Sample the 37.6-mile Timberline Trail that circles Mt. Hood, starting with a short section from the mountain's historic 1937 lodge.
About the Hike: From Mt. Hood's Timberline Lodge, three particularly tempting goals await hikers. Short trail climb to the Silcox Hut and visit the Zigzag Canyon overlook. Plan a longer day hike or a backpack for the trek to Paradise Park's spectacular wildflower meadows.
Difficulty: A moderate 2.2-mile loop climbs 1100 feet to the Silcox Hut. A moderate 4.4-mile hike follows the Timberline Trail to Zigzag Canyon and back, gaining 500 feet. For a longer hike, tackle the difficult 12.2-mile loop to Paradise Park, gaining 2300 feet of elevation.
Season: Mid-July through October.
Getting There: From Portland, follow "Mt. Hood" signs 55 miles east on Highway 26. At the far end of Government Camp, turn left for 6 curvy, paved miles to Timberline Lodge's vast parking lot.
Hiking Tips: To hike to the Silcox Hut, walk past the right-hand side of Timberline Lodge and follow a paved walkway uphill 200 yards. Turn right on the Pacific Crest Trail across a snow gully for 100 feet and then turn uphill onto the Mountaineer Trail, a braided path through wind-gnarled firs and August-blooming blue lupine. After 0.6 mile, join a dirt road for the remainder of the climb to the hut. To return on a loop, contour 100 yards across a snowfield from the Silcox Hut to the new Magic Mile chairlift and follow a service road back down to the lodge. Tenderfeet should note that the lift is open to non-skiing passengers 10am to 1:30pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day-for a fee, of course.
For a more wilderness-oriented hike, take the Pacific Crest Trail to Zigzag Canyon or Paradise Park. Start by walking past the right-hand side of Timberline Lodge on a wide, paved walkway uphill. After 200 yards turn left on the Pacific Crest Trail amidst lupine and cushion-shaped clumps of white phlox. This path ducks under a chairlift and contours through gorgeous wildflower meadows with views south to Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. At the 1-mile mark the path dips into a 200-foot-deep gully to cross the Little Zigzag River on stepping stones (a possible turnaround point for hikers with small children). Continue another easy 1.2 miles to an overlook of Zigzag Canyon, a 700-foot-deep chasm gouged into Mt. Hood's cindery flank by the glacier-fed Zigzag River.
If you're headed for Paradise Park, keep left at this point, continuing 1.5 miles on the PCT, which switchbacks down through the forest to cross the huge gorge. The Zigzag River is usually small enough here that you can hop across on rocks. At a trail junction on the far side of the canyon, turn right onto the Paradise Loop Trail and climb another mile to meadows stuffed with August wildflowers: fuzzy cats ears, red paintbrush, blue lupine, and white bistort-a rank little fuzzball also known as "dirty socks." If you're backpacking, tent on bare sand or pine needle duff, and not in the fragile meadows. Fires are banned.
To complete the loop, keep straight on the Paradise Loop Trail until it crosses a big creek and reaches a bare area-the site of a stone shelter smashed by a falling tree in 1994 and painstakingly removed. From the shelter site, head slightly uphill (north) to find a path traversing left below a cliffy bluff. This path leads 1.1 mile through heather fields before descending to the PCT. Then turn left for 2.4 miles to return to Zigzag Canyon and the route back.
History: Mt. Hood's Timberline Lodge began as a Depression-era make-work program, but by the time President Roosevelt dedicated this elegantly rustic hotel in 1937 it had become a grand expression of Northwest art. Surprisingly, few visitors venture very far into the scenic alpine landscape that lured hotel builders here in the first place. The Silcox Hut served as the upper terminus for Timberline's original Magic Mile ski lift from 1939 to 1962. Reopened as a chalet in 1992, it now offers overnight bunks for groups and a limited cafe in the European alpine tradition.
Geology: The landscape here is entirely the product of recent volcanism. The silvery snags along the trail to the Silcox Hut are trees killed by the hot blast of a small eruption in the 1790s. The ground itself on this side of the mountain is a debris fan from a much larger, Mt. St. Helens-style blast two thousand years ago. In that eruption, a gigantic avalanche wiped the mountain's slope clean as far as Government Camp. Afterwards, a lava dome slowly rose to plug the vent. The dome remains as Crater Rock, the monolith looming in front of the actual summit.
By William Sullivan