Hiking the Timberline Trail (1/2 of it)

I had not been able to get out much this year so I decided to take a week off at the end of August. During my week off I planned to take 4 days to hike around Mt. Hood. The Timberline trail circumnavigates Mt. Hood staying mainly on the tree line. The trail is 41 miles long with a low spot of 3200 feet and a high spot of 7800 feet. I decided to take off on Sunday afternoon after church and was planning on coming home either late Tuesday or Early Wednesday depending on how much ground I covered. The weather was forecasted to be great, warm and sunny on Sunday and Monday before cooling off a bit for the rest of the trip.

Zig Zag Crossing

I headed out of Bend at around 2 pm Sunday afternoon headed for the Timberline Lodge. On the way I had to pass through Warm Springs where there was a large forest fire burning. All week it had been burning so Central Oregon had been really smoky. This was one of the reasons I decided to hike around Mt. Hood. I figured I would be able to avoid the fires and the smoke. I arrived at the Timberline Lodge at 4:15 and was on the trail by 4:30 pm. I planned on hiking the trail in the clockwise direction; the most popular direction. At the Timberline lodge there is an interesting mix of people. You have people arriving in summer dress for fancy dinners, skiers on the slopes, day hikers, tourists, and thru hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Paradise Park Camp

I had done my best to keep my pack on the lighter side. It was around 30 pounds when I started the hike. I had packed it full off items to test and review. Heading out the weather was perfect and Mt. Hood was a beautiful sight. After climbing Mt. Hood in June it was fun to look up the slopes at the route we took. You can definitely see why it is important to climb it earlier in the season. There was evidence of lots of rock fall and open crevasses up high on the mountain. Since I started so late in the afternoon I was not going to be able to get in as many miles as I had hoped for. I originally was planning on descending down to Ramona Falls for the night which was 10 miles and 3000 feet down. Along the trail there is area called Paradise Park at about 5 ½ miles that looked like a better option for the night.

Sandy River Crossing

I passed several day hikers on my way to Paradise Park; most of these were within 2 miles of the Lodge. There is one major stream crossing on the way to Paradise Park. The trail drops into the Zig Zag Canyon and crosses the Zig Zag River which of course is melt water from the Zig Zag Glacier. There are several of these crossings around the mountain from the glaciers above. The stream crossing was not too difficult and from there the trail climbs up to Paradise Park. Entering Paradise Park there are several campsites early on in the trees but several of them were taken. I decided to push farther on and was rewarded with better sites further along. There were several sites that were a little exposed but since the night was forecasted to be calm and clear, I took one of the sites out on the ridge. I set up my tent and ate a little trail mix for dinner as it was getting dark. I did not even need to use my tent fly since the night was so calm. Laying in my bed I could watch the skies above and was borderline too warm throughout the night.

Smoke Appearing on the North Side

Monday came early but perfect out. I got up and ate breakfast in the morning shadow created by Mt. Hood. After packing up camp I was on the trail by 8:15 am. From Paradise Park it is about a 2700 feet drop down to the Sandy River crossing and Ramona Falls just a little further down the trail. The Sandy River crossing was aided by some logs laid across the river. The drainage created by the Sandy River shows just how large it can get. About a ½ mile further down the trail is Ramona Falls; a popular day hike destination. At this point the Timberline Trail goes a different direction from the main trail and even though it is longer, I followed the Timberline Trail up the Muddy Fork drainage and along Bald Mountain. The trail through this section is along the steep hillside and is kind of narrow in sections. At the Muddy Fork there were several crossings but none of them were too difficult. The trail then climbed up around Bald Mountain and across the Bald Face. An open section where the trail is narrow and views are impressive. While I was taking a picture I noticed a plume of smoke rising above the ridge on the north side of Mt. Hood. I was a bit worried after everything I had seen on the drive to the mountain.

Had to Turn Around

At mile 10 for the day I got to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail where the Timberline Trail separates for good and goes to the east. I took a break and ate my lunch before continuing on. The trail from here climbs up to Cairn Basin about 3 miles away.  I was planning on calling this camp for the evening and since I had already got so much out of the way early in the day I was looking forward to an afternoon to relax. About a ½ a mile from Cairn Basin I ran into a Park Ranger who informed me that they just closed the trail from the Mazama Trail to the Cloud Cap. The Dollar Lake forest fire which was only 3 acres on Friday decided to blow up on Monday and was now on several ridges. I was at mile 19 on the route and instead of going around the mountain I had to return the way a came. I decided to try to get back to the camps near Ramona Falls as I felt like that would be the safest and best options under the circumstances. This meant another 6 ½ miles back to the camp was going to be a 20 mile day. The first 3 miles were not too bad but I got progressively more exhausted over the last 3 ½ miles. I ended up slumping into camp around 7 pm and slowly made dinner and set up camp. By the time I arrived at camp there were some low level clouds rolling in so I decided to set up the tent with the fly for the night.

Hiking in the Clouds

After a decent night’s sleep I awoke to all hikers favorite morning sound; rain drops hitting the tent fly. It turned out to be only a little morning misty rain and was not too bad when I eventually got up. After a light breakfast and getting all packed up I was on the trail by 8:30 am. I now had to re-cross the Sandy River, hike 9 miles, and climb 3000 feet up to the Timberline Lodge. About 2000 feet of this climb was up the ridge through the forest before popping out below Paradise Park. I took the main trail this time and got above the low clouds at about the crossing of the Zig Zag River. At this crossing I decided to take a break and several day hikers were there trying to decide how to cross. I gave them some suggestions but they were there still trying to psych themselves up when I left. The trail climbs up out of the canyon and then rolls its way along back to the Timberline Lodge. I arrived at the lodge at around 2:00 pm and was happy to get my pack off. At the Timberline Lodge the clouds were about 500 feet lower and the sun was out. It was not very warm though, about 30 degrees cooler than it was when I left just 2 days earlier. I was disappointed that I was not able to finish the loop but will give it another shot later down the road. The section I did was very beautiful and not too difficult. As a funny side note, on the way home the highway was detoured due to the fires and I had to take a longer way home. Turns out I was destined to battle the fires for my whole trip. I ended up covering 36 miles over 14 ½ hours of hiking. Unfortunately though I will have to go back to do the other half. As always, your mileage may vary.

Link to a good description of the Route

My Hiking Map and Elevation Data

Link to more pictures of the Trip


Gear Used

  • Osprey Atmos 65 Pack – My first time using this pack was a mixed experience. I felt like the torso was slightly small on me but I later measured and it was the right side. The pack seemed to sit on my shoulders more than I am used to. Also the bottom of the pack hit me on the top of the butt and caused some pain at times. I need to play the fit a bit more but like the other features of the pack.
  • Nemo Espri 2 Tent – Would be a bit tight for 2 but was a great roomy single person tent. Did not have much weather to really test it out.
  • Arc’Teryx Alpha LT Jacket – Took the edge of well in the mornings but was fortunately not needed much.
  • Columbia Reach the Peak Hybrid Down Jacket – Descent fit and kept we warm. Also folded up into a good pillow.
  • Mountain Hardwear Mesa Convertible Pants – Enjoyed the one cargo pocket for my camera. Did not use them as shorts but as pants they shed water well at the stream crossings.
  • Columbia Baselayer Midweight Tights w/fly – Surprisingly warm, must have been the Omni-Heat.
  • Columbia Baselayer Midweight ½ Zip Top – Also warm, first night sleeping I was too warm but the second night was better. Hiked with it on the last day and did a good job keeping me comfortable.
  • Black Diamond Orbit Lantern – Handy little light for hanging in the tent, a bit of a luxury item though.
  • Jetboil Classic Personal Cooking System – Boils water quickly and has been easy to operate.
  • CEP Hiking Compression Socks – Different than any other hiking socks I had ever used. I must say that on day two even though I covered 20 miles, my lower legs were doing really good.
  • Keen Pyrenees Boots – Had a little break in time as expected. Once I worked out some of those kinks the boots were really comfortable.

About the Author

I am an avid runner, cyclist, swimmer, hiker, climber, skier and many other activities that would make this list too long. I started Your Mileage May Vary Reviews in Early 2011 to combine two of my passions: sports and gear.

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