Timberline Trail – Mount Hood Wilderness, OR (40 mile loop)

Trip Overview: The 40 mile Timberline Trail Loop in the Mount Hood Wilderness is a classic route that circumnavigates Oregon’s highest peak, Mount Hood. Located just outside of Portland, this route features alpine vistas, waterfalls, countless views of Mt. Hood, alpine meadows, and views of cascade forest. Over the course of the loop you climb roughly 10,500 feet and reach a peak elevation of 7,330 feet. The majority of the images in the report are from a trip in August of 2019.

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Overall map of the Timberline Trail Loop in the Mount Hood Wilderness. The hike is divided across five days. Day 1 (magenta), Day 2 (yellow), Day 3 (blue), Day 4 (black), and Day 5 (red).
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Overall elevation profile for the Timberline Trail Loop in the Mount Hood Wilderness. Starting and ending at the Timberline Lodge and hiking clockwise.
  • Higher resolution version of the overall map for The Timberline Trail loop (PDF)
  • Black and white map of the Timberline Trail from the US Forest Service (here)

Jump to Day 1: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls
Jump to Day 2: Ramona Falls to McGee Creek
Jump to Day 3: McGee Creek to Compass Creek
Jump to Day 4: Compass Creek to Newton Creek
Jump to Day 5: Newton Creek to Timberline Lodge

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

Permits: Overnight backpacking in the Mt. Hood Wilderness requires that you self-register for a permit at your entry trailhead. However, you are not required to reserve a permit ahead of time and no quotas are in place. This makes the Timberlines Trail a great option for anyone looking to find a last minute itinerary or anyone who missed out on permits for other trails with restricted access. Some trailheads in the Mt. Hood Wilderness may require day use fees, so check the posted signs when you park and follow all necessary rules and regulations.

Click here to read more about Logistics

Logistics: Many backpackers choose to hike this loop in the clockwise direction starting and ending at the Timberline Lodge. There is parking at the Lodge as well as several food and drink options. You could also stay the night at the lodge the night before or after your trek if you prefer to stay close to the trailhead to get an early start. The morning you start your trek, you can hike directly from the lodge, and since this is a loop hike, there is no need to worry about shuttles or taxis. The Timberline Lodge is about a 1-1.5 hour drive from Portland.

Click here to read more about Difficulty

Trail Conditions and Difficulty: The Timberline Trail Loop is a moderate difficulty trek when hiked over 5 days in the prime season (July to September). Daily mileage can be kept below 10 miles and the elevation gain is evenly spread across each day. The main challenges that arise in this loop are the several creek/river crossings. There are at least 5 fast moving creek crossings that do not have bridges installed. Backpackers must carefully ford these crossings in order to complete the loop. During the summer most of these crossings are ankle-to-knee deep and can be safely crossed, but backpackers should use caution as the water can be fast moving and high during the early hiking season.

If hiked in 4 or fewer days, the mileage will make this loop difficult for hikers who are not fit. Thus, if you plan a 3 or 4 day itinerary, you should train accordingly. When hiked in late Spring (when snow can be present and creeks are likely to be flowing high) or early fall (when snow can fall), the difficulty is also increased.

 

Supplies: There is not much concern for bears in the Mount Hood Wilderness so there is not a requirement for bear canisters. Black bears are present in the area, but there are no regulations in place requiring specific equipment or precautions. That said, rodents and other small critters in the area are known to forage through hiker supplies. At the very least, you should hang your food in an ursack to prevent issues.

You likely will want bug spray because the mosquitoes can be out in force in certain areas where the snow has recently melted. I prefer a picaridin based spray because it does not damage plastics and synthetic fibers like high concentration DEET sprays do. I also like to pre-treat my clothes and tent with permethrin spray repellent. The permethrin treatment stays on your clothes for up to 7 washes, so it helps reduce the amount of spray you need to put on your skin.

You likely will want trekking poles since they help your knees on the steep climbs and descents and with stabilization while fording creeks.

 Below is a list of the gear recommended for backpacking the Timberline Trail:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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……….

Day 1: 9.7 miles; +1,400 feet / -3,130 feet; Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls

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Map of the Day 1 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt. Hood Wilderness, from Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls (purple)

Map of the Day 1 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop (PDF)

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Approximate elevation profile of the Day 1 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt Hood Wilderness

The start of this trek is mostly downhill but has one moderate ~1,000 foot climb (when exiting Zig Zag Canyon). Nearly all the hiking on Day 1 is on the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT joins two parts of the Timberline Trail to form the full loop. Along the route from the Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls you first pass through Little Zig Zag Canyon and the larger main Zig Zag Canyon. You will need to cross the Zig Zag River as well. After exting Zig Zag Canyon, it is advised to take the Paradise Park Trail Loop. This trail splits off from the PCT to the east and makes a detour out of the forest and into some beautiful meadows. It does not add any extra distance, so there is little to lose.

After passing through Paradise Park and fording the Lost Creek, you get back on the PCT and begin a steady 4 mile descent down to Sandy Creek. Once you ford Sandy Creek, it is less than 1 mile to Ramona Falls. Regulations require you camp at least 500 feet from the falls. There are some side trails in the area that lead to legal campsites.

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When leaving from the Timberline Lodge, you take the Pacific Crest Trail northwest (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Around the 1 mile mark along the PCT you reach Little Zig Zag Canyon (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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At the 2.5 mile mark, you reach the edge of Zig Zag Canyon before descending down to Zig Zag Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Descending down into Zig Zag Canyon (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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You must cross Zig Zag Creek before continuing up and out of Zig Zag Canyon (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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At the 3.5 mile mark you reach the junction between the PCT and the Paradise Park Loop Trail. Take the Paradise Park Trail to the northeast for the great meadows and wildflowers (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Wildflowers along the trail through Paradise Park (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Hiking along the Paradise Park Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Shortly after the 5 mile mark, there is a short trail that leads to Split Rock. This area makes for a nice lunch spot (or campsite if you want a short first day). There is a good view of Mount Hood (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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At the 6 mile mark, the Paradise Trail meets back with the PCT and you take the PCT downhill towards Sandy River. Here is the view from the PCT looking over the Sandy River with Mt. Hood in the background (credit: D. Betcher)
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Depending on water levels, you may have to ford the Sandy River at the 8-9 mile mark (credit: J Helms)
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The PCT eventually reaches the impressive Ramona Falls. Take in the view of the falls and then find a campsite at least 500 feet away (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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View of Ramona Falls in the Mt. Hood Wilderness (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).

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……….

Day 2: 7.9 miles; +2,920 feet / -1,620 feet; Ramona Falls to McGee Creek

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Map of the Day 2 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt. Hood Wilderness, from Ramona Falls to McGee Creek (yellow).

Map of the Day 2 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop (PDF)

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Approximate elevation profile of the Day 2 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt Hood Wilderness

The Day 2 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop has the biggest climb of the trek. Over the course of the ~8 miles, you climb at least 3,500 feet. The day starts with climbing up and over the Yocum Ridge and then fording the Muddy Fork at the 3 mile mark. The PCT then leads along a ridge and skirts around Bald Mountain at mile 5. At this point, you transition off the PCT and start heading east on the actual Timberline Trail. The Timberline Trail leads up towards McNeil Point. At around the 7.5 mile point (near McNeil Point) there is a junction with a trail that leads north to McGee Creek. Take this trail downhill for ~0.2 miles in order to reach the campsites near the creek.

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On Day 2 you again start out hiking along the PCT (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Crossing the Muddy Fork at the ~3 mile mark (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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At about the 4.5 mile mark the trail skirts along the south side of Bald Mountain. If you look back you get great views of Mt. Hood and Sandy River (credit: D. Schmidt)
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At the 5 mile mark, the PCT wraps around Bald Mountain and goes back into the forest before reaching a junction with the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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The junction between the PCT and Timberline Trail. Continue on the Timberline Trail from this point onward (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Between miles 6-7.5, the Timberline Trail leads up the Bald Mountain Ridge and has some very good views (credit: S. Nielsen)
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One the small side trails that leads to the campsite near McGee Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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McGee Creek campsite along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Sunset from the McGee Creek Camp (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).

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……….

Day 3:  6.5 miles; +2,200 feet / -1,850 feet; McGee Creek to Compass Creek

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Map of the Day 3 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt. Hood Wilderness, from McGee Creek to Compass Creek (blue)

Map of the Day 3 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop (PDF)

timberline-trail-elevation-profile-day-3
Approximate elevation profile of the Day 3 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt Hood Wilderness

Day 3 takes you along the Timberline Trail from McGee Creek to Compass Creek. The first mile meanders in and out of the cascade forest. You then approach the Cairn Basin and the burned remnants of the 2011 Dollar Lake fire. At around the 3.5 mile mark, you descend ~800 feet through Elk Cove before reaching the Coe Branch (another creek ford). After you ford Coe, you begin a ~1,00 foot climb up to Compass Creek where you camp for the 3rd night.

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Heading out on the Timberline Trail towards the Cairn Basin (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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One of a couple small ponds you pass after crossing over McGee Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Small pond and view of Mt. Hood from the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Heading into the Cairn Basin region (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Along the Timberline Trail hiking towards the Cairn Basin, Mt. Hood in view (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Crossing Ladd Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Along the Timberline Trail hiking through a section of forest that was burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Along the Timberline Trail hiking through a section of forest that was burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Along the Timberline Trail hiking through a section of forest that was burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Cairn Basin Shelter along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Along the Timberline Trail hiking through a section of forest that was burned in the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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View of the Lass Glacier from the Cairn Basin area (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Wildflowers in the Cairn Basin (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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View along the Timberline Trail as you approach the Elk Cove area at the ~4 mile mark (credit: K. Canada)
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Taking a lunch break in the Elk (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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More wildflowers along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Crossing Coe Creek at the ~5 mile mark (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Coe Creek along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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Section of the Timberline Trail along a ridge before you reach the Compass Creek area (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).
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The Timberline Trail at the ~6 mile mark before it enters in the forest where you can camp near Compass Creek (credit: S. Nielsen)
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Camp near the Compass Creek crossing along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0).

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……….

Day 4: 7.6 miles; +2,130 feet / -2,390 feet; Compass Creek to Newton Creek

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Map of the Day 4 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt. Hood Wilderness, from Compass Creek to Newton Creek (black)

Map of the Day 4 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop (PDF)

timberline-trail-elevation-profile-day-4
Approximate elevation profile of the Day 4 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt Hood Wilderness

The hike on Day 4 is moderately difficult, but rewards you with some great views. The first mile is relatively flat and heads east through the forest. You then descend ~700 feet down into the Cloud Cap Saddle and the Eliot Branch. This section of the trail was constructed in the last 10 years after the previous trail through the Eliot Branch was destroyed. You ford the Eliot Branch creek and then begin a steady ~3,000 foot climb south along the east side of Mt. Hood. At the 4.5 mile mark, you reach the peak elevation of the Timberline Loop (~7,340 feet). From there it is ~3 miles downhill to Newton Creek as the Timberline Trail descends along the Gnarl Ridge. Set up camp after you ford Newton Creek.

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View looking up towards Mt. Hood from the Compass Creek area in the morning (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier from the Timberline Trail after starting to hike away from Compass Creek camp (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View of Mt Hood from the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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At the bottom of the Cloud Cap Saddle you must ford the Eliot Branch (credit: S. Nielsen)
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Climbing out of the Cloud Cap Saddle, ~2 mile mark (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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The Eliot Glacier which feeds the Eliot Branch (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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At the 2.3 mile mark there is a junction between the Timberline Trail and Tilly Jane Trail. Continue on the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Hiking along the Timberline Trail, Mount Adams and Rainier in the background (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Between miles ~3-6 you emerge above the tree line as the Timberline Trail heads towards the Copper spur (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Along the Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View from the edge of Gnarl Ridge at the ~6 mile mark (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Gnarl Ridge, Mt. Hood, and Newton Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View of Mt. Hood while descending into Gnarl Ridge (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View looking south while descending towards Newton Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Along the Timberline Trail shortly before reaching Newton Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Fording Newton Creek, Timberline Trail (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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Campsite in the forest nearby Newton Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)

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Day 5: 7.3 miles; +1,850 feet / -1,510 feet; Newton Creek to Timberline Lodge

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Map of the Day 5 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt. Hood Wilderness, from Newton Creek to Timberline Lodge (red)

Map of the Day 5 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop (PDF)

timberline-trail-elevation-profile-day-5
Approximate elevation profile of the Day 5 hike on the Timberline Trail Loop in Mt Hood Wilderness

The hike on the last day of the Timberline Trail Loop is relatively tame. In the first mile, the trail gently climbs up a ridge. For the next ~3 miles, you hike across the Mt. Hood Meadows ski slope area and go in and out of the tress as you cross the different ski runs. At the 4 mile mark, you exit the ski resort area and begin a ~1,000 foot descent down towards the White River. After fording the river, it is a ~2 mile climb up 1,200 feet to reach the Timberline Lodge and finish the loop. At the lodge you can buy a beer and some food to reward yourself!

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At about the 1.5 mile mark, you encounter Clark Creek (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View along the Timberline Trail approaching the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area (Credit: K. Martig)
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View along the Timberline Trail hiking through the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area (Credit: K. Martig)
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View along the Timberline Trail hiking through the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)
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View from the Timberline Trail looking across the White River with Mt. Hood in the background (credit: K. Petersen)
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You end the loop back at the Timberline Lodge where you can relax and have a drink! (photo credit: Dan Nevill, CC 2.0)

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4 Replies to “Timberline Trail – Mount Hood Wilderness, OR (40 mile loop)”

  1. Great trip guide! I’ve been thinking of trying this with my wife and niece this summer. Definitely going to give it a go once I look into permits. Do you think this route is possible to do in four days? Also, does one need to call in designated spots the entire way?

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    1. Hi Jeff, you can grab a permit at the trailhead when you arrive! You can camp many places along the route. There are no designated spots, though it’s best to find sites that have been used before. You can do it in four days, but you will want to be in pretty good hiking shape.

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    1. There are a good number of creeks/streams/lakes along the trail, so you should be good to only carry 2-3L at most. Definitely bring a filter or iodine tabs to sterilize, and plan your campsites so that they are near streams (in the report I did so). Note that some of the streams can be quite silty, so they are not great to try and filter and drink. There is some good info on individual water sources at this page: https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Timberline_Trail_around_Mount_Hood_Hike

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