If there is a disadvantage about the Timberline Trail in a counter-clockwise direction – it’s the climb on the last day. Expect the overall ascent to be over 4000 feet. Despite that, there is plenty to look forward to on the last leg from Ramona Falls to Timberline Lodge.
Ramona Falls to Paradise Park
From our campsite it was just a short hike to Ramona Falls was a short mile. The trail has recently been rerouted as it used to follow the creek the whole way. Now it cuts inland a little. Just before Ramona Falls, we rejoined where the Timberline Trail. This is where our little detour ended. A few steps further was Ramona Falls. This is an incredibly popular day hike, the most popular wilderness hike in Oregon. We were there very early in the morning – watching the water cascade down the falls with peaceful tranquility.
From Ramona Falls it was a short hike down to the Sandy River. This is the lowest elevation of the hike. The Sandy is the last river crossing that can be challenging.
There always seems to be a decent set of logs somewhere over the Sandy. This year was no exception, there was a decent set of narrow logs and as this was still early in the morning the river was still pretty low. We all made it easily across and found the trail on the other side.
Now would start the long climb from about 3500 feet to almost 6000 feet. The ascent started immediately. As we started the climb there were quite a few decent campsites on the right of the trail. The climb, although continuous, was not that steep. It was cool in the trees and still cool in the early morning. Despite the constant climb, we made great progress and reached the intersection with the Paradise Park loop turn-off. Even though the Paradise Park loop is also not part of the official Timberline Trail, it is a not-to-be-missed detour. It adds just a couple of hundred feet of extra elevation but specular vistas and is far preferred to the PCT route.
Paradise Park to Zigzag Canyon
Turning off onto the Paradise Park Loop trail – we gained the additional few hundred feet. As we did the trail opened up from the trees into the lush meadows of Paradise Park. As a note, this is actually one of the dry spells, from just after the Sandy River to the top of Paradise Park, maybe 3 or so miles. Again we didn’t need more than 2L of water each, but the temperatures were very cool.
Paradise Park provides stunning views of Mount Hood with lush meadows and magnificent wildflowers. The loop through Paradise Park is fairly short and before long we started the descent back towards the top of Zigzag Canyon.
Zigzag Canyon to Timberline Lodge
We dropped down into Zigzag canyon. We quickly lost about 1000 feet to the Zigzag River, where there were small crowds of people crossing their first stream. The Zigzag is rarely too difficult in late summer and there was a pretty easy rock hop across the river. From the Zigzag there are only about 3.5 miles back to Timberline Lodge, however, there were another 1000 feet climb to tackle.
Again the climb was reasonably shaded and had only a few switchbacks. As we weaved our way up the 1000 feet, the trail had a small stream crossing it regularly, making the ground pretty muddy in places. After about an hour we exited the trees and had a view of the entire Canyon. The last couple of miles back to Timberline Lodge continued uphill, slowing the return. Eventually, the trail flattened out and exited the wilderness. And then familiar sites come into view, ski-lifts and the Palmer Glacier, still supporting some summer skiing.
Finally rounding a small hill, Timberline Lodge came back into view. After about 40 miles and an 11’500 feet change in elevation we arrived back at our starting point – just in time for a late lunch and a beer!
The section from Ramona Falls to Timberline Lodge was quite the ascent. However, the climbs were not too steep, not many switchbacks and back to familiar places. The stats for the final day were: