Offering one of the most interactive ways to experience Mount Hood, the Timberline Trail provides constant, unique, and intimate views of the mountain as well as vistas across the surrounding areas. While many people are familiar with Mount Hood views from the ski areas to the south, many of the other aspects of the volcano take a little more effort to access. Within a relatively short distance, the trail takes you across every drainage and over every ridge radiating around the summit.
The length of the trail is almost 40 miles; however, the true challenge of the adventure comes from the constant change in elevation. By dropping down to cross every tributary fed by the snowfields and glaciers above, the trail gains and loses around 9,000 feet, which is more than 1.5 times the elevation change experienced by summiting the mountain itself.
While some use the loop as a challenging trail run done over a very long day, most spend at least two or three nights on the trail. This affords a more relaxing pace with time to take in the surrounding beauty and enjoy your remote alpine camps. No matter where you start or which direction you choose, there are ample choices to make camp. From the forest cover near Ramona Falls and the alpine meadows in the Cairn Basin to the open slopes near Cooper’s Spur, there is certainly no shortage of diverse tent site options. While some areas of the trail will be more populated with weekend hikers or backpackers, the areas farther from the access points will provide more solitude and a true wilderness experience. About 11 miles of the loop follows the Pacific Crest Trail, so you may notice more traffic from Timberline Lodge to the Bald Mountain area.
Crossing and filtering water from rivers and creeks will vary depending on when the trip is made. From July into early August, much of the water is still being released from the melting snowfields. Some water sources may still be covered by the snow on the trail. Later in the season these drainages will be running with creek water while others will have dried up or only run in the late afternoon. Many of the larger crossings are too silty to filter.
Most of the crossings can be done quickly and easily, although the major creeks and rivers may require some care and more commitment to cross. Again, water levels fluctuate with the seasons, but the ones to watch for are the Zigzag River, Sandy River, Muddy Fork, Coe Creek, Eliot Creek, Newton Creek, Clark Creek and White River. While the section near the Eilot Creek is officially closed due to the impressively large washout of 2006, many hikers are able to make it through. Although the Forest Service recommends setting up a car shuttle to avoid this rough terrain altogether, continuing through can be achieved by two methods: either drop down and ascend the steep scree and sand slopes on either side of the creek from a few hundred yards higher than the actual trail, or cross much higher on the glacier above. Keep in mind that this consists of off-trail terrain that many backpackers may not be comfortable with, so make sure you have the adequate experience and skills before making your decisions on how to pass this section of the trail.
Although more strenuous and rugged than other backpacking adventures in the area, the rewards that come from the Timberline Trail experience will not easily be forgotten. A test for both your mental strength and physical capabilities, experiencing the beauty around Oregon’s tallest mountain will leave you with a new and unique perspective of this amazing wilderness.
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