Completing this loop is the greatest physical challenge I’ve ever completed. In the planning mode I was counting on 3 days of 13 miles per day. I thought it would be a real slog due to the constant ups and downs in elevation as you circle the Volcano. We surprised ourselves the first day and knocked out half of the trail, hiking exactly 20 miles. That is the single longest hike I’ve ever been on and also the longest hike with a backpack by a long shot. This left us with a more relaxed schedule for the next two days.
If you think you can safely push it the first day, do it. That way you can take your time for the next two days or crush it the next day and complete the whole 40 mile loop. We met some trail runners that were running the whole god damn thing in one day. Three days is totally manageable, and four days would be a luxurious pace with lots of camp time if you want that. If you’re interested in the menu, click here.
Thousands have done this trail, so there’s really little I can add to the compendium of knowledge available elsewhere on the internet. That being said, we were amongst the first groups of people to use the new trail to cross Eliott Creek so I’ve got some info on that below for those that are interested. Trail workers were still putting the finishing touches on the trail.
For trip planning I used the Green Trails Map for Mt Hood for my physical map, which I also took with us. I used the eyehike website to view many useful maps and elevation profiles. Its dated at 2004, which is before the Eliot Creek washout in 2006, but everything else is accurate and useful. To see pics of the hike matched with a map, check out NWhiker. I took screenshots of this page on Oregon Hikers so I would know where some camping areas are (updated in 2014). There are tons more small camping spots along the way, but some sites are dry so plan well.
We started Saturday morning at 730 AM. By noon, we had put 10 miles behind us by the time we reached Ramona Falls. Reaching Ramona Falls requires a drop of over 2000+ feet. We chose to go clockwise on the route to avoid this being the last brutal climb to the end. The climb after that was tough on me, and for the last 5 miles of the day I was in a lot of pain. The scenery was magnificent and this trail is full of surprises.
Here’s some pics from the first day:
The scenery at the beginning was out of this world as we descended to Ramona Falls:
Much of the rest of the trail was wooded and beautiful in its own right. We were relieved to camp in Cairn Basin near the shelter.
It got pretty damn cold that night, but I was warm and toasty wrapped up in my quilt and under my tarp. I struggled to stay up past 9. The next morning we actually felt pretty good, made our breakfast and coffee and were on our way.
Day two would be about 13 miles according to Strava, which we used daily. This hike included the crossing of Elliot Creek, which turned out to be NBD. We climbed up to the high point of the whole hike above 7000′ and finished out with a punishing downhill that hurt my feet the whole way down to Newton Creek below Gnarl Ridge
The original trail and foot bridge across Elliot Creek was destroyed in a huge washout in 2006 and was not replaced. People were/are crossing using ropes to get down into the wash, and back up out of it. Thanks to a .douchepacker. reader, I learned that the new trail, scheduled to open in 2017 is actually open now.
Instead of going straight across the wash, the trail now steeply descends to the north about 600′ down. You then cross (easy) and take the new trail up steep switchback about 550′ to the campground where there’s water. Here’s the route as tracked by Strava:
Here’s some pics of the new trail:
After Cloud Cap/Tilly Jane area, you climb steeply into the exposed east side which is stunning to say the least. We were surprised at the crowds going up to Cooper Spur. The landscape is stark and beautiful. We camped at Newton Creek, spent.
We only had 8 miles left this day and passed through Mt Hood Meadows, down to the White River, and back up to Timberline to finish up around 1130AM. Beer was served.
For a total of 40.1 miles and 9,715′ of climbing, the Timberline Trail is a challenging ass kicker that we thoroughly enjoyed. The opportunities for overnights in this area abound and we’ll surely be back to stay for awhile in some of the really sweet spots we found. The scenery is unparalleled.