Mt Hood – Timberline Trail

This will be longer than normal – heads up … (covers 4 full days) –> reminder to click on (open) images to see high quality media.

My hiking buddy for this trip is an experienced backpacker and this was not his first circuit around Mt. Hood; another key factoid is our average age is 66. We’re slow and we both have severe rubbernecks with scenery – i also take pictures (over 450 this trip). We also met very few people our age past car accessible areas.

We started at Timberline lodge around 12:00 Thursday and were back to the car around 12:00 Monday (5 days but 4 hiking). It was fabulous! The trail was busiest Friday and Saturday with ‘loop runners’ the greatest portion.

DISCLAIMER: Timberline Trail is NOT for inexperienced hikers as several spots are quite dangerous. (see below on creek crossings)

Other related posts (Water-published, Flowers-published, Mt Hood sides – by Friday, and Gear-by Friday).

Day 1: Timberline Lodge to Paradise Park (All Trails recording #1)

Over the ~6 miles from the Lodge to Paradise Park, one of the busiest sections, the descent and then ascent to / from Zig Zag canyon is the first test of your conditioning as well as your ability to rock-hop across the creek (i got wet being too sassy). The near-by waterfall (upstream) is a must see if you have not before. Mt Hood views are open and big. Paradise Park is known for wild flowers and great camping spots – both were true!

Day 2: Paradise Park to Cairn Basin (All Trails recording #2)

This was our LONG day of >12 miles. From Paradise Park’s spectacular sunrise, the trail descends down to Ramona Falls (a MUST SEE), and through some fabulous west, north-west forests in serious transition after fire. The views can be stark and dystopian if the flowers were not exploding with color and vibrancy. This was a long down and up with a very, very sketchy creek crossing @ Muddy Fork of Sandy River (this one made me nervous). We camped at Cairn Basin where there was only water at the creek a bit down the path that was too high to cross.

Side note: Creek crossings are daily with some days 2-3 dangerous crossings. One thing to remember is that a) these streams and their canyons are highly unstable and change often year to year; and, b) the water levels change morning to night as the sun melts more ice – best to cross big bad dangerous ones in the morning. Some people (my buddy) typically just wades across, but I like to hop the rocks more than the logs. One must have good shoes that dry fast while walking and socks to match. Both of us wore trail runners – no boots.

Day 3: Cairn Basin to Cloud Cap (All Trails recording #3)

An 8 mile hazy day that had fire, flowers, stream crossings and great views of Washington Cascades as we rounded to the north side of Mt Hood. This also gave some stunning Mt Hood views. (All the Hood views)

This was the busy day too; loop runners going 40+ miles in time for dinner at home on same day; day hikers scrambling around unprepared; and loop hikers like us – most were trying to do within 2-3 days. Most of the pics are captured in other posts linked above (Water, Flowers, & Sides of Mt Hood).

Cloud Cap is car accessible, so lots of people, dogs but NO running water. We had a picnic table too!

Side story: Earlier in the day we came across a Forest Service trail maintenance team. My buddy talked ’em up for a good 5-10 minutes and at Cloud Cap, the leader showed up as he was called to an emergency. He asked how we were doing, and we mentioned the lack of running water. He, then, offered us 2 gallons of his own water. Another camper who was leaving gave away water bottles to other hikers. Almost everybody we met was willing to help out in any way needed – the trail takes care of you if you let it!

Side #2 – Covid-19: Almost everybody wore a mask when encountering a new group. Everybody made room to distance as was safe and often retracing many steps for everybody’s safety. Icing on top, the words ‘thank you’ were almost always heard for you Barney fans.

Day 4: Cloud Cap to Newton Creek (All Trails recording #4) – w/ Cooper Spur

We split up for the morning, I left earlier and scrambled up to the end of Cooper Spur, and my buddy took the main trail onward. We met up around lunch before we descended down below the trees. This day is almost entirely above tree line, very exposed until the last descent into Newton Creek.

I left before 6:00am as the sun was just popping over the horizon

The Cooper Spur trail is hard to miss, yet … there are a couple of oddities to the trail … the first being this seeming fork in the trail.

The ‘true’ trail goes left, the false trail goes right and then follows the edge of the moraine. While on the ‘false’ trail, i heard the distinctive grumblings of glacier calving – probably deep below. The false trail led me to a large unpassable snowfield but the true trail was easily seen / regained.

I ended up around 8500 ft elevation and talked with the first person up the spur that morning (i was #2). I was the only person on my complete ascent. While at the top amongst the rock windbreak shelters, the views are to WA cascades and down below to raging Elliot Creek. The ~2 mile path reminds me of South Sister tablelands.

After rejoining the Timberline Trail, the path follows Gnarl Ridge to the last point before descending to Newton Creek. We met up here and traversed the remainder to Newton Creek campsite – the creek itself is silt-filled grey and terrible for water. But, just passed the creek is a spring where the campsites are … so peaceful.

We camped around 2pm both very tired. Then, to our surprise (anxiety) dark clouds started to form. They disappeared as fast as they formed.

While at Newton Creek, my camera took advantage to capture the Gnarl Ridge and beyond that we had just descended.

Day 5: Newton Creek to Timberline Lodge (All Trails recording #5)

The last day is going around the dry, dusty east side through the meadows and sadly through a ski resort. We had more chances to look back at the path we took over Gnarl Ridge, and then we had to cross Whitewater Creek – a broad multi-stream creek that took us an hour to cross completely. After winding thru the meadows, one ends up in ‘moon-like’ ecosystem of the southeast side, and you turn the corner to Lodge.

Bottom line: This is a fabulous hike and if you can time it to the wildflowers – absolutely amazing. Not for children, not for the inexperienced, and while we saw many dogs w/ hikers, not for dogs. The creek crossings are just not made for dogs and the risk one takes is silly if not stupid.

Factoids based on All Trails recordings:

  • Miles walked – 45.87
  • Total elevation gained – 11,686 ft

6 Comments to “Mt Hood – Timberline Trail”

  1. sally fuller

    Michael, Will you ever come to the idea that you’ve done everything on your “bucket list?” Never did know what to expect from you and this hasn’t changed–Love, Your Mom

  2. Katie

    Thanks for this awesome trip report! We are going this week and plan to do a short day one to paradise park and I’ve been having trouble finding a good pacing guide doing that. So this is super helpful!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *