cairn Basin, and Cooper Spur.
Since then the trail has gone through many renovations, most recently with the 2007 closure along the Eliot Branch of the trail due to wash-out. This section of the trail has since been fixed, and the new part of this trail includes smooth but exhausting switchbacks.
Increasing popularity with the Timberline Trail and its historical route around Mt. Hood have caused discussion of responsible backpacking, with the potential claim to restricting the number of backpackers allowed on the trail. Please respect this natural wonder to allow future open access to one of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest outdoor adventures. Pack in and pack out!