Timberline Lodge Trails

Easy (to Zigzag Canyon)

4.4 miles round trip

500 feet elevation gain

Open mid-July through October

Use: hikers, horses

Moderate (to Silcox Hut)

2.2-mile loop

1100 feet elevation gain

Difficult (to Paradise Park)

12.2-mile loop

2300 feet elevation gain

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. Three particularly tempting goals await hikers: the Silcox Hut, Zigzag Canyon, and Paradise Park. To reach the trailhead from Portland, drive Highway 26 toward Mt. Hood 54 miles. On the far side of Government Camp, turn left for 6 miles up to the lodge’s huge parking lot.

Timberline Lodge
Silcox Hut interior

Interior of the Silcox Hut

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. To hike there, 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 9am to 3pm from June 1 to Labor Day for about $15.

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.

Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge

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. Other Options For a shorter walk than any of these, follow the PCT east from Timberline Lodge and descend half a mile to an overlook of the White River Canyon. For a 3- to 5-day backpack, try hiking the entire 39.3-mile Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. The route starts out along the PCT to Paradise Park.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington.