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Timberline Trail Guide

Timberline Trail Guide (Mt Hood)

In This Guide
  • Itineraries for the Timberline Trail & Planning Your Trip
  • What to Expect On the Trail
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Timberline Trail
Total Distance (?)41.5 miles (66.8 km)
Hike Time2-4 Days (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)10,800 feet (3292m)
Highest Elevation7,335 feet (2236m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee & Free Permit
Dogs AllowedOff Leash Okay
Alerts & Closures (?)Mt. Hood National Forest
Park Phone541-352-6002

The 41.5 mile Timberline Trail, which circles Oregon’s highest point, Mt Hood, dropping in and out of glacier-carved canyons, is a classic that should be on everyone’s bucket list. There’s a lot to love about the Timberline Trail: a well-worn path above and below the timberline (the altitude where trees stop growing), epic views of Mt Hood and the other peaks of the Cascades, glaciers, waterfalls, volcanic rock, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and rich history (it’s also a National Historic Trail). Numerous tent sites along the trail and an easy permit system make tackling the Timberline in 2-4 days straightforward. In this guide I’ll explain everything you need to know to plan your trip, and then do the hike.

What is the Timberline Trail?

Timberline Trail Overview
Here’s a high-level overview of the Timberline Trail, 41.5 miles around Mt Hood (11,250 feet). Most first-timers take the trail on in a clockwise direction, taking 3 or 4 days to complete the loop. There are three major landmarks along the way: Timberline Lodge, Ramona Falls, and Cloud Cap. Most people start and end at the Timberline Lodge, although there are other options that I’ll talk about below.

Although the Timberline Trail is always “open,” it’s generally attempted from mid-July to September, when the snow is gone and when the rivers are not raging. If this is your first time, do it in this date range. The sweet spot is the end of July to the end of August, when the wildflowers are in bloom and most of the snow is gone.

Cascades Mountains Overview 2
Mt Hood sits in the middle of the Cascade Range, a string of volcanos (and part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire) that are relatively young in geologic terms (younger than 500,000 years old). The Cascades are still active volcanos. Mt St Helens had a major eruption in 1980, and the last major eruption of Mt Hood was in 1781. The highest peak in the range is Mt Rainer at 14,411 feet, and is usually visible from downtown Seattle. Most of the Cascades high peaks are covered with glaciers all year and require mountaineering skills to summit. Chart USGS

Wy’east is allegedly the native word for Mt Hood, but there is doubt as to whether this was real or just made up by an American author.

Story of the Timberline Trail

Historic Timberline Lodge
The centerpiece of the Timberline Trail is the Timberline Lodge, built from 1936-38 by the New Deal created Works Progress Administration. It’s the informal gateway to Mt Hood, allowing access to the Timberline Trail, the PCT, and the USA’s only all-year ski slopes. Today you can stay at the lodge, have a meal here, or just explore the interior, and I highly recommend a visit (more later). Photo UC Berkeley
Year Event Meanwhile…

500k BC

Volcanic Activity Starts at Mt HoodHomo Erectus Evolves – Mastodons Roam the PNW

30k BC

Mt Hood’s Cone FormsHumans Start Crossing the Bering Straight From Asia to the Americas

10k BC

Humans Start Settling Around Mt Hood And Create Trails End of the Ice Age

1781 AD

Mt Hood’s Last Major Eruptive Period Colonists Start Turning the Tide in the American Revolutionary War

1850s-1920s

An Informal Trail System Forms In the Area Around Mt HoodHumans Start Looking For Escapes from Industrialization

1892

The Area Around Mt Hood Becomes Protected Eventually Becoming a Wilderness Area in 2009

1934-38

The Civilian Conservation Corps Build the Timberline Trail The USA Recovers From the Great Depression

1960s-70s

The Trail is Rerouted in Spots and Improved The Volatile Landscape Around Mt Hood Forces Adaptations

2000+

Minor Adaptations and Reroutes The Trail Regains Popularity From Social Media

William Langille is allegedly the first gringo to hike around Mt Hood in the late 1890s. He also built the Cloud Cap Inn, shared a cabin with The Call of the Wild author Jack London in the Klondike, and was instrumental in the early days of the Forest Service.

How to Hike the Timberline Trail

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Most people do the Timberline Trail as a backpacking trip. There are plenty of secluded spots just off the trail to pitch a tent.

Okay, if you want to tackle the Timberline Trail, you first have to figure out how you will do it. I’m going to give my suggestions based on the clockwise routing that is most common. There are over a dozen access points to reach the Timberline Trail, tons of tent sites, and lots of ways to slice and dice this. These suggestions are great for first-timers.

All routes described go clockwise.

Can you hike the Timberline Trail in a day? Maybe not by hiking, but there are plenty of trail runners who do it in a day, usually taking between 8-12 hours.

Timberline Trail Permits

One of the great things about the Timberline Trail is that there is NOT a quota permit system. You need a permit, which you can get at the trailheads, but it’s about awareness and following the rules within the Mt Hood Wilderness. And that’s it. Just show up, sign your permit, understand what it says, and have fun.

Timberline Trail Guide 1
Most Timberline Trail access points have a permit kiosk like this.
Timberline Trail Guide 2
Just open up the box, sign the permit, carry it with you, and you’re good.

Where to Camp on the Timberline Trail

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Here’s a typical tent site on the Timberline Trail. Look for a flat area like this just off the trail. This one is on the larger side and also has a sitting log and fire pit. Many tent sites just have a flat spot to pitch a tent.

Another great aspect of the Timberline Trail is that there are (probably and unofficially) hundreds of pre-established tent sites where you can camp along the trail. Since it’s in the Mt Hood Wilderness, there are no official campgrounds, no websites to book a spot on, and no facilities. Just find a nice spot that is not explicitly marked no camping (like some alpine meadows), pitch your tent, and enjoy.  And please leave no trace by not creating your own new tent site, there are plenty out there already.

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There are also a few shelters along the route, dating back to the original construction of the trail. They’re probably great in a storm, but kind of dark and cool otherwise. Watch my video below to see what it looks like inside here, the Cooper Spur Shelter.
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Look for these simple signs that tell you where not to camp.
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The Cloud Cap Saddle Campground is not a typical camping spot as it is not officially in the Mt Hood Wilderness area. There are tent sites, picnic benches, a water spigot, and primitive toilet. There is a fee to camp here. Pay at the board by the parking lot.
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Here’s the primitive toilet at the Cloud Cap campground.
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I’d also recommend working in a stay at Timberline Lodge, usually best done at the end of the hike and paired with celebratory dinner, drinks, and hot shower. And if you are staying overnight, there’s a great breakfast buffet as well.
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Even if you’re not staying at the Timberline Lodge, it’s worth stopping in to check out the beautiful lobby and great room areas.
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The bathrooms on the lower floor has long-neck faucets to refill water bottles and hydration packs.
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There’s also vending machines near the bathrooms if you want to buy some snacks. You can also get food at the lodge’s restaurants, and casual food at the nearby Wy’East Café.
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The Timberline Lodge even has a Forest Service info desk (not always attended) to answer any questions that you might have.

Timberline Trail Starting Points

I’m not going to cover every access point to the Timberline; there are over a dozen trails that join up with the Timberline Trail Loop. Instead, I’ll cover the most popular options, which are also the options listed in my suggested itineraries.

If you need last minute gear, there are several REI locations around Portland. Some of these locations also offer gear rentals.

Timberline Lodge (Overnight Parking)

The traditional starting point for the hike is the Timberline Lodge, about 90 minutes away from Portland. It’s a paved road all the way to the lodge, and is generally an easy drive. The lodge is directly on the route of the Timberline Trail.

Timberline Trail Guide 4
Make sure that you park at one of the massive lower lots that’s clearly marked overnight for parking. There is no fee to park here, except for in the winter ski season.

Cloud Cap (Saddle Campground)

If you start the hike on the upper part of the loop, Cloud Cap is a good option for parking, but the drive there has a steep and narrow dirt section at the end that can be rutted. I’ve seen low-clearance cars in the lot, so it’s doable, just go slow. If you’re driving from Portland, I recommend the northernmost route that goes through the Columbia River Gorge, which has jaw-dropping scenery. Don’t park at the Cloud Cap Inn, park at the Cloud Cap campground area.

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There’s a decent sized parking lot at Cloud Cap, but it gets full, especially mid-day (with day hikers). The lot usually spills over onto the sides of the road. The parking area is basically right off the trail.

You need a National Parks Pass or Northwest Forest Pass to park at Cloud Cap.

Top Spur Trailhead

Top Spur is close (1:15) to Portland, and just has a half-mile hike to access the Timberline Trail. The last few miles of road are dirt and rutted, but can be done in a low-clearance vehicle slowly.

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Top Spur has a large parking lot, and it fills up with day hikers during the day. Overflow parking is next to the lot on the side of the road. There is a porta-potty here most of the time.

You need a National Parks Pass or Northwest Forest Pass to park at Top Spur.

Ramona Falls

Just over an hour from Portland, and all paved (but with some major potholes at the end), the Ramona Falls trailhead parking lot is another option to easily access the trail. The parking lot is not on the Timberline, but it’s an easy 1.5 mile hike to access it.

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The parking lot at Ramona Falls is massive. You won’t have trouble finding a spot here, even if there is a big day hiking crowd.

You need a National Parks Pass or Northwest Forest Pass to park at Ramona Falls.

Bailing Out

If you can’t continue the trail for whatever reason, your best move is to use your map and hike out on one of the numerous access trails around the loop. Bailing out is more common than you’d think, and if you have to do it, don’t feel bad. Most trailheads have other hikers who are sympathetic and can offer rides back to a gas station or wherever.

Gear For the Trail

In general you’d need all the gear that you would normally when backcountry camping. My advice is to go light. The trail is nothing but ups and downs with some river crossings thrown in there for fun, and having a heavy pack will take its toll. Here are some standout items that you need.

Osprey Exos

Best Overnight Backpack: Osprey Exos 58
This is a popular backpack with thru-hikers for a good reason: it’s light, durable, and roomy. This pack only weighs a fraction more than my daypack (under 3lbs) and carries 58 liters, enough for a long trip. I appreciate the fact that it’s a little roomier for my 3-5 day backpacking trips. I don’t have to jam everything in there like a puzzle. And the back is well-ventilated so it doesn’t become a soaked mess.
Latest Women’s Prices: REI | Amazon
Latest Men’s Prices: REI | Amazon

Rei Co Op Quarter Dome 1 Tent

The REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent is a super-light, free-standing, dead-simple tent. I take the tent components out of the bag and put them in my backpack individually, and it packs down to nothing. No big tent back in my pack. It’s almost half the weight of similar tents, easy to set up, relatively inexpensive, and durable.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Here’s my complete camping gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2021.

My September 2021 Top Camping Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Timberline Trail River Crossings & Other Challenges

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That pretty much sums it up. The streams are tough, but lots of people do them. Follow the tips here and you should be fine. Always take care in crossing, no matter how easy it may look. Remember that hikers have died in these streams.

The Timberline Trail is famous (or infamous) for its river crossings. In the winter, new layers of snow on Mt Hood add to the glaciers and snowfields, which then melt in the spring and summer, creating raging rivers. In the spring, the rivers are generally too intense to cross. The intense flows and floods can wipe out whatever cairns, crossings, and other markers that were left the last year along the river washes. By mid-July most of the crossings are doable.

I’ve marked the tougher crossings in the GPX file and map. Here they are, in (my opinion) the order of most to least difficult: Eliot Creek, White River, Newton Creek, Sandy River, Ladd Creek and Coe Creek.

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The Elliot River crossing has a tough reputation. It’s not super wide, but the banks are steep and the current is swift.

Here’s how I recommend tackling the crossings:

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Look for cairns like this to guide you to a safe crossing.
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Some log crossings, rock hops, or snow bridges can be sketchy. If it doesn’t look safe to you, move on to another option.
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If you do cross on a log or rocks, use your trekking poles to steady you across. Remember to check whether a rock or log is solid before putting your weight down on it.
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Even if a rock hop looks close, remember that the rocks are slick.
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Having breathable trail runners and wicking socks means that your feet will dry as you hike after the crossing. If your shoes get covered in sand, stomp them out or rinse the sediment off (while still on your feet) at one of the smaller crossings. Some people change shoes, wring their socks out, change socks, and a host of other hacks. I find that my feet will just dry as I hike on when I invest in quality footwear.
White River Debris
And just to give you an idea of the force of the water and what can happen in big melts, check out this picture from 2006 of the White River Bridge at Rt 35, about 2 miles downstream from the Timberline Trail crossing. More incredible photos like this on this site.

Other Challenges

Timberline Trail Guide 12
It’s impossible to keep the entire trail clear, and you’ll see dozens of downed trees across the trail. Some have detours around them, while others you’ll have to go over or under. If you go under, it’s easier to take your pack off.
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There’s a lot of water, and some sections of trail can be muddy. Be careful of wet trails and mud on steep slopes. Use your trekking poles to navigate these areas safely.
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You might have snowfield crossings. Again, go slow, use your poles, and watch your footing.
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You’ll have some crossings of soft and loose moraine. Most of these are fine, but some are very loose like this one.
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While not a hazard, the loose sand found on some sections is worth mentioning. Usually this is volcanic ash turned to sand, and it can be tough to hike through, especially on a climb. Just take your time.

Timberline Trail Maps

Right now a portion of the Timberline Trail between Ramona Falls and Top Spur is closed because of devastation from the Labor Day 2020 blowdown. So these directions follow the Ramona Falls Trail #797 + PCT detour. Don’t attempt the closed portion. Hikers who do are regularly stuck and need search & rescue services.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

In general, if going clockwise, trails to your left exit the Timberline, and trails to your right are excursions up the mountain.

Elevation Profile

Timberline Trail Elevation
The trail is a series of ups and downs, descending into a canyon, and then back out. The low point at 2,810 feet is the Muddy Creek crossing, just past Ramona Falls. Then after Cloud Cap you hike above the tree line to the high point at 7,335 feet. Overall it’s about 10,800 feet of total ascent.

Landmarks on the Hike

LandmarkDistanceElevation Notes

Timberline Lodge

06000

Little Zigzag Canyon

1.15880not a river crossing

Zigzag Overlook

2.45450

Paradise Branch Overlooks

6.95100Paradise Branch of the Sandy River

Sandy River Crossing

103380can be a tough crossing

Ramona Falls

10.53460

Muddy Creek Crossing

12.32810usually easy here

Top Spur Junction

14.94300

Cairn Basin Shleter

19.25660

Ladd Creek Crossing

19.45660small but can be tough

Elk Cove Camp

21.95460sites just north of trail

Coe Crossing

22.75150can be tough

Elliot Crossing

26.85520tough crossing

Cloud Cap Campground

27.65860toilets and potable water

Cooper Spur Shelter

296700now above treeline

Timberline High Point

30.47335

Gnarl Ridge Viewpoint

31.36940my favorite view

Newton Creek Crossing

34.25450tough crossing

Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area

36.65850

White River Crossing

39.94900tough crossing

Timberline Lodge

426000

Timberline Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Timberline Directions Overview
Because the Timberline Trail is so long, I’ll break the directions down into sections, running clockwise from the Timberline Lodge at the bottom of the map to Ramona Falls, then Cloud Cap, and then back to Timberline Lodge.

1: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls

Timberline Trail Directions 1
We’ll start at the back of the Timberline Lodge. Hike up the trail directly behind the lodge.
Timberline Trail Directions 2
You’ll see a sign telling you that you are heading toward the PCT and Timberline.
Timberline Trail Directions 3
It’s a pleasant walk through the wildflowers to the start of the trail. Expect tourists from the lodge here.
Timberline Trail Directions 4
You’ll also start to see Mt Hood in front of you. At 11,249 feet, it’s the highest point in Oregon.

Mt Hood is named in 1792 after a British naval war hero, Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood. When Lewis and Clark spotted it in 1805 they called it Falls Mountain, but I guess “Hood” sounded cooler and that’s stuck.

Timberline Trail Directions 5
And then you come to a T-junction. The Timberline Trail goes to the left. Just on the right, there’s a PCT sign.
Timberline Trail Directions 6
Here’s the PCT sign at the junction.
Timberline Trail Directions 7
Alright, welcome to the Timberline Trail. The beginning goes behind the lodge and through the ski areas.

There are only two developed areas along the Timberline Trail, the Timberline Lodge and the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area. Otherwise you’re in the wilderness.

Timberline Trail Directions 8
Go straight at the junction for the mini-trail down to the lodge.
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These are the signs that you’ll see (and the one from the last sign). In general, you’ll be looking for Timberline Trail #600 or Pacific Crest Trail #2000. The only part where we leave either is on the Ramona Falls detour, which I’ll show you shortly.
Timberline Trail Directions 10
Keep hiking through all the ski lifts.
Timberline Trail Directions 11
Soon you’ll head into the trees. Here’s a tent site that you’ll pass. There are dozens of these along the trail, and they are your best bet for setting up a tent and spending the night.
Timberline Trail Directions 12
You’ll pass a sign marking the site of the Timberline Cabin (1916-1953).

Don’t confuse Timberline Cabin with the Timberline Lodge. The cabin was built in 1916 by a Forest Service employee as a refuge and telephone relay point between the Summit Fire Lookout and Government Camp. Soon after that it became a popular bunkhouse stop for early skiers and adventurers heading toward the summit.

Timberline Trail Directions 14
Stay on the Timberline Trail as it intersects the Mountaineer Trail #798.
Timberline Trail Directions 15
And then you’ll see a permit sign-in station. Sign your permit and keep moving.
Timberline Trail Directions 16
And right after that you’ll enter the Mt Hood Wilderness Area. The Mt Hood Wilderness is a protected area of about 65 thousand acres, including the summit of Mt Hood.

What is an official Wilderness Area? Here’s what they are and why they’re so special.

Timberline Trail Directions 17
Soon you’ll hike along the typical V-shaped gully or canyon crossing.. You’ll be doing dozens of these along the route as the Timberline crosses all the drainages from Mt Hood. This is Little Zigzag Canyon.
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When you cross Little Zigzag Canyon, look for the trail to continue on the other side.
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Keep straight on the Timberline Trail as the Hidden Lake Trail #779 joins on the left.
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The trail enters the trees and gently rolls downhill.
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Cross the small “warm-up” gully before you reach the Zigzag Canyon overlook on the other side.
Timberline Trail Directions 22
When you get to the other side, the trail continues left, but go straight for an incredible view of Zigzag Canyon.
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Here’s the viewpoint into Zigzag Canyon, named after the Zigzag Glacier above and the Zigzag River which flows through the canyon. To the far left is Paradise Park, an alpine meadow. The large mesa-like formation at the top of the canyon is called Mississippi Head.
Timberline Trail Directions 24
Head down the switchbacks into Zigzag Canyon. You might encounter your first downed trees here. They will be the first of many.
Timberline Trail Directions 25
When you get to the canyon floor, cross the Zigzag River and look for the trail up to the left. Remember this pattern, it’s basically the same for every major crossing. The Zigzag River is generally an easy crossing that you can usually rock-hop over or just walk through. It’s usually only a few inches deep unless there is heavy melt. If you look upstream you can spot Zigzag Falls.
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The second half of a canyon crossing is the climb out. Again, get used to this pattern, which happens many times.
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At the junction with the Paradise Loop Trail #757 (on the right), go straight.
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Here’s the sign for the Paradise Loop Trail at the last junction. The original Timberline Trail went up that loop, but later when it needed to accommodate horses, was routed on the lower trail you are taking now.

If you have the time and the energy to do an extra 720 feet of steep climbing, you can take the Paradise Park Loop and then rejoin the Timberline Trail at the end of the loop. Paradise Park is a nice alpine meadow with great views. You’ll see several “parks” along the hike, which refer to meadows.

Timberline Trail Directions 29
Soon after that last junction, go straight through the Paradise Park Trail #778.
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As you hike you’ll get nice views of Mt Hood and Paradise Park above to your right.
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Continue on and cross Lost Creek.
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And after that, make the right to continue around Rushing Water Creek.
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Head down to the end of the gully at Rushing Water Creek, which actually starts below the trail.
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There’s a nice fall at the end.
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Look out as you cross the canyon. At the end of this canyon is a 500 foot drop where Rushing Water Creek plunges down toward the Sandy River, our next big crossing.
Timberline Trail Directions 37
Soon after that you’ll pass the junction with the other side of the Paradise Park Loop.
Timberline Trail Directions 38
When you come to this edge, check out the viewpoint and then continue downhill left on the trail.
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Here’s the view from the overlook. That’s the Middle Paradise Branch Falls in front of you, and behind it, Upper Paradise Branch Falls.
Timberline Trail Directions 40
And a few minutes down the trail after the last viewpoint, there’s another one, this time with head-on views of (regular) Paradise Branch Falls.
Timberline Trail Directions 41
Then you have a nice long downhill to the Sandy River.
Timberline Trail Directions 42
The trail joins the banks of Rushing Water Creek, which we crossed earlier, and then joins the rocky wash of the Sandy River.
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Okay, this is our first big river crossing on the trail. The way it works is that you follow the trail markings, cairns, and sticks, to find the best place to cross. The location changes as the river floods, but unless there has a been a recent flood, the markings are usually accurate. There used to be footbridges (and then log bridges) installed by the Forest Service, but a few years ago they gave up, as the bridges were frequently washed away.
Timberline Trail Directions 44
Take care when crossing the Sandy River. In 2014 a hiker fell off a log bridge like this and died. Sometimes going through the water is smarter than crossing a slippery log.
Timberline Trail Directions 45
Look for the cairns to continue on the other side.
Timberline Trail Directions 46
And start the trail proper as it follows the Sandy River Downstream.
Timberline Trail Directions 47
When you reach the big intersection at the boulder, make the hard right to continue to Ramona Falls.
Timberline Trail Directions 48
Here’s the sign at that junction. We’re leaving the PCT on this stretch to Ramona Falls.
Timberline Trail Directions 49
The trail is much wider and well-worn; the Ramona Falls Loop is one of the most popular day hikes in the area.
Timberline Trail Directions 50
And soon you’ll reach Ramona Falls, with water glissading 100 feet down the rock face. The falls were named by a Forest Service worker in 1933 when scouting a route for the PCT. He named it after a popular love song called Ramona, which was based on the 1884 novel Ramona, about a half-native, half-Scottish woman.
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When you’re done taking in Ramona Falls, continue down the trail by crossing the bridge.

2: Ramona Falls to Cloud Cap

Timberline Trail Directions 52
Right after the falls you’ll come to a junction. On the right is the Timberline Trail, which is closed for the foreseeable future (maybe permanently?). This is the start of the Ramona Falls detour. Hike left and continue down the Ramona Falls Loop Trail.
Timberline Trail Directions 54
This part of the trail is very scenic as it makes its way down along Ramona Creek. There are a few dozen very scenic and peaceful (aside from passing day hikers) campsites here.
Timberline Trail Directions 53
When the trail crosses Ramona Creek, there’s always a bridge.
Timberline Trail Directions 55
As you get towards the end of the Ramona Loop Trail and it wides out, look up to your right and spot Bald Mountain above. We’re going to be hiking just below the summit up there, about 1500 feet of climbing from here.
Timberline Trail Directions 56
At the bottom of the Ramona Loop Trail, make the hard right.
Timberline Trail Directions 57
Here’s the sign at that intersection. If you needed to bail out, making the left brings you to a busy Ramona Falls day hike parking lot where you can probably hitch back to civilization.
Timberline Trail Directions 58
Head down to the lowest point on the hike, the crossing of the Muddy Fork, at 2800 feet. There’s a big and well-established log bridge to cross over.
Timberline Trail Directions 59
Now you start about 1500 of climbing. The good news is that it’s shady.
Timberline Trail Directions 60
The climb seems to go on forever, especially if you are tired. To add onto the effort, every time I do this stretch, there are a ton of bugs and flies out. If you have insect repellant, this is the place to use it.
Timberline Trail Directions 61
After several long switchbacks and a mile or so of climbing, the gradient eases up as you gain the ridge.
Timberline Trail Directions 62
The Top Spur junction can be confusing. You’re going to make the hard right at the sign.
Timberline Trail Directions 64
There is straight option at the Top Spur junction on the Timberline, but is full of downed trees, and doesn’t offer views. Skip it.
Timberline Trail Directions 63
Instead make this hard right and head down the trail, leaving the PCT behind.
Timberline Trail Directions 65
Hike past the Mt Hood Wilderness sign.

What’s the difference between the Mt Hood Wilderness and the Mount Hood National Forest? The wilderness is a protected area where no development is allowed. The National Forest, which surrounds the wilderness, is managed land that allows recreation and (planned) logging.

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And then through the tall trees as the trail winds around Bald Mountain, a few hundred feet below the summit.
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And soon you’ll be greeted with incredible views of the west side of Mt Hood.
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If you look across the valley to Yochum Ridge, you’ll see the devastation from the Labor Day 2020 wind storms which closed that portion of the Timberline Trail and forced us onto the earlier detour.
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Okay, this junction is important. Make the hard left onto the cut-off trail. Otherwise you’ll be heading down into the devastation I showed in the last picture.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at the junction.
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There’s a sign for McNeil Point on the cut-off trail, It’s a bit out of place; McNeil Point is up the trail a ways. Don’t let it confuse you, you’re not near it.
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At the end of the cut-off, make the hard right to continue on the Timberline.
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Here’s the sign at that junction. We’re on the Timberline Trail heading uphill.
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This section has a lot of blowdowns but they all have detours around or over.
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As you climb you’ll pass the McGee Creek Trail on your right.
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Keep your eyes open to the left as you climb and the ridge narrows. You’ll be able to see Mount Adams, the second-highest point and the largest active volcano in Washington State.
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The climb starts to level off and the ridge narrows even more.
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And then you emerge to great views of Mt Hood. The hill up ahead is McNeil Point. This is a great spot for a break.
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Look across the valley for the 800 foot Yochum Ridge Falls, which tumbles down to the Muddy Fork in the middle of the valley.
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And from here you’ll really be able to see Sandy Glacier, which feeds the Muddy Fork River that you crossed earlier. The glacier has halved in size over the last 100 years. It’s also home to the Sandy Glacier Caves, the largest glacier caves in the lower 48.
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Go straight past the unofficial cut-off trail to McNeil Point on the right.
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The trail goes past a hillside of volcanic Andesite rock, then through some nice meadow areas with hidden tent sites.
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Then you pass what is informally know as “McNeil Ponds,” a pair of photo-worthy glacial tarns.
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Keep straight on the Timberline Trail as it passes through some small trails to tent sites and through the meadow.
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You’ll cross a big alpine meadow.
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And then pass the junction with the Mazama Trail #625 on the left.

The Mazamas are a mountaineering club founded at the summit of Mt Hood in 1894, and are still active today.

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Look left as you hike for the trifecta of Cascades high peaks. From left to right: Mount St Helens (which had a major eruption in 1980),  Mount Rainer (the highest point in Washington), and Mount Adams.
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Keep straight past the (official) McNeil Point Trail on the right.
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Then you’ll have a crossing of a stream coming from the Glisan Glacier. It’s not usually mentioned in guides but can be challenging when it’s moving.
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The trail passes through an area destroyed by the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire.
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Pass the Eden Park Trail, which leads to an alpine meadow, on the left, and continue right on the Timberline Trail.
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Shortly after the last junction, look for the unmarked turn-off to the right, which leads to Carin Basin and the old shelter.
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The shelter is close to the trail and worth checking out. It’s one of the original six stone shelters built as a refuge for hikers in 1934.
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Shortly after that you’ll descend to the Ladd Creek crossing.
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This is another crossing that isn’t mentioned often but can be challenging. The stream is deep and fast.
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After Ladd Creek you’ll start a long descent with new views of Mt Hood. You’re about 2.5 miles away from the summit here. At one point later, on the other side of the mountain when you are above the timberline,  you’ll be about a mile closer.
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At the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail #626, stay straight on the Timberline Trail. And yes, that’s an orb photobombing me.
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Hike straight through a meadow called the Wy’East Basin.

Wy’East is the native name for Mount Hood.

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Go straight past the Pinnacle Ridge Trail #630 on the left.
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You’ll get more great views of Mt Hood and the north Coe Glacier as you descend.
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And then you’ll come to the junction with nearby Elk Cove (to the left).
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Here’s the sign at that junction. The meadows at Elk Cove make it a popular camping spot. Stay on the established tent sites around the meadow.

There are elk in Oregon, although I’ve never seen any on the Timberline Trail.

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Shortly after Elk Cove you’ll have to cross the Coe Branch. Look for the cairns for a good place to cross.
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The Coe Creek, although not wide, can be tough to cross. It’s deep and fast.
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Here’s what it looks like once crossing.
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Then you have a nice climb up from Coe Creek. Keep your eyes open for switchbacks that can be blocked by blowdowns.
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As you crest the ridge, you’ll see the Cloud Cap Inn on the next ridge over.
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And then you descend the switchbacks to the infamous Elliot Branch. The trail you are on now is a reroute of the original trail, which was washed out in 2006. The detour trail was opened in 2017.
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Make your way across the Elliot Branch, which many hikers consider the toughest crossing on the whole Timberline Trail. Make sure you read my earlier crossing tips, take your time, and you’ll be fine.
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Once the Elliot Branch is behind you, start climbing up to Cloud Cap. You’ll pass another permit box.
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And then arrive at the Cloud Cap Trailhead. The Timberline Trail continues as a hard right here, but I encourage you to take a break at Cloud Cap, which is off to the left.
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There are picnic benches and tent sites around the area.
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There’s also water (by the parking area) that you don’t need to filter.
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It’s a short walk over to the Cloud Cap Inn historic site.

The Cloud Cap Inn, built by Chinese laborers for $50,000 in 1889, is Mt Hood’s first resort. It had a tough go of it, and in 1946 closed for good as a resort, with the Timberline Lodge effectively putting it out of business. Oregon’s PBS has a cool (and short) documentary on the Cloud Cap Inn that’s worth watching. Today, America’s oldest search and rescue organization, the Crag Rats, is restoring it while using it as a base for operations.

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Explore the Cloud Cap Inn and then return to the trailhead.

3: Cloud Cap to Timberline

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Okay, head back to the trailhead and hike straight, avoiding the Tilly Jane Trail on the left.
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Soon you’ll pass a permit box and a Mt Hood Wilderness sign.
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A spur trail to the Eliot Glacier Moraine is off to the right, stay left on the Timberline.
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Here’s the sign at that last junction. We’re heading to Gnarl Ridge, named for the gnarled (and endangered species of) whitebark pines found at the edge of the tree line ahead.
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As you climb away from Cloud Cap through Tilly Jane Canyon, the trees thin out and you climb through the rock. Look for these cairns, cedar poles mounted in big rock piles, which are the original style trail markers from 1934. Above the tree line, these are the primary trail markers.
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The trail winds away from Tilly Jane Canyon and climbs along the lower slopes of Cooper Spur. The trees give way to boulders and rocks.
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Keep going straight at the  Cooper Spur Route junction.
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You’ll see the distinctive rock and pole cairns unfolding in front of you as you gently climb towards the Timberline Trail’s high point.
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Off to the left there are epic views of Bluegrass Ridge, nearly 5 miles long at an elevation of over 5000 feet.
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And if you look back, you still get views of our friends, Mt Adams, Mt Rainer, and Mt St Helens.
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When you arrive at the unmarked intersection just past the boulder, the Timberline continues straight, but I suggest taking a 2 minute detour up one of the use trails to the right and visiting the shelter.
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Here’s Cooper Spur Shelter, one of the original stone shelters built in 1934. It’s got a steel roof and small fireplace and chimney. I wouldn’t stay in it unless there was a storm, but if you do want to camp in this scenic spot, there are a lot of tent sites around (but no water). The glacier directly above you is the Elliot Glacier, which feeds the swift Elliot Branch that we crossed earlier.
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Head back on the Timberline and continue hiking uphill through the desolate lave fields. You’ll likely cross a few snowfields as you approach the high point of the hike.

What’s the difference between a snowfield and glacier? A snowfield is a large amount of snow that stays around all year, usually in a cooler or shady spot. A glacier is a larger body of snow that has recrystallized into ice and now moves like a slow river because of its mass.

