After seeing Ramona Falls, continue along the northwest section of the Timberline Trail to meadows, wildflowers and more expansive views of Mount Hood.
Just past the Ramona Falls is the junction of the Ramona Creek and Timberline Trails at 3450 feet and 9.9 miles, take a sharp right up to continue on the Timberline. The trail curves around Yocum Ridge, passing the Yocum Ridge Trail at 10.6 miles then following the contour down to a demanding crossing of the Muddy Fork where a few campsites can be found. Fill with water before continuing on as water is scarce until below McNeil Point.
Climb once again with stunning views of Mount Hood, the Sandy Glacier and the Muddy Fork drainage and a trail adorned with Washington lilies, yarrow, phlox and the occasional columbine. There is a well-marked cutoff trail at .7 miles before the Top Spur junction if you want to head directly up to the ridge to continue the Timberline, shortening your trek by about 1.2 miles. The ridge is dry, however, so if you need water carry on to Top Spur where some can be found about a quarter mile down on the PCT.
At the Top Spur junction at 15.2 miles and 4300 feet, the Timberline Trail marked for Cairn Basin leaves from the left of a permit kiosk as it skirts around Bald Mountain and takes the ridge. You will soon pass the junction with the Cutoff Trail and then McGee Creek Trail (#627) as the ridge begins to narrow on the ascent towards McNeil Point. This is a popular day hike, as well as an entry point to the scenic meadowed sections of the Timberline Trail on the north side of the mountain. Leapfrog with fellow backpackers and pass smiling day hikers happy to be heading back down to their cars after the breathtaking vistas.
Pass the unmarked scramble route to McNeil Point angling off to the right at 17.3 miles. You could take this loop for 1.1 miles until it rejoins the Timberline Trail but it is difficult and often requires 3 points of contact. If McNeil Point is your goal, a shelter perches above and a year-round stream and campsites can be found nearby.
Staying on the Timberline, you will soon arrive at a snowmelt stream flowing over the trail at 5380 feet busy with backpackers filling their filters and pack bladders after that last dry stretch. If you are in need of water there is no need to wait, McGee Creek flows a little further up the trail. Just beyond there are several campsites nestled in a meadow at the base of a boulder field and in the trees perfect for hanging a hammock.
From here, head up a short switchback to begin your trek to Cairn Basin. Saunter through grassy meadows and the paired McNeil Ponds at 18.2 miles that provide space for a few tents tucked back in the pines and a sought-after reflection of Mount Hood in their tranquil water. Another secluded tarn hides up on the Mazama Trail a short distance from its siblings.
Pass the junction with the Mazama Trail (#625, previously the Cathedral Ridge Trail) and McNeil Point (#600M) at 18.3 and 18.6 miles respectively, being aware of signs for meadow restoration as you weave through the western hemlock and magenta heather.
Glisan Creek, a branch of Ladd Creek and outflow from Hood’s smallest glacier, at 18.7 miles and 5690 feet can be a tricky rock hop or a shallow ford over silty water. It may be branched so if you swap for water shoes, continue a short distance to see if you still need them. The second crossing is usually good water and snow may cling here to the edges of Glisan, a sign that you have entered the north side of Wy’East where it lingers later in the season.
You soon enter the burn area of the Dollar Lake Fire of 2011 with its green understory populated with fireweed meadows and silver snags jutting up towards the sky. There is a beckoning open field soon on the left but in just a few minutes you will pass the junction for Eden Park (19 miles and 5670 feet) which loops down to meadowed campsites. A few steps more and you arrive at the sturdy CCC built Cairn Shelter with a handful of established campsites on durable surfaces available in the trees.
Your next crossing is Ladd Creek (5650 feet) which is typically narrow and slow moving but can be deceptively deep in places. The water is opaque, making it hard to gauge depth or gather water due to the glacial particles from its namesake glacier.
The trail resumes its ramble along the contour with the occasional snowfield to traverse, poles and kicking steps can make crossing easier. The surrounding landscape opens up towards the Columbia River and you can spy Mount St. Helens off in the distance. The sun shines brightly on Mount Hood behind you and the patches of forest scarred by the lightning originated Dollar Fire alternate with the sporadic spared pine.
Just before reaching the junction with Vista Ridge Trail (#626) at 20 miles, the trail rounds the ridge at 5900 feet and cell phone reception is available. There aren't good places to camp at the junction but there is a stream for filtering water. Continue on, hopping across several streams intersecting the trail from snowfields on Coe Glacier and step with care over steep, persistent snow bridges in shaded gullies.
At mile 20.3 miles is the junction with the Pinnacle Ridge Trail (#630) and at 20.6 miles and 5800 feet elevation as you round the base of Barret Spur there is a faint side trail turning up .3 miles to Dollar Lake with its handful of established campsites that fill up fast on summer weekends. It is possible to draw water from Dollar Lake but with the amount of activity it receives, you may be better served up further up a boot path towards Barrett Spur where there are more campsites and a clear stream.
After passing through alpine meadows populated with paintbrush and western pasqueflower, a campsite can be claimed at the crossing of Cove Creek along with those above and below the trail at the junction with the Elk Cove Trail at 21.3 miles and 5470 feet. You are now about halfway around Mount Hood!
Some other popular campsites along this section of the Timberline include Cairn Basin, Dollar Lake (a side trip that will add 0.4 miles) and Elk Cove.
If you look closely around the sites above the trail, a few rocks mark the site of another CCC shelter long destroyed from repeated winter avalanches that often roar down from Barrett Spur and amputate the taller trees not protected by accumulations of snow. Gaze up at Mount Hood and the barren, stepped slopes of Barrett Spur and Pulpit Rock.