The Timberline Trail is a roughly 40-mile scenic loop trail in northwest Oregon State about fifty miles east of Portland and thirty-five miles south of the Columbia River that circumnavigates the young stratovolcano Wy'East or Mount Hood at or mostly at the treeline. At 11,244 feet, Mount Hood is the highest point in Oregon and the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Range.
Constructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this loop is intersected by more than 20 trails in the Mount Hood area and most of its visitors are out for a daytime stroll. It crosses two wilderness areas, the Mt Hood Ski Resort, and 2 ranger districts but there are groups currently advocating to create a Mount Hood National Recreational Area so we may soon see changes to this beautiful locale in both legislation and management.
The Timberline Trail can be extended by camping in scenic side trails along the route or by climbing up to rocky viewpoints. The circuit is known for its many challenging river and creek crossings, most of which require fording before late summer or fall. Self-issue wilderness permits are attained at 3 locations along the route and established campsites can be found abundantly along the trail.
Prominent peaks in Washington State and Oregon summits such as Mount Jefferson and the Sisters are seen as you navigate the ups and downs of a geology lover’s playground filled with moraines and glacier-fed river drainages. Alpine wildflowers offer bursts of color in summer and most wildlife you spy will be rock sunning marmots, diving gray jays, and curious chipmunks.
The Timberline has cell service available around most of the mountain, permits are not limited and with its many access points and proximity to the Portland area, the trail sees a lot of love. It is a great trail for those who want a social outdoor experience while staying connected to life back at home. The only toilets are at Timberline, Cloud Cap and Tilly Jane, so be prepared to dig a cathole 200 feet away from any water source.
Most backpackers attempting the entire route start at the Timberline Lodge area because it offers ample free parking, flush toilets and a world-renowned buffet for before or after your trek. Make sure to arrive early, though, as spots fill up fast. Other popular beginning trailheads are Ramona Falls, Top Spur and Cloud Cap, all of which require a Northwest Forest Pass.
An itinerary of 3-4 days is common as is a clockwise direction. There is no one way to hike the Timberline, however, and studying its route is beneficial for finding a journey that works for you. Like many trails that encircle mountains, the terrain is in a constant state of flux and Mount Hood is no exception.
For more detailed descriptions of different parts of the trail, see our Hiking Guide entries for these sections:
- Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls
- Ramona Falls to Elk Cove
- Elk Cove to Gnarl Ridge Junction
- Gnarl Ridge Junction to Timberline Lodge
WTA Pro Tip 1: Parking fills up fast at the Timberline Lodge, arrive early before it is full with summer snowboarders and mountain bikers who are enjoying the increasing amount of trails offered near the lodge.
WTA Pro Tip 2: River and creek crossings are usually best done in the morning before snow melt causes them to rise, plan your campsites so you can tackle them earlier in the day.