I’ve been keeping my eye on the snow levels for a while. Both by hiking up the Paradise Park Trail and keeping an eye on satellite imagery. In early June it looks like the majority of Paradise Park was still covered in snow. Then I got sidetracked with my John Muir Trail expedition. Firmly back in Oregon – I wanted to get out again and decided this would be a great opportunity to do the Paradise Park Loop out of Timberline Lodge. Paradise Park is famous for its meadows, wildflowers, and great views of Mount Hood. It’s a 12-mile day hike or also a great overnight.
Getting there and the trail head
This is one of the easiest trailheads to find and park at. The trail leaves from Timberline Lodge. In summer there is no parking permit that is necessary. If you are doing this as an overnight hike (or doing the Timberline Trail) the recommendation has always been to park along the concrete barrier as you enter the main parking lot. There used to be signs indicating this – but these are currently not there. (If you are going to do this in winter you need a sno-park permit). Whether at the start or at the end – it’s worth taking time to check out Timberline Lodge. The trailhead is right before Timberline lodge and is sign-posted for the Timberline Trail / Pacific Crest Trail.
Timberline Lodge to ZigZag River
The first section of this trail wanders behind Timberline Lodge and heads west towards ZigZag canyon through the Timberline ski resort. On a normal day, there would be views of the Palmer Glacier – but on this trip, clouds obscured the peak. Just after the edge of the ski resort is a standard self permitting station – indicating your arrival into the Mount Hood wilderness. The trail continues for about 2 – 2.5 miles along a relatively flat, sandy trail. There is the occasional campsite – but none which are conveniently located next to a water source. The Hidden Lake Trail intersects and descends to the south – following one side of the ZigZag Canyon. Last year this trail had some major blowdown in the first 1 mile.
Shortly after we reached the shoulder of ZigZag canyon. Great views up and across the canyon with Mount Hood peeking out in the distance. From here it’s a steep descent into ZigZag canyon down a series of switchbacks. The good news is that the trail was in excellent shape – the forest service has done a tremendous job in clearing the trail from some blowdowns from last year.
The trail drops over 1000’ to the ZigZag River. The trail is shaded with the occasional stream cutting across the trail bed. This made a few of the stretches a little muddy and possibly slippery – a good place to use trekking poles. As we descended you can hear the river getting ever louder. The trail eventually opens up to a rockery area with the ZigZag River flowing through.
ZigZag River to Paradise Park
The ZigZag river is usually one of the easiest crossings – and this time was no different. Usually, a quick rock-hop suffices but currently there is also a log that is well-positioned. I’d vertically recommend using poles going across – the log is pretty wide and Hunter had no problem – but also a little slippery.
Immediately after the river, the trail starts to climb quickly up the other side of the ZigZag canyon. The river slowly fades into the distance. After a short distance of climbing up a few switchbacks we arrived at the Paradise Park Loop trail This is where the loop portion of the trail really starts (and in that respect, this is more a balloon than a true loop). The loop section rises and traverses through Paradise Park before descending back to the Timberline Trail / Pacific Crest Trail for the return part of the loop.
We followed the Paradise Park Loop Trail which quickly ascended out of the pine forest and into meadows. Wherever the trail crossed streams – more dense wildflowers sprang up.
There are plenty of campsites along the way. This makes this a great overnight backpacking trip. It’s about 5 miles to Paradise Park. On a clear day, the views of Mount Hood are stunning.
After the first mile, the trail intersects with the Paradise Park Trail – which leads back down the mountain on the west side of the ZigZag canyon. It’s from this intersection and for just under the next mile where the real beauty of Paradise Park shines. There are a few side trails that allow you to explore up towards the mountain. After meandering through the meadows the trail starts to descend. The lush meadows are slowly replaced by a rockier feel. There are still plenty of camping spots if you decide to make this an overnight trip.
The Paradise Park Loop trail is relatively short – maybe around 2 miles. Before long the trail descent increases and then rejoins the main Timberline Trail / PCT.
The return journey
At first glance, the return route is less interesting, mainly back in pines the trail weaves its way back towards ZigZag canyon. However, the trail still holds many surprises. Pines covered in moss look like bearded trees. The trail cuts across Lost Creek and Lady Creek. The trail zig-zags around the contours of several small canyons, keeping a fairly level profile.
After about 2 miles the trail intersects with the Paradise Park Trail and then in another 0.5 mile is the intersection with the Paradise Park Loop Trail. This was the intersection where we left and from here on back to Timberline Lodge is on the same trail for the outbound journey. Another 0.5 mile back to ZigZag river and then 3 more miles back to Timberline Lodge.
- About 12 miles round trip
- 3000’ elevation gain and loss
- Trail head starts at the elegant Timberline Lodge
- Simple crossing of the ZigZag river
- Paradise Park has plenty of camping opportunities
- Meadows and wild flowers galore!
- A summary map of the hike here