Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we highlight one of the best trails from around the country. We hope reading about these inspires you to get out and see them for yourself!
This week we're featuring Oregon's Timberline Trail.
Featured Photo: Hochschwab (photo by hl_1001)
Why Hike the Timberline Trail?
The Timberline Trail was featured on our Best West Coast Mountain Backpacking Trips article and for good reason too. It offers hikers unbeatable views of Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest point at 11,249 feet. There are also plenty of waterfalls highlighted by the ever popular Ramona Falls as well as views of neighbouring Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainer.
- 41.5 mile loop, typically completed in 3-4 days. There are numerous access points though most people choose to begin and end their trip at Timberline Lodge, completing the trek in a clockwise direction around Mount Hood.
- A section of the Timberline Trail loop (between Timberline Lodge and Yocum Ridge) overlaps the Pacific Crest Trail.
- A section of trail between Muddy Fork and Yocum Ridge is currently impassable. The Ramona Falls Loop Trail bypasses this section and reconnects with the PCT/Timberline Trail after Yocum Ridge.
- The trail is rated as moderate to difficult due to some steep ascents and descents as well as some difficult river fords.
- Elevation varies from 3,480 feet to 7,320 feet. Total elevation gain is approximately 9,000 feet.
- Be prepared to walk through water. There are fast moving river fords which will likely be the most difficult part of the trail. The most difficult fords generally do not go higher than knee deep. Be sure to check out the safety alert for crossing Glacial streams and rivers on the Timberline Trail and look for cairns that point out the easiest path across.
- The Timberline Trail is a fairly popular hike. The area is also popular amongst day hikers, so expect to see many other hikers along the path
- July to October is generally the best time to hike the Timberline Trail as it is usually snow free during these months.
- Hiking from the end of August through September will likely result in a trip with fewer mosquitos and crowds while avoiding the colder temperatures of October. However, there will be more wildflowers in the surrounding area when hiking in July and August.
- Campfires are permitted in many areas though you are asked to use established fire rings and to keep your fire small. Campfires are prohibited within 500 feet of Ramona Falls and McNeil Point; within the tree covered island in Elk Cove and Elk Meadows; and within Paradise Park.
- There are numerous campsites along the trail. However, camping is prohibited in any meadow; within the tree covered islands of Elk Cove and Elk Meadow; and within 500 feet of Ramona Falls.
- There are plenty of water sources on route. You should have no worries about locating your next source of water.
- Bears are rarely seen on trail though they are found in the surrounding area. There are also other critters that may try to get your food. As such be prepared to hang your food or store it in a bear canister.
- Dogs are permitted on trail.
- There is intermittent cell phone coverage along the trail. There are large sections of trail that do not have cell phone coverage.
How Do I Get There
The closest major international airport to the Timberline Trail is in Portland, Oregon. The drive from the airport to the Timberline Lodge Trailhead Parking Lot is approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes by car.
There is also an option to take a shuttle service if you do not have access to a vehicle or do not want to rent a car from the airport. The Mount Hood Express provides transit to the Timberline Lodge Trailhead. Unfortunately this shuttle service does not commence at the airport which means you will need to take transit prior to accessing the Mount Hood Express. This will add a considerable amount of travel time to get to the trailhead. Taking the Mount Hood Express will result in an estimated trip duration of approximately 3 hours.
Map of Recommended Route
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended camp sites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Creek
- Day 2: Ramona Creek to Elk Cove
- Day 3: Elk Cove to Newton Creek
- Day 4: Newton Creek to Timberline Lodge
Day 1: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Creek
Prior to starting the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood you may choose to stop by the Cascade Dining Room at the Timberline Lodge for the breakfast buffet (if open) which begins at 8am. This will provide you an opportunity to enjoy one last meal before departing on your 4 day adventure.
Look for a sign that points you in the direction of the Pacific Crest Trail(PCT)/Timberline Trail once you leave the lodge. As you head down this trail you will get some views of Mount Hood, the highest point in Oregon.
