The Timberline Trail circles Mount Hood over roughly 50 miles. In those 50 miles, the trail winds around ridges and dips into deep river canyons, accumulating about 13k feet of gain and loss. While hiking the Timberline Trail, we were exposed to a variety of ecosystems and environments. The trail is more challenging than I expected, but the constant change was motivation to keep going to see what was around the next bend.
The Timberline Trail is very much a “hike your own hike” type of trail. We started on a Monday mid-day and finished Friday morning. Some people (runners) will do it in a single push. It was our goal to take our time and enjoy it, so the following four-night itinerary was a good plan. Mileage and elevation stats in this report are via my recorded track in GaiaGPS on a iPhone XR.
Since the trail loops around the mountain, there are several trailheads that provide access. We chose to start (and end) at the Timberline Lodge, since it provides food and drink that we could look forward to on our final day.
First, a bit about Timberline Trail river crossings:
There are a lot of river crossings on the Timberline Trail, from easy to potentially very dangerous. Conditions vary depending on the time of year, recent weather (heat, storms), time of day, and the availability of temporary tools like logs, rocks to hop, flags, and ropes. Throughout this trip report are pictures and descriptions of the river crossings we encountered on the Timberline Trail during the week of August 5 of 2019 and no longer accurately reflect current circumstances.
Timberline Trail Day 1: Timberline Lodge to Sandy River via Paradise Park
11.2 miles, 1600 foot gain, 4100 foot loss
There is a network of trails that snake around Timberline Lodge and the ski lifts/bike tracks. Finding the actual Timberline Trail is not super straightforward, but if you take any trail up from behind the Lodge you’ll figure it out. We actually started out along the Mountaineer’s Trail but connected to Timberline within the first mile.
Starting from the Timberline Lodge lets you ease into the trail in the first few miles. It doesn’t have any significant climbs or descents until Zig Zag Canyon. About 3 miles from the Lodge is a viewpoint looking over Zig Zag, a common destination for casual day hikers. From here, the trail drops 600 feet into Zig Zag canyon and the first river crossing of the loop.
Now the hard work begins. Climbing out of Zig Zag was HOT and it was a slog to get into Paradise Park, but once we were there it was so worth it! We happened to be there during the peak of the wildflower bloom so our pace considerably slowed as we stopped to photograph every single flower lining the trail.
We briefly considered camping in Paradise Park, but it was still early and descending to the Sandy River/Rushing Water creek junction would position us for an early morning crossing of one of the more challenging rivers. So down we went – descending almost 2500 to the shaded camp area along Rushing Water Creek.
This trip report is continued at Day 2: Sandy River to Cairn Basin