Four days and 42 miles on foot backpacking the Timberline Trail around Oregon’s tallest mountain: Mount Hood! Hiking this trail took a little blood, lots of sweat and surprisingly no tears, but in the end we made it!
In this blog, I will cover everything you need to know about this hike and detail my experiences through stories and photos. Hopefully this will give you the inspiration and information to one day tick this epic backpacking route off your bucket list. Before I share my hiking experiences, let me introduce myself and tell you a little bit about my background.
My name is Jenni Magnuson (@jenniimags) and I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I went to college at the University of Illinois and then moved to downtown Chicago shortly after I graduated from college. After spending a majority of my life in Illinois, once I began my career and had the freedom to travel, I decided I needed to explore more of what the world had to offer.
I traveled on the weekends as much as possible and used my paid time off (PTO) wisely, mostly to check out different US national parks. I developed a passion for landscape photography and I couldn’t get enough of how each national park was so different from the last. So I kept booking weekend flights to explore them and capture these national parks on my camera.
Typically, I would head to the airport on Fridays right after work and fly home early Monday morning just in time for the work day to start. And now two years later, I finally decided to leave the Midwest and move to Denver, Colorado where I have easier access to many of my favorite destinations.
4 Days & 42 Miles on the Timberline Trail
I love the Pacific Northwest and had always wanted to visit Mount Hood. So it worked out conveniently that I discovered this through-hike called Timberline Trail that went around Mount Hood. Also, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – a 2,650 mile backpacking trail from Mexico to Canada, has always fascinated me and part of the PCT in Oregon overlaps with the Timberline Trail. I couldn’t wait to cross paths with PCT hikers and hear their stories.
My best friend from college and I took four days to complete this 42 mile trail – and let me tell you, this hike was no walk in the park! Firstly, I would like to emphasize that we are beginners to backpacking, so it was quite the learning experience. We both have active lifestyles and frequently hike, but we had never done a backpacking trip prior to taking on this trail.
Of course, it wasn’t until after we completed it that we found out the Timberline Trail is NOT for beginners, as it’s rated difficult (somehow we missed that while planning). That was evident as we struggled with obstacles such as hiking up steep elevation, crossing waist-deep rivers, climbing down 45+ degree slopes of ash and boulders, walking on icy snow bridges, and navigating through fallen trees constantly blocking the trail.
Although those obstacles seem daunting, they definitely added some spice and thrill to your average hike! The poor conditions of the trail at the particular time we hiked it happened to be due to the lack of forest maintenance after storms and wildfires hit shortly before our arrival.
I don’t think the trail would have been as extreme if the trails were cleared and maintained as it was pre-pandemic. We even met various experienced backpackers along the way who told us they had never been so challenged before and were shocked that we were tackling it as our first backpacking trip. In retrospect, as demanding as the trail was, it made for a once in a lifetime trip with breathtaking views and memories that I will never forget!
Hiking the Timberline Trail Clockwise
We started the trail clockwise at the Timberline Lodge (famous for its appearance in The Shining). Of course, we didn’t realize that hiking clockwise was the more challenging route, as the majority of the trail was uphill. I recommend going counter-clockwise instead. We noticed that the majority of backpackers we met were coming from that direction.
Even though the trail is most crowded during July and August, I think because of the pandemic and conditions during our trip we had no issues with traffic. In fact, we would hike for hours without passing another person. It felt so special setting up camp at night and feeling like we had the whole forest to ourselves. I will never forget that feeling of solitude.
My favorite observation was seeing Mount Hood from many different perspectives and terrain. We walked through lush forests, open wildflower meadows, snowy mountains, ashy sand, trickling waterfalls – you name it! It almost didn’t seem like we were actually hiking on one trail in one place.
Lodging/Campsites Along the Way
The only established lodging/campsite along the way was at the Timberline Lodge and a site at Cloud Cap with a bathroom. Because there were only two of us, it was easy to find an open spot for our tent along the trail, so we didn’t stay at the campsite. It would be ideal for larger groups though. And then there were a few rules for camping, such as no camping in open meadows and certain fire restrictions, but those weren’t an issue for us.
How Difficult is the Timberline Trail?
I have to be honest and say that my rating in the moment of backpacking the trail versus now looking back is very different. I will admit there were moments where I was struggling, and just when we thought it couldn’t get more difficult, new obstacles would challenge us. But I will say, we started and ended each day reflecting and even laughing about what we had experienced so far. That pushed us to keep going and enjoy the journey.
So even though the trail is meant for experienced hikers, we got through the whole thing as beginners and it felt like a big accomplishment when we took our last steps, especially passing backpackers who were just starting. We left feeling a sense of empowerment that we weren’t expecting when we began. So I encourage anyone to challenge themselves to backpack this trail regardless of their experience.
Inspired by PCT Hikers on the Trail
I was looking forward to meeting backpackers hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail at the time. A few of them we met had been on foot for over four months and were in the home stretch of their hike towards Canada.
Nothing humbled me more during my 10-mile-long days on the Timberline Trail than meeting these hikers who were averaging 20 – 30 miles a day! Backpacking shows you how amazing the human body is, and that was one of the biggest takeaways from my first backpacking trip.
Responsible Hiking and Eco-Tips
One of my favorite sayings about the outdoors is: “Take only memories, leave only footprints.” Follow it and Mother Nature will surely thank you. Don’t collect anything from the Earth to take home and don’t leave behind anything you brought from home. It’s as simple as that really.
Other things to consider: besides the lodge and one campsite, there are no trash cans/bathrooms on the trail as you are fully immersed in nature, so bring a camping trowel to dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 200 steps away from a water source and either pack away used toilet paper or use biodegradable tp. Also pack away any leftover food/trash in your pack.
Final Tips for Hiking the Timberline Trail
- Have fun, enjoy the moment and soak in the views. There were moments when I was too focused on getting from point A to point B that I didn’t appreciate the beauty around me, and that is such a regret!
- Download the AllTrails app to read about reviews and trail conditions.