You will reach a T junction after a short walk with a sign identifying the perpendicular trail as the PCT trail. You will want to head left towards Canada, as we are doing this hike around Mount Hood in a clockwise direction.
Timberline Lodge sits at about 6000 ft of elevation. You will be hiking approximately 11 miles today and much of your day will be spent on the descent.
You will approach Little Zigzag Canyon (5880 ft elevation) a little more than a mile into your hike. Look for a worn trail to guide you down the canyon and back up the other side. Less than 1.5 miles after Little Zigzag Canyon is the Zigzag Overlook (5450 ft elevation) which gives a nice view of Zigzag Canyon and Mount Hood. Follow the switchbacks down into the Canyon where you will meet your first river crossing at Zigzag River. Fortunately, your first river crossing is (generally) an easier one.
After hiking up and out of the canyon you will continue your general descent towards Paradise Branch Overlook (7 miles in; 5100 ft elevation) where you can enjoy views of Mount Robson.
Approximately 10 miles into your hike as you approach the end of the day you will encounter another river crossing. The Sandy River Crossing (3380 ft elevation) has the potential to be a tough crossing so be careful. Look for cairns that may be present to point you towards the easiest path across the river.
Shortly after crossing Sandy River is Ramona Falls (10.5 miles; 3460 ft elevation), a popular and picturesque waterfall along the trail.
When you leave Ramona Falls you will encounter a junction. The trail on the right is the Timberline Trail, however this section of the trail is currently closed so you will have to head left along the Ramona Falls Loop Trail which will eventually tie back into the Timberline Trail on day 2. For now, look for a camp spot along the Ramona Falls Loop Trail near Ramona Creek. Do not expect solitude at this camp spot as Ramona Falls is a popular day hiking destination.
Day 2: Ramona Creek to Elk Cove
Today will be another 11 miles of travel which begins as you continue to follow the Ramona Falls Loop Trail. You will eventually reach a junction where you will head right towards the PCT. This will bring you back to the Timberline Trail.
Approach Muddy Creek Crossing (2810 ft elevation) after a mile of hiking. There should be a log spanning the river here which will make crossing easier. Be prepared to start your ascent after this crossing. You will gain approximately 1500 ft of elevation over the next 2.5 miles where you will reach the Top Spur Junction. Follow the trail on the right at this junction. Eventually you will reach McNeil Point and some fantastic views of Mount Hood.
Continue the slow ascent towards Cairn Basin Shelter (5660 ft elevation) which you will reach after 8 miles of hiking. The Cairn Basin Shelter is an old stone shelter that is worth checking out. Right after the shelter is the Ladd Creek Crossing which has the potential to be difficult. It can be deep and fast.
2.5 miles after the Ladd Creek crossing is the Elk Cove camping spot. Find an established spot and set up for the night. This camping spot is popular and a favorite among many of those who have hiked the Timberline Trail.
Day 3: Elk Cove to Newton Creek
Day 3 brings approximately 12 miles of hiking and includes some tough river crossings, a beautiful viewpoint and the highest point of elevation on the trail.
You will begin your day with two tough river crossings: the Coe Creek Crossing (5150 ft elevation) less than a mile past Elk Cove; and Eliot Crossing (5520 ft elevation) 4 miles past Coe Creek.
5 miles into the hike will be the Cloud Gap campgrounds. This is another entry point to the Timberline Trail. You could potentially start your hike here if you do not want to begin your hike at Timberline Lodge.
Continue your ascent past the tree line where you will reach another stone shelter. The Copper Spur Shelter (6700 ft elevation) is similar to the Cairn Basin Shelter and again can be worth exploring. You will then gain over 600 ft of elevation over the next 1.5 miles where you will reach the high point of the Timberline Trail (7320 ft elevation).