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And here you are, the Timberline High Point at 7335 feet. There’s a little plateau where you could camp, but it’s fairly exposed.
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The views of Mt Hood from here are impressive. This is the closest that you’ll be to the summit, just over 1.6 miles away. The glacier is called the Newton Clark Glacier, and is an anomaly because it’s based (on a surveyor’s) full name, not just the last name as is the rule for modern place names.
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Now we’ve got a long cruising downhill for the next 4 miles or so. There are a lot of use trails around the snow fields, but in general look down to the left for the continuation of the trail.
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As you wind south you’ll start to get some great views of Mt Jefferson, about 50 miles away and the second highest point in Oregon after Mt Hood.
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As you descend, there’s a little climb to a cairn. This is the crest of Gnarl Ridge, which opens up to my favorite viewpoint on the Timberline Trail. Turn around and you see…
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The massive expanse of Newton Clark Canyon and the east face of Mt Hood lies in front of you. Waterfalls cascade down hundreds of feet of canyon walls. Being here feels as if you’ve stepped into a postcard. Soak it all in.
Newton Clark Moraine
Look across the canyon at the steep and massive wall of loose rock called Newton Clark Moraine. Unlike most moraine on Mt Hood, which are terminal or lateral, this is more rare medial moraine, formed as the two glaciers on either side of the canyon ground the rock down on this ridge in between them. This type of moraine is more common in Alaska than it is here.
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Start heading downhill from the Gnarl Ridge viewpoint. In the distance to the right you’ll see Mt Hood Meadows ski area, which we’ll be hiking through in about 5 miles.
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The trail follows Gnarl Ridge downhill.
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Just before Lamberson Butte directly ahead, you’ll make a left and descend into the pines. Lamberson Butte is the highest point on Gnarl Ridge and has a very sketchy scramble trail that is visible as you descend the ridge.
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Shortly after that turn you’ll see the ruins of the old Gnarl Ridge shelter.
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And then the Timberline dips back below the timberline as you descend through pines and alpine meadows.
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At the junction with the Gnarl Ridge Trail #652, stay right on the Timberline Trail. The next destination listed on the Timberline Trail signs is Timberline Lodge; we have about 10 miles to go.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at the Gnarl Ridge Trail.
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Keep descending toward your next landmark, the Newton Creek crossing.
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Okay, it’s the same drill at the Newton Creek crossing. Look for the cairns and markers to find the best way to cross.
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Newton Creek can be one of the more difficult crossings. If you don’t feel safe or confident in your ability to cross on logs or rocks (like this sketchy log), then play it safe and go through the water.
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After miles of descending, now you start to climb again away from Newton Creek.
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Hike past the Newton Creek Trail #646, which joins on the left.
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Now we have another descent down toward Clark Creek.
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Clark Creek can look a little tricky as you approach by crossing the moraine. You have a crossing of Clark Creek upstream, and then you’ll climb up to cross another creek above.
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Clark Creek is usually swift but has opportunities to hop across.
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Once you cross Clark Creek, you’ll climb and pass a picture-perfect mini-waterfall.
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And then you’ll have a bigger crossing at the top of a waterfall. It’s easy to miss the other side of the trail, which continues along the top of the waterfall.
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Now you’re entering civilization again as you cross over the numerous slopes and under the numerous lifts at Mt Hood Meadows ski area.
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Keep straight on the Timberline, avoiding the unmarked use trails around the ski area.
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And likewise, hike straight through the roads.
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It takes a while to cross the mile or so of trail through the ski area, which was built between the 1960s-90s.
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Okay, when you get to the last road, look for a junction just after the crossing.
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At the junction with the Umbrella Falls Trail #667, bear right to stay on the Timberline Trail.
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Leave the ski area behind and head back into the forest.
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As you descend you’ll see the White River, the last major crossing before the end of the trail.
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On the way down to the White River you’ll enter a narrow sliver of land called the Richard L. Kohnstamm Wilderness, which runs along the White River. Kohnstamm is responsible for saving the Timberline Lodge after it shut down in 1955, and creating what you see there today. He’s also considered a champion of the National Forest Service ideal of creating a balanced mix of developed and wild areas on federal lands.
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Okay, now you’re down at the White River wash. The White River generally has two branches to cross, is the widest river on the Timberline Trail, and can sometimes flood very high. Follow the markers and cairns to find the best crossings.
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Here is the crossing of the second branch. You can see how high the banks are by how small the hikers (on the left) are.
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When you cross, there are several use trails with camping areas. Head upstream to find the Timberline.
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There are cairns to help you find the trail and start the sandy climb back up to the Timberline Lodge.
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As you climb away from the White River, you’ll be able to spot the chairlifts above the Timberline Lodge.
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The Timberline Trail joins the PCT. Make the right to continue climbing to the lodge.
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The trail is sandy and can be tough, especially if it’s the end of the day for you.
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At the big patchy area of sand, it can be confusing. Follow the footprints. The trail is toward the left side of the wide area. On the right are views of the mountain.
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As you climb, you catch a glimpse of the Timberline Lodge.
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One last canyon to hike around (of the Salmon River), and then you’ll see the Timberline Lodge in front of you. There are a bunch of splits in the trail. Left will lead you to the parking lots, right will lead you to the lodge and the trails behind it where you started.
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And here you are, back at the start! That was the Timberline Trail.

This guide last updated on August 10, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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