The southeast section of the Timberline Trail can be very exposed and difficult to follow at times due to erosion, but it will reward you with beautiful views of the White River drainage and Mount Hood.
The rocky terrain of the Newton Creek drainage presents itself at 32.9 miles and 5410 feet and you prepare for yet another waterford. Look for cairns where others have crossed and because the bank of the creek sees erosion you may have a climb in loose soil to connect back with the sloughing trail perched precariously above on the other side. A rope or flagging may be left by fellow hikers and there are a few campsites here but with their close location to water sources they are not ideal for adhering to Leave No Trace principles.
The trail crosses a clear stream and climbs up through another mountain meadow and intersects with the Newton Creek Trail (#646) junction up from Mount Hood Meadows at 33.3 miles and 5590 feet. There is a wilderness permit kiosk here that reminds you that you are now leaving the wilderness area and entering the section that runs under the ski lifts of Mount Hood Meadows for about 3.5 miles.
Less than a mile from that intersection you come around the ridge and gaze down into the Clark Creek canyon, dropping down on a narrow ribbon of trail to a crossing at 34.5 miles that can often be just a rock hop later in the season.
From here there are a number of clear streams, refreshing waterfalls and functional campsites tucked into the trees as the trail saunters under ski lifts at around 5400 feet. It is fun to imagine the slopes covered with snow and skiers swishing down as you now frolic through a carpet of wildflowers.
At mile 34.7 is the junction with the Umbrella Falls Trail (#667) and soon after Mitchell Creek and its namesake service road. There are a few campsites to be had above and below the trail here in the trees that offer a minimal amount of privacy. If you haven’t yet, fill up water along the way in preparation for your climb to the lodge. Don’t be lulled into thinking you have conquered the mountain, there are a few challenges still to be had.
After passing through a few more meadows and an often muddy section of the trail (and the second bridge you will see on the Timberline), you cross into the Richard L. Kohnstamm Wilderness and gaze out at the wide swath of the White River moraine through the trees at 37.5 miles and 5290 feet. Your last difficult crossing! Campsites can be found upstream from the crossing if needed.
The trail down can be deeply eroded and it is a short distance on a pumice path lined with guiding rocks to the first of two crossings at 38.2 miles and 4940 feet that vary year to year. The first one is clearer and more shallow than the second making it easier to manage. It can be tricky here after making your way across the river as climbing back up the other side can be steep and loose yet again, the trail picks up a little further upstream from where you crossed.
Now you begin the long but final haul up the soft sand dune of a trail pocked with bursts of purple lupine to meet the Pacific Crest Trail junction at 39 miles and 5320 feet. Barlow Pass is to the left, you will turn right for Timberline Lodge and your car.
This last section can drain the soul, especially if the hot sun is beating down. It compensates with views across into the expansive White River drainage with notable Illumination Point to the left of Mount Hood. Look across at the canyon walls for evidence of previous valley floor levels, buried forest and mummified trees poking out from the surface.
Soon leaving the wilderness boundary again, you can see the Timberline Lodge across the way before descending and ascending one more swale. Take care 0.5 miles before the lodge where a spur trail turns right to ascend the mountain. If the weather has you socked in, keep an eye on your elevation. Above 6000 feet and you took a potentially dangerous wrong turn.
You can drop down to the first parking lot on several boot paths you see or continue a bit further to the lodge to end your trek where you began. The Timberline buffet is a popular way to end your thru-hike but you will also find some tasty nosh in nearby Government Camp to the west.