Descent 400 ft over the next mile to reach Gnarl Ridge Viewpoint for more spectacular views of Mount Robson and the surrounding area. Hike 3 more miles down towards Newton Creek Crossing (5450 ft elevation). This will be another difficult crossing so take your time and stay safe while crossing. There should be some nice camping spots just after this creek crossing for you to set up your tent for the night.
Day 4: Newton Creek to Timberline Lodge
The last day is your shortest day distance wise at 8 miles. It begins with a somewhat difficult creek crossing at Clark Creek before heading into the Mount Hood Meadows Ski area (5850 ft elevation) where you will see a number of streams and waterfalls. Descend over the next 3.5 miles to the White River Crossing (4900 ft elevation) which can be one of, if not the most difficult crossing. Shortly after coming out of the river crossing you will encounter the PCT Junction where you will head right while gaining elevation back towards the Timberline Lodge.
What Will I Need?
It can get quite windy in exposed areas along the Timberline Trail even during the summer months. As such, you may want to bring a puffy jacket or other layers to keep you warm for these sections of trail.
Hiking between July and September can result in very warm days with plenty of sunshine. If you are expecting hot sunny days during your hike then a breathable sun hoodie could be beneficial to protect you from the elements. You will also want to bring sunscreen for additional protection from the sun.
As for footwear, you may want to look at getting a quick-drying breathable shoe as opposed to a waterproof hiking boot. This will allow your socks and shoes to dry out much faster after fording creeks. The other option would be to bring a second pair of shoes for fording creeks and to wear at camp. This would allow you to keep your main hiking boots/shoes and socks drier throughout the hike.
Bug spray would also be beneficial, especially during the summer months when mosquitos are more prevalent.
Trekking poles would be highly recommended. Not only are they beneficial on trail but they are also extremely useful when crossing creeks, providing extra stability in the fast moving waters.
Our Tri-Fold trekking poles fold down to just 15-inches when not in use, making them a great options for backpackers. They can be a lifesaver on water crossings or very steep climbs, both of which are plentiful in on the Timberline Trail.
Speaking of water crossings, in this hike particularly, it may be beneficial to try to keep your pack as light as possible. This will also help with stability when crossing creeks along the timberline trail. With this in mind it may be beneficial to bring a lightweight quilt instead of a sleeping bag and/or a trekking pole tent rather than the traditional free-standing tent. Of course, a quality sleeping bag and free-standing tent are still viable options if you prefer a more traditional sleep system. You will also want to finish off your sleep system with a 3 season sleeping pad that has an R-value around 3 or slightly higher.
You will also need to bring cooking gear. A lightweight stove, combined with a titanium cook pot, titanium mug for warm beverages and long handled spork for dehydrated meals are all beneficial if not necessary for meals on the trail.
If you are looking for a little luxury while on trail you can try an inflatable pillow and sit pad.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
Yes. Wilderness Permits are required between May 15th and October 15th. These permits are free and available at the trailhead.
You will not have any additional fees if you are parking at the Timberline Lodge Trailhead. However, parking at all other trail access points (Ramona Falls, Cloud Gap and Top Spur parking lots) will require a day or annual Northwest Forest Pass. The day pass costs $5 per day while the annual pass is $30.
7-day weather forecast
Fording Rivers Safety Alert
Mount Hood Express Shuttle Service
Annual Northwest Forest Pass (needed for Ramona Falls, Cloud Gap and Top Spur Trailheads)
Northwest Forest Day Pass (needed for Ramona Falls, Cloud Gap and Top Spur Trailheads)
If you can navigate the difficult water crossings and withstand the mosquitos (summer season) then you will be afforded an incredible opportunity to experience astonishing views of Mount Hood and nearby landmarks such as Mt. St. Helen’s and Mt. Rainer. This makes the Timberline Trail an absolute must for hikers seeking a mountain backpacking trip.
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best West Coast Mountain Backpacking Trips" roundup post. Also, be sure to check out these other Hike of the Week articles for backpacking trips in the Northwest USA:
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.