The Timberline Trail is a 41.1 mile loop that goes around the base of Mount Hood in Northern Oregon near the Hood River Area, about 1.5 hours east of Portland. Backpacking the Timberline Trail goes through about 10,300 ft of elevation gain and takes an average group or person between 3-5 days** to complete, depending on how far you want to go daily. The trail is fairly popular for its incredible views of Mt Hood’s western face, wildflowers, meadows and scenic trail sites.
FIRE CLOSURE: From Sep 25, 2020 – May 15, 2021 there are closures in this park or area due to wildfire. For more information, please visit the US Forest Service website
**We completed this trail in early October of 2020 about a week after a huge windstorm took down a section of the trail after Ramona Falls. This section has been rerouted for a few miles on the PCT and I highly suggest going on the re-route.
Permits are required to backpack the Timberline Trail during peak season (May 15-Oct 15) but are easily accessible at trailheads. We started and got ours at Timberline Lodge, a popular location to start your journey. Another popular starting location is on the northwest side of the trail at Cloud Cap. There is a campground with toilets and tables here (it actually makes a good stop on trail too) and you will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here.
Best Time of Year To Hike The Timberline Trail
Typically, the best start dates for backpacking the Timberline Trail is anywhere from July to October, when the snow levels are high and the creeks/rivers are low. There are several creek crossings and a few river crossings on this trail. Specifically, the river crossings might be sketchy if too high early in the season. Depending on the year, the later the season, the less likely you may come across water sources.
How Difficult Is The Timberline Trail?
Backpacking the Timberline Trail is a great introductory thru-hike and I would consider it “moderately difficult” trip because of the length. I don’t think this trail is easy, but it also wasn’t the most terrible hike in elevation change.
There are some steep elevation changes while on the trail but are very manageable. Your difficulty doing this trail will highly depend on your physical fitness, how heavy your pack is, and the conditions at the time of your hike. If you are a seasoned hiker, this is a great hike for you. If you would consider yourself a beginner, it might be a challenge.
What You Should Bring On The Trail
There weren’t too many pieces of gear that we brought, or didn’t bring that we messed up on. For a full list of our camping gear that we take on nearly all of our trips: read my blog post My Must-Have Backpacking Gear. Here are a few things we were glad we had, or wish we would have brought while backpacking the Timberline Trail:
↟ A smaller but necessary item that you’ll probably never use if you bring it, but you’ll need it if you don’t is blister tape. We also had an ample supply of Ibuprofen and I was glad we did
↟ A Pee Rag (for the gals & pals) For hygienic purposes, this was a must for me. We didn’t stop for a river or wash-cloth bath during the trip so this was handy for being comfortable.
↟ The most common thing I think people tend to overpack for backpacking is clothes. I had one pair of shorts, a tank top for hiking and a pair of thermal-leggings and a merino wool long sleeve for sleeping (plus by jacket). I didn’t need any more than that.
↟ Though it didn’t rain, it was forecasted for a day we were on trail. Although we didn’t need the rain jackets, they made good seats!
↟ We didn’t bring any mosquito spray or nets and luckily didn’t need them! If you are going earlier in the season (like July-August) you may want to pack them.
↟ (for photographers) I don’t think there was a single day that I stopped to break out my travel tripod, and I probably should have just left it. It just was not worth the weight.
Maps & Navigation
The Timberline Trail is very well maintained and marked, and you will likely have little trouble finding your way, unless going through the blowdown. I used a map just to track our progress to the campsites on AllTrails but there is a physical map you can get for the hike at REI.
Hazards On The Timberline Trail
As of late 2020, the biggest hazard currently facing the trail is a blowdown for about a 3 mile section of the trail, just after Ramona Falls (mile 9 clockwise). The trail has been re-routed at Ramona Falls here down the PCT, meeting back up with the Trail at mile 15. Take the re-route or climb through trees for 3 miles (around 5 hours). It will cost you almost a half day of trail-time.
Look here for current AllTrails reviews and stats, but there was another small section of re-route in late 2020 for a small blowdown, moving backwards and then cutting across. If this section of the trail is not rerouted anymore, I highly recommend still taking this re-route! It might cost you a few minutes, but this section of the trail were my favorite views of Mount Hood.
The eastern side of Mt Hood’s Timberline Trail is extremely exposed and is the highest point of elevation on the trail. There is a good chance you may see snow on the ground or glaciers surviving the summer sun. Watch the wind-forecast when you are over in this area and make sure you pack enough water. We filled up at Cloud Cap.
Another thing you will want to prepare for is river fording. There are several rivers that you will have to cross. Some will require some rock hopping, and some had some tree branches we could skirt across. The most notable crossing were:
– Sandy River, near Ramona Falls and where the PCT branches off from the Timberline Trail
– Coe Branch right after the Elk Meadows area
– Right before Cloud Cap Inn at Eliot Branch
-The White River, before the Timberline Lodge. This is a huge area, we had to cross two separate rivers in the river bed.
There are several other creeks that you will have to cross while backpacking the Timberline Trail that could also change depending on the year, but these four were the biggest ones we crossed in late 2020.
Highlights & Lowlights Of Our Trip
↟ There wasn’t a single day we were on trail that we didn’t see another group backpacking the trail. Although it wasn’t like some of the popular backpacking trails we have been on- if you are looking for solitude, this might not be the trail for you.
↟ I absolutely loved the northern section of the trail that passes through Elk Cove and the meadows (camp here if you are able!).
↟ The section going back to the Timberline Lodge passes through several areas of ski-resorts, and really brings you back to humanity quickly. The meadows they were in are gorgeous, but also filled with ski-lifts. The last few miles after White River, where the trail first meets the PCT, are also extremely sandy and a bit tiring to walk through.
↟ If you are able to catch sunset on the western face of Mt Hood, Bald Mountain is the best place for it! It sure put a spring in my step seeing that beautiful pink hue touch the mountain summit.
Good Campsites On The Timberline Trail
There are several great locations for campsites along the trail, and more than likely you’ll pass a few locations that will make you say “darn…we should have camped there”. Here were some of my notable locations:
-Mile 9.5, after the river crossing and before Ramona Falls, had plenty of space for campsites. We saw a tent pitched right on the river bed, but we opted for a bit more wind protection in the trees.
-The East Basin Meadow and Elk Cove areas are absolutely stunning, and was probably my favorite on the entire Timberline Trail. If it was not for the blowdown slowing us down in the beginning, I would have loved to stay here.
-The eastern face of Mt Hood near the highest point in the Timberline Trail had several rock piles you could squeeze a tent in between. We stayed close to the 30 mile mark and it had great views of the mountain summit and was clear enough you could see the neighboring mountains in Washington. If it was windy, it would have been very exposed.
– Mile 33 around the river crossing is a well protected campsite, close to water.
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A great thru-hike, incredible views and 4 incredible days of hiking- that’s what you’ll get after hiking the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood. I hope your days are blissfully long and the skies are clear-
If you are interested in reading about our experience on the Timberline Trail, our 5 hour detour through a blowdown (before it got re-routed) and our overall trip, you can find Reid’s written trail-journal on his blog Five To Nine.