Mt. Hood (ancestral name Wy’East) is Oregon’s tallest mountain and most iconic volcano. Just over an hour drive from Portland, it’s a popular recreation area for downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, hiking, mountain biking, and more.
The Timberline Lodge, where scenes were shot for The Shining, is a National Historic Landmark and generally the place to start to go around the mountain from the southern side of Mt. Hood. A trip around Mt. Hood is 42 miles with over 11,000 feet of ascent. The loop basically consists of two trails, the Timberline Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which connects the southern portion of the circumnavigation.
Portland runner Tyler Green, the current holder of the unsupported fastest know time in 6:10:58, says “to run it fast, start at Top Spur so you get most of the climbing done earlier in your run; or start at Timberline Lodge, which is much more of the classic way of doing it.”
Beaverton, OR trail runner John Fortner has run around Mt. Hood 15 times over the last 13 years. “The biggest challenge is the weather,” claims Fortner. “If it’s cool or even drizzling, I have a much better day. If it’s hot at all, it becomes twice as hard.” As with any volcano loop, be prepared for all weather conditions, as they can run through different climate zones in a short period.
The circumnavigation of Hood can be run either way starting from the Pacific Crest Trail just a short hike up from Timberline Lodge at 6000′ elevation. “I prefer counter-clockwise (CCW) only because I generally go solo and if I get caught out there after dark, it’s an easier route find coming into Timberline Lodge,” says Fortner.
“This is my absolute favorite trail,” claims Green, who also holds the fastest known times on Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier circumnavigations. “I’m a sucker for alpine meadows, so the biggest advice I’d give is to take the Paradise Park detour and really soak it in up there. Sure, you won’t officially run every step of the Timberline Trail, but you’ll still run around the mountain and have a grand old time. Water crossings are a big challenge for this route, so keep a keen eye out for rock cairns and move slowly through these sections.”
The route going CCW from Timberline
Heading east from Timberline Lodge on the Pacific Crest Trail, the trail drops 700 feet for the first 1.5 miles. This is the Timberline Trail junction. Turn left toward Mt. Hood Meadows, a popular winter ski area, and cross the White River. Expect to see plenty of wildflowers on the way to Heather Canyon, six miles into the run.
After crossing Newton Creek, the trail climbs along Gnarl Ridge around Lamberson Butte to Lamberson Spur, the highest point of the trail at 7300′. Enjoy a spectacular view of Mt. Hood and peak to the east to see Mt. Adams. The barren, sandy trails are moonlike on the way to Cloud Cap campground. Cloud Cap is another place to start the loop and also a source for potable water. From Cloud Cap, Timberline descends to the Eliot Creek crossing. The trail has been washed away several times here due to the Eliot Glacier, the largest glacier on the mountain. New trail construction in 2016 added extra miles to the route and makes it easier to navigate along the route.
The Timberline Trail starts heading East through a burnt forest and several little waterfalls toward the halfway point of Wy’East Basin, which offers many many wildflower meadows and a fantastic view of Mt. Hood, and Mt. Ranier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams to the north. The trail is pretty level to McNeil Point, then it drops down 1000′ feet in the next two miles. Start climbing on a ridge around Bald Mountian and a PCT junction. Do not get on PCT here. Continue down east on Timberline for 2.5 miles to cross the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River. The trail bends west again around Yocum Ridge and down to Ramona Falls.
Just past Ramona Falls is the lowest point around the mountain and the second junction of the Pacific Crest Trail and the end of the Timberline Trail. Be ready to grind for the next ten miles as it’s a lot of climbing with two large crossings over the Sandy and the Zig Zag Rivers. The reward is more flowers in the Paradise Park area and a view of Mississippi Head. At the top of Zig Zag Canyon is the signal only two miles of runnable trails to get back to Timberline Lodge.