Category Archives: Mt Hood
Timberline Trail 2021
Yes, the Timberline Trail is the finest loop trail in America and my fifth year in a row trekking around it was another epic adventure. The bottom line though is that this trail is tough and my old body struggles to pull it off. Typically after the tough second day I really question why I do this. But the rewards are incredible especially when the weather is so beautiful.
Rather different to start a summer backpacking trek by making your way through a crowd of skiers, but that is Mt Hood. So starting out July 11th in beautiful weather with no chance of rain for the entire trek. Joining me is Shannon “Snuffy” Leader, blogger of Must Hike Must Eat. And to be joined that night by Bryce and Chris at Paradise Park. The hike up to Paradise Park is a good half day warm up which is a bit out of the way but totally worth it. The trail is so easy over to the Zigzag Canyon overlook, but then it is down and up.
Down to the ZigZag and then the climb up to Paradise Park. It was a warm day and the black flies were out so we did pay our dues to get an excellent campsite at Paradise Park.
Some of the best flowers were displayed on the climb.
Hiking with “Snuffy” was a real treat to compare backpacking prowess and stories but I had no interest in her culinary concoctions. But that is what Shannon does, she validates really interesting wilderness trail meals, whereas I just try to consume my evening Mountain House meal. This colorful meal that she made was supposedly excellent.
Bryce and Chris joined us later in the evening in Paradise enjoying a great cloudless sunset together.
The second day after staying at Paradise Park requires a plunge into the Sandy River Canyon with the always exciting crossing of the Sandy. This year the challenge was medium, but mistakes could not be made.
The reward for crossing the Sandy is your visit to Ramona Falls. We got there a bit earlier then typical years so the sun was only at the top. But Ramona Falls is the best.
Just after Ramona Falls you have the option to take the high or the low trail to Bald Mountain. The high route has been devastated by a tree blowdown and is essentially closed but unfortunately Bryce and Chris forgot about that when they left us to accomplish their trek in 3 nights instead of 4. They completed the high route but paid a heavy price for their effort. There should have been a sign at the turnoff to the high trail, however, I believe that sign did not get placed until after we passed by.
This stretch of the Timberline is the toughest for me because of the 3000′ climb with no good water options. Every year this stretch tests my resolve and I contemplate why I do the Timberline. This year was as difficult as ever but as with every year I eventually make it to the great view at the top and the streams coming off McNeil Point. Our campsite in that area turned out to be excellent.
The next day’s goal is typically to cross the Eliot Canyon which this year we knew would be the greatest test. But this stretch of trail offers some of the most beautiful views of Mt Hood and surroundings. The burnt areas from the Dollar Lake Fire 10 years ago now seem to offer a unique contrast to the lush green slopes. The Cairn Basin shelter did take a hit from a blowdown tree.
The Eliot stream crossing has been a breeze in recent years thanks to a large log that spanned the water but that log has washed away along with a lot of the canyon wall to create a new treacherous crossing. However, the greatest danger in the Eliot Canyon is just getting down to the stream. The steep approaches to the stream present numerous loose boulder situations, but we experienced that last year.
This year we also got to experience one of the most forceful river crossing I have ever accomplished. The video is of a hiker from Michigan.
This year the option to just stay at Tilly Jane Campground seemed like a good idea since nobody else was there probably due to the mess that has been made by more tree blowdowns.
On this Northeast side of Hood you get to experience above treeline hiking which has become a favorite of mine.
The goal for the last night is typically to reach Newton Creek which has clear streams and good campsites. This year the Newton Creek crossing was a bit more challenging than usual. I do love the view of Gnarl Ridge from the Newton.
The final day offers many beautiful waterfalls before you enter the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort land.
Then down to the White River and the killer climb up to Timberline Lodge. The climb isn’t really that bad except that you are fairly exposed and pretty much spent from the previous 40 miles.
Thank goodness for visions of your post trek meal to carry you up the ridge of the White River Canyon. Once you see the lodge you know you can make it.
This year’s Timberline Trail again taught me a lot about my 67 year old body. Many times it “Hurt So Good”. I do believe I will return to the Timberline Trail next year, but maybe do it in 5 nights.
Early Season TDH Get-Away
I was itching for a backpacking Get-Away so when the temperatures started to rise with guaranteed clear skies I headed for my favorite overnight at Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain.
I have done this trek many times but never in April when there would definitely be snow, but I did underestimate how much snow there would be. Early on the trail the bridges filled to the rail with snow set the tone. The trail for the first two miles was essentially ice which created many difficulties especially for the hikers trying to get to Mirror Lake.
The upper trail to the top presented more serious challenges such as not sliding down hillsides and just finding the real trail. Once on the last leg to the top I realized I should have brought my snowshoes, but it was doable even though I was questioning my wisdom in scheduling this trek. I knew what the reward would be at the top but I was also starting to be concerned about how strong the winds were going to be.
The winds were strong and the snow was deep so this was going to be a whole new camping experience at my favorite spot. The winds were ripping up the mountain so I was able to set up camp with a nice view of Hood and still get shelter from the wind.
I quickly realized that I had not properly prepared for the snow or the wind so I had to improvise with some rope tie offs to nearby trees. Thankfully those rope ties did the job as the wind never let up throughout the night. It was amazingly beautiful as I have come to expect, however, the wind prevented any comfortable viewing of Mt Hood.
The saving grace for the evening was that the winds were also bringing in unusually warm air so being cold was not a concern. However, major wind gusts pummeling my tent all night did not allow for much sleep. Plus my air mattress was not holding air so I had to blow it up about every hour. It was still beautiful at sun up, but the winds were increasing in intensity.
By 7:00 am I had to break down the campsite to avoid being blown away. The winds were fierce so I had to take an alternate path behind the view area to get to the shelter of the forest.
The hike down was not easy but it was downhill so no complaints. Overall the the ultimate Get-Away that I had hoped for did not pan out, but it sure was another great Adventure.
Supernatural Results and a Perfect Ski Day
This post is a reflection on the value realized from my Oculus Supernatural exercise program for the enhancement of my outdoor recreation passions. My earlier post about Supernatural on the Oculus was about the motivation it provided to improve the strength and flexibility of my core and upper body. At that time I was definitely wondering how those benefits would affect my adventures. My backpacking trek on the Lost Coast Trail showed some of that progress, but it was a fantastic day of skiing on Mt Hood that confirmed the value.
On my Lost Coast Trail Trek I definitely noticed how my upper body and shoulders carried my backpack with less of those annoying pains that tend to surface on the first big outing of the season. I still got just as tired from the hiking but my body felt better throughout. I suppose this encouraged me to further embrace Supernatural finding that I matched up well with the Moderate workouts. Throughout my SN journey I have also been interested in the affect it might have on my golf game. Can’t say that my handicap has improved but I have definitely added 5% distance for all of my clubs.
The stage was set to test for my 66 year old body. Staying at Timberline Lodge set the stage for a full day of skiing.
The conditions were perfect with a 175’ base, clear skies, no wind and very few people. I hit the slopes at opening and quickly realized how perfect this day could be.
Covid restrictions greatly reduced the number of skiers so basically I skied directly onto each lift and had to ride by myself due to the restriction.
Well this also translated into having the runs to myself. The first few runs brought out the typical questions of whether this old body could still shred the slopes. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt and I guess the endorphins were kicking in from the pleasure I was experiencing.
After a couple of hours a snow storm moved in pelting me with large snow pellets that caused some concern but it was producing a fresh carpet of teflon type snow. The timing of this snowfall was perfect for a short lunch break complete with plenty of liquid courage. I was back out just after noon to find more like 2 to 3 inches of fresh teflon.
I went to the top of the Magic Mile where the snowfall was lighter and proceeded to ski from the top of the Magic Mile to the bottom of the Jeff Flood lift. Timberline Trail Map
This approximate 2300’ vertical plunge was absolutely perfect with no people and about 3 inches of fresh teflon powder. I did this route a number of times in total ecstasy realizing that my body, specifically my core and thighs were holding up well. This is the time during your first ski day when your thighs really start talking to you. I felt them for sure, but I also felt like I could ski for the rest of the day. Or maybe I should say I felt like I had to ski the rest of the day. The conditions were just getting better because the temperature was still in the high 20’s and the clear skies had returned.
I was in ski heaven, it “Hurt so Good” as the day was winding down. I really needed to call it a day when the clouds came back to create that final run in a cloud back down to the Lodge.
As I wound down back at the lodge with a great coffee cocktail I could tell that my body was just tired but not really in pain. However, after a huge ribeye steak for dinner I was sawing logs by 8 pm. The next day my wife and I experimented with snowshoeing to complete the perfect Timberline Adventure.
So yes, I was pleased with how the body performed and I was attributing some of that to my Supernatural exercise, but it was 2 days latter when I fully understood the value from the exercise. I had committed to play golf not thinking about how my body typically feels a couple of days after the first ski day. Normally, I am barely able to walk let alone consider playing golf. But I felt good and had a great round of golf. And that is when I had conclusive proof that my commitment to the Supernatural workouts had changed my body to improve my life.
I do feel great and I can’t wait to press on to more Adventures. However, I have not realized success in securing a permit for the John Muir Trail yet. My last rejection was for Entry Date: 08/28/2021. I will keep trying through September 10 start but if no luck I am not sure what I will do for a major end of season trek, but there are always options.
Timberline Trail 2020
I still believe that the 41 mile Timberline Trail around Mt Hood is the finest backpacking loop in America. It just has it all with adventure galore which is why it was the theme of a Podcast I did. This was my 4th year to take on the Timberline, which I use as my age/health meter, and I am pleased with how my old body held up this year. Bryce again joined me for this year’s trek, we failed on our attempt last year in mid June due to snow and weather.
This year there was about as much snow but the trail was more navigable. Last year the beautiful portion was the first 2 days which served as a good memory for the wet weather that dominated the first 2 days this year.
Each year I think about going counter clockwise around Hood but each year my analysis of conditions steers me clockwise. Paradise Park is a great first night goal to warm up your hiking legs and prepare you for the grueling descent down to Ramona Falls and then back up the ridgeline to mid-mountain. This year’s trek started out with beautiful weather for the view from Paradise Park.
I had already decided that I wanted to checkout the most western campsite at Paradise Park located next to some tree cover. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision since a heavy wet fog moved in just as we had finished setting up camp. The trees gave us some relief from the wet fog but by morning it didn’t really matter, everything was damp and we were set for hiking in a mist.
On the trail you quickly adapt to being cold and wet which actually serves as a great motivator for knocking off miles. The emerging Rhododendrons on the lower trail help as well.
Your first concern is making it across the Sandy river, this year we got advice to go up stream where there were a couple of small logs providing a dry crossing. By now it was essentially raining so passing through an empty Ramona Falls was not as inspiring, but Ramona Falls is still one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Now begins the most challenging part of the trek, climbing about 2400′ over 8 miles taking the upper route but cutting over before Bald Mountain.
I had hoped to go all the way to McNeil Point but the rain and low cloud cover nixed that option. We opted to camp at Glisan Creek because we saw a couple of spots that were relatively dry under the trees. Bryce was totally inspired to start a fire relying on his Air Force survival trainer expertise, I was impressed. As for me, I really got chilled after setting up my tent and needed to get in my sleeping bag to warm up. It was still raining and seemed to be getting colder. An hour later I emerged to Bryce’s fire ready for dinner. We went to sleep that night hoping for the rain to stop.
We awoke to blue skies with great anticipation to be warmed by the sun. The goal for the day was to get past Cloud Cap, maybe even go up to Cooper Spur, however, this next section was going to be physically challenging for our tired bodies.
We hiked over a lot of snow but unlike last year there had been plenty of people before us to set the trail.
Some of the stream crossings presented you with a decision to trust using the snow bridge, but no real danger.
This day was crystal clear giving us some of the best photos I have of the north side of Mt Hood.
The challenge for the day was crossing Eliot Creek and it was not about the creek crossing but instead about getting down to the creek. The water was running high probably from the previous day’s rain and the sunny day so it was not obvious where we would cross. There is a huge tree that provides an excellent bridge down from the trail entrance, however, you do not see that crossing option at first.
This is the canyon where the trail had to be rerouted in 2017 due to a slide. The 20 feet or so of drop off to the creek is a mixture of loose dirt, rocks and boulders. Getting from the trail entrance to the log bridge crossing was flat out dangerous. You could not trust any rock to step on and when a large rock started to slide you had be be extremely careful not to get dragged along with it. I don’t remember this descent to the stream ever being so loose, maybe it is just an early season issue. But somebody could get killed here, so I think it is time for some sort of a reinforced trail down to the stream. Now the climb up to Cloud Cap and all was good. As we climbed east from Cloud Cap our weary bodies enticed us to camp near the head of Tilly Jane Creek in a really nice sandy area.
We were able to dry everything out and enjoy a wonderful evening underneath Mt Hood.
Morning broke with more beautiful weather motivating us for our climb above treeline over high point which is one of my favorite areas.
The weather was all over the place with sun and fog but it was a great temperature for the climb.
And then you descend down Gnarl Ridge to Newton Creek which presents a unique landscape of a really harsh existence for vegetation.
The Newton Creek campsites are excellent and within an easy distance to hike the following day, however, I thought that I remembered a spot near the upcoming waterfalls.
Unfortunately just after we left Newton Creek it started to rain and I was not finding those campsites so we ended up camping between Gemini and Voyager ski runs in Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. The campsite worked out just fine and set us up for a relatively easy final day hike back to Timberline Lodge.
I do love hiking through Mt Hood Meadows Ski envisioning how I will ski down those runs next winter.
Crossing the White River was more difficult then I remember, but it was a beautiful day.
The 1000′ climb up to the parking lot always seems tough but the motivation of your reward, this year Halibut Fish & Chips, at the Barlow Trail Roadhouse, puts a hop in your step.
This years Timberline Trail Trek may have been the best yet. The still early season, unpredictable weather with pretty good awakening of flowers and no bugs made for a great Continuing Adventure.
- Previous Posts on the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood
- Timberline Trail Attempt in June 2019
- Timberline Trail September 2018
- Timberline Trail August 2017
My podcast interview on TheHikePodcast was released today. The producer, Lori Prima, does a great job with her podcast, it is truly a labor of love. Our session which was focused on the Timberline Trail and the PNW turned out great. Brook, @aussiebrook, even got some recognition. Hopefully it will help paint a better picture of backpacking and hiking opportunities around Mt Hood.
Listen via Apple Podcasts, or via Buzzfeed.
I have never done a podcast before, however, I have listened to many on subjects I am interested in.
Lori’s podcast, TheHikePodcast, has really impressed me because it is a more relaxing venture into the topics associated with exploring hiking and backpacking opportunities. She provides a diversified array of recreational topics covering the entire country. I highly recommend that you checkout TheHikePodcast.
Life is crazy in our country right now, but hope is carrying each day until I can return to the wilderness. Brook and I should be backpacking the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness the week of June 22nd.
My Dog is Complicated
My dog Brook, @AussieBrook, and I just returned from a perfect backpacking overnighter to Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain. The weather was perfect thanks to a temperature inversion that kept the Portland area under a blanket of fog. This was important because I really needed to give Brook a positive backpacking experience since our early summer outings had soured her on the whole backpacking thing. You see, Brook, an Australian Shepard, is complicated. She is a typical Aussie in that she wants to herd, protect and keep me aware of everything.
She is 4 years old and has been backpacking with me for 3 seasons. The problem relates to how Brook will totally sacrifice her own comfort to ensure that I am protected. This translates to her only sleeping outside and typically finding a strategic vantage point from which to keep watch through the night.
Frankly, I would rather she slept in the tent to help keep me warm, but I do appreciate her concern. However, as I mentioned, Brook is complicated. I have never had a dog that I needed to negotiate with. This year those negotiations centered around her deciding that she did not want to backpack with me. This objection relates first to the fact that she hates to ride in a car, I think this relates to her not having control of her environment. However, the real objection arose from our early season treks where she was the victim of some really bad weather. The photo above is from an overnighter to Ramona Falls in early June to investigate the Sandy River crossing in preparation for an upcoming Timberline Trail Trek with friends.
On that Timberline Trek Brook showed her disinterest in the overall trip but cooperated just fine until the weather deteriorated. After we got hit with a snow storm, Brook disappeared by positioning herself back up the trail letting us know that she was done. In this negotiation with her we agreed to end the trek. Back home when I was preparing to go on my Lofoten Norway adventure it was obvious that Brook wanted nothing to do with it. This was OK at the time because Brook was not invited to Norway or the later Colorado Trail treks, so essentially Brook got her wish and had the summer off from backpacking. Since returning home I have been looking for an opportunity to take Brook on a positive outing. I even purchased her a new winter jacket to help get her through those cold nights.
Well our recent overnighter to TDH mountain was all that I had asked for and better. From my perspective the view from TDH of Mt Hood and the many other mountains to the north is a backpackers treat. Clear skies is a must but getting comfortable temperatures in November was more then I could have hoped for. We made it to our campsite around 4 pm and setup camp in preparation for darkness to hit early. As the sun went down it got really cold, probably got to 38 but the breeze was out of the west and it felt good. Brook ended up laying next to the tent close enough to be laying next to my legs. Again, I would have loved to have had her in the tent, but at least she was staying close. The first time I got up I could tell the temperature was rising, it felt great and I could tell that Brook was also happy with it. She hung out next to the tent until about 1 am which was a real positive. Overall she seemed very happy at sunrise and showed her appreciation with many kisses.
The morning was spectacular with an awesome view of Mt Hood. Brook had a wonderful time terrorizing the local squirrel population as I enjoyed a leisurely morning taking in the view.
I think Brook may be mellowing a bit in her objections to backpacking, but I will make sure that our next outing, probably next Spring will be a pleasant one for her.
However, I leave this trek with a concern. I do not think I have ever seen so little snow cover on Mt Hood.
These views of the south side of the mountain are from 110519 and 110818. The problem is not a lack of snowfall but more rapid melt-off due to higher temperatures.
Timberline TR Attempt June 2019
The goal was to complete Timberline Trail loop for the 3rd year in a row, but Snow and Weather dictated a different outcome. Scheduling this year required that I attempt the Timberline Trail on June 17th. Yes, a bit early but I knew there would be rewards of clear skies and few people. However, I did not think the snow depth on the Northeast side would create such a problem. Combine that with a snow storm that emerged from the gorge when we would have been crossing the high point and we had to adjust to a Top Spur extraction. Overall it was an Epic Adventure because I have never seen the views so clear and brilliant, rhododendrons blooming and nobody on the trail.
This is my annual trek to evaluate how old my body feels and I am very pleased with the results. My main concern for completing the loop was the severity of the river crossing, but they were totally acceptable.
I can’t believe I didn’t worry more about the snowpack on the northside. It wasn’t that you could hike over the snow, it was how it created severe inclines over what was the trail and then it engulfed the trail. We made it to the Wy’East area clockwise from Timberline Lodge before we determined that we had to abort. Of course we had already met 3 backpackers who had turned around. I do think we could have made it if it wasn’t for the weather. All week the forecast just kept getting worse with the prediction of snow. And the forecast turned out to be more than accurate which made for a tough night at Eden Park and the hike out to Top Spur.
Knowing that the best weather was at the beginning I decided to do my traditional clockwise route from the lodge and boy am I glad we did. Paradise Park was amazingly beauty and it looked like we may have been one of the first to spend the night up there.
We almost got a great sunset but the sun hitting Hood at the different intensities is just as good. Unfortunately we did have fairly high winds at our Split Rock campsite and then we got a couple of hours of rain starting at sun up.
The weather cleared to give us a perfect hike down to the Sandy with the most amazingly clear views of the Sandy River headwaters up to Mt Hood.
The river crossing was challenging but we did not have to get very wet.
Of course Ramona Falls was glorious and the hike up to Top Spur junction was hard since we took the lower Muddy Fork route where one from our party exiting to the Ramona Falls TH. As I mentioned the flowers we exceptional.
The second night we camped at Bald Mountain with a perfect night for sleep. Climbing up toward McNeil we were treated to a beautiful view of Hood, but fog and clouds were forming.
This is when the snow pack got higher than I expected. Not a real problem until about Eden Park where it became more treacherous and difficult to find the trail.
The rest of the way over to Wy’East only got more difficult, but it was still beautiful because the storm was forming to the north and Hood was backed by blue skies. Wy’East was the decision point because you have cell reception there and we had to coordinate for someone to extract us. We decided on Top Spur for the following day hoping that maybe we could get to McNeil Point.
But no, the weather started to deteriorate and we were happy to camp at Eden Park. The snow started to fall at 2 am and it was a cold wet mess for the rest of the trip out. This trek did provide some inspiration for my post about how complicated my dog Brook is: My Dog is Complicated
Previous Timberline Trail Reports
- Timberline Trail September 2018
- Timberline Trail August 2017
What is Backpacking Really about?
It is common to be asked why do I backpack. And there are many times on the trail, typically early in a season, when I ask myself the same question. My family doesn’t get it, most of my friends just think I am nuts, but many do appreciate that I let them share in the adventures. I think we all have dreamed of what we would like to be doing if we had a choice.
For me those dreams were born when I was a young man Backpacking Colorado. I remember my last evening in Steamboat Springs before I was to move to the SF Bay Area to start my career with Hewlett-Packard. See Post AM San Francisco. I sat on a hill with my dog, Rusty, overlooking the town and ski area and said goodbye to a great life, but I think in my heart I also knew that I would return to that life. That was my Second Quarter, I was confirming my passion as I prepared to pay my dues.
Yes, wilderness backpacking is not for most, but it is for me. When I am in these fantastically beautiful places I think about all the billions of people who are not, who can’t even dream of such beauty. That is when I confirm my passion. We only have so much time on this amazing planet and I want to maximize every minute that is left. You know it isn’t just about the adventure, it is also about the health. It feels good to be in decent shape. I’m 65 and the body does tell me that it is getting old. But to feel healthy is also a beautiful thing.
I am about to kickoff another epic backpacking season, and I am so excited. What gets you excited? Next week I do my annual trek around Mt Hood with a couple of good friends. But then I am off to Norway’s Lofoten Islands and then the Colorado Trail. This is my dream come true. The Adventure Continues
Ramona Falls Loop from Top Spur TH
I have passed by Ramona Falls many times since it is on the PCT and it is an easy day hike from the Ramona Falls Trailhead. But this trip was from the Top Spur Trailhead which offers a great loop option with Trail #600 the high route and the PCT #2000 low route. My motivation for this trip was primarily to checkout the Muddy Fork and Sandy river crossings in preparation for an upcoming Timberline Trail Trek. From this snippet of reconnaissance I do feel that the Timberline Trail should be fine. I also was OK with probably being able to enjoy Ramona Falls all by myself which did happen. Unfortunately I took a chance on the weather for this Thursday-Friday trek which called for scattered showers and possibility of snow on Friday. Well the showers started out scattered but ended up continuous, and yes on the hike out it did snow. Not fun but it is all part of the deal for a backpacker.
The hike over to Ramona Falls was rather nice even though Mt Hood was mostly hidden in a cloud.
The view from Bald Mountain was unique as usual and crossing the Muddy Fork was a bit of a challenge. I found a safe rock jump about 30 yards up from the normal trail crossing.
Overall this Trail 600 over to Ramona Falls is a great trail. The Trillium and many other flowers are coming out and the Rhododendron’s are starting to bloom as you near the falls.
And of course Ramona Falls was bursting with flow and beauty.
I camped over by the abandoned ranger cabin which provides a nice view of the Sandy Canyon.
I did hike over to the Sandy and determined that it is crossable, however, it may entail wading across by a couple of logs that will help to stabilize you.
Overall this portion of the Sandy looked fairly normal and ready for Timberline Trail crossings. The trip was going great until the showers started to show up. So I basically was forced to stay in the tent after about 7:00 pm. And it rained most of the night and turned into a steady rain by morning. Bummer for Brook who does not like to sleep in the tent, so she got soaked and did not complain a bit even though she must have been freezing. But in her strange Aussie way she probably cherished the opportunity to protect her master. If I was her, I would have slept near one of the large trees that were offering cover, but she slept next to the tent.
Breaking camp in the rain is messy, but it is what it is. You pack everything up which is mostly wet making your pack a lot heavier than it should be. Then hiking out is just as messy, you are wet and cold but in a weird way I kind of like it. I reflect back on my Lost Coast Trek and realize how much worse it could be. The snow falling on the hike out was a bit ridiculous.
Great PNW Multi-day Backpacking Loops
I have been putting together an annual multi-day backpacking loop trek for my friends for the last 8 years. The goal was to find a 4 or 5 day trek of moderate difficulty based on a loop to simplify travel logistics. The first trek was through the Sisters Wilderness in 2011 and during each trek we would ask other backpackers what they thought was another great loop option. This advice truly led us to discover and confirm the finest multi-day backpacking loop treks in the Pacific Northwest. Since I have answered this question for other backpackers through the years I decided to create post to highlight these loop treks. The order presented is based on the order in which I discovered these treks. Please feel free to share your similar favorite loops.
Three Sisters Wilderness
There is a 50 mile loop that encircles the 3 Sister Peaks, however, I selected an approximate 35 mile route that starts from the Lava Lake Trailhead and cuts through between the Middle and South Sister peaks. This was my first multi-day trek for which I named the post “No Pain No Gain“, reflective of efforts and rewards of backpacking. The route adhered to the 4 to 5 day goal while adding the challenge of being up close to the Sisters. I would recommend the clockwise route with attention paid to water availability on the first day. Camp Lake through to the Chambers Lakes typically presents the challenge of climbing through snow but you need to experience the view from up there. You have to time this trek to allow for the snow crossing while also taking in a maximum floral display without too many bugs. The east section which is the PCT takes you through lush forests into lava fields. Passing through the restricted Obsidian area is not a problem, however, you want to time your climb over Opie Dilldock pass during the cool part of the day. The Mattieu Lakes near the start and finish offer good rest options. You could also consider doing this loop from the Pole Creek Trailhead.
Eagle Cap Wilderness
The Eagle Cap Wilderness was enticing, however, piecing together a loop was not as obvious. I settled on using the Two Pan Trailhead to enter via the Minam Lake Trail and returning via the East Fork Lostine Trail while taking in all of the options provided by the Lakes Basin area. This loop requires crossing the 8548′ Carper pass to settle around Mirror or Moccasin Lakes. Here you have the option of expanding the loop up and over Glacier pass through Horseshoe Lake to Douglas Lake. Or you could just base from the basin area and do a few day hikes to fill your trek. Either way you must experience Glacier Lake. The lakes here are deep and can provide some good fishing. You come out completing the loop via the East Fork Lostine Trail with a shrinking awesome view of Eagle Cap.
Goat Rocks Wilderness
Goat Rocks should end up on everyones list, however, with that popularity come the weekend crowds. The loop option is fairly defined with a starting point at the Berry Patch or Snowgrass Flats Trailheads. It could be treated as a 2 day loop, which is why you include spur hikes north & south on the PCT. Whether you go up Snowgrass or Goat Ridge Trails you will be doing the bulk of the climb and you typically will deal with the worst of the mosquitos and black flies. I like the Snowgrass Trail to the Bypass Trail over to the PCT. Once on the PCT portion of Goat Rocks you have access to Cispus Pass south or Old Snowy north which is worthy of a few nights. Then head over to the Lilly Basin Trail which takes you to the Goat Lake area. The lake is generally iced over, however, the campsite options around there provide an awesome view of the valley and Mt Adams. You may want to hike up to Hawkeye Point and you should be treated to herds of mountain goats above Goat Lake. Your hike out via the Goat Ridge Trail is essentially downhill.
Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop
The Glacier Peak Wilderness provides a classic 36 mile backpacking loop that takes you up a glacier to Spider Gap past the Lyman Lakes then over Cloudy and Suiattle Pass by Fortress Mountain and over to Buck Creek Pass and Liberty Cap. This trek is probably the most true loop and it may be the most challenging especially getting up to Spider Gap. You start at the Phelps Creek Trailhead and head up the Phelps Creek Trail as far as you can in preparation for the climb up the Spider Gap Glacier. Camping near the Lyman Lakes sets you up for the next climb to Cloudy Pass and then around to Suiattle Pass where you get your first glimpse of Glacier Peak. If time and energy allow you should consider including a visit to Image Lake along Miners Ridge. As you work your way around to Buck Creek Pass, Glacier Peak is positioned prominently to the west. Find a campsite with a view of Glacier and take a hike over to Liberty Cap. The final hike out is relatively easy from there.
Timberline Trail Around Mt Hood
This is a great loop trail around Mt. Hood with views many other mountains. I have decided to do this loop every year because it is so perfect and it provides me with a gauge for my overall health. The TT is approximately 40 miles with a number of potentially challenging stream crossings. The elevation low point is near Ramona Falls at about 3300′ with a high point on the east side at 7350′. There are many choices for a starting point with the most common being at Timberline Lodge. Clockwise is the more common route from the lodge on the PCT which takes you by the Zig Zag Canyon where you should consider detouring up to Paradise Park for an evening. Crossing the Sandy river may be the most challenging before you take in Ramona Falls. The PCT offers you a couple of options, I like the one up toward Yocum Ridge over to Bald Mountain before you head up the Timberline Trail toward McNeil Point. On the north side you cross through some old burns but the beauty is everywhere. Once past the Cloud Cap TH you climb to above tree-line typically crossing many snow fields. Copper Spur is a side trip option and then you work your way down to Gnarl Ridge. All of this area is arid and treeless. Cross Newton creek, pass some waterfalls and head through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area. The final push is to cross the White River and then climb back up to Timberline Lodge. This final climb can be challenging due to the sandy trail and exposure.
My Annual Timberline Trail Trip Reports: 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
I hope these backpacking loops help you find that perfect trek.
A recent loop that I have just completed does deserve mention, however, it is more difficult than my top 5. It is the Devils Dome Loop in the North Cascades of Washington.
I will also throw in another option which is partially a loop, The Wild Rouge Loop diverges from the primary Rouge River Trail up to Hanging Rock.