These days, when I head out to longer backpacking trips, they are mostly family trips so that my kids (8 and 6, in 2022) continue to get more comfortable backpacking.
This is a trip report of a family backpacking trip we (Mika and Gilad) took in the fall of 2022 to the Timberline Trail.
Where did you go?
We hiked the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood in Oregon. This is a 43 mile loop that can be started at several locations, hiked clockwise or counter clockwise. The trail requires no permits besides a self filled (free) wilderness permit during the season (March to October).
The trail is considered difficult due to high elevation gains and losses and several glacial river crossings that regularly shift.
The Timberline Trail shares several sections with the Pacific Crest Trail and has several alternates to make hiking harder or easier, according to preference. Part of the trail is still closed around Muddy Fork due to the big wind storm we had in the fall of 2020, so you must take the PCT or Ramona Falls alternate to Top Spur.
We chose to hike it from Timberline Lodge, clockwise, over 4 days with camping near Ramona Falls, Elk Cove and the top of Gnarl Ridge.
Mount Hood is a big part of our life in Portland, and often when deciding to go outdoors on the weekend we are either on the Pacific Coast or in Mount Hood National Forest.
Mt Hood is accessible and familiar, and after a long break from backpacking, it made sense to try a trail that is known to us: I've hiked parts of it and it is close to home. It is also one of those trails that is our on the West Coast bucket list.
Gilad: 45 miles
Everyone else: 40 miles
The full loop in the existing alternate is 43 miles, but we had to make some adjustments. On day three of our hike Mika twisted her ankle just short of Eliot Creek along with a long hard climb to Gnarl Ridge. That climb was very strenuous and the kids couldn't make it the extra 3 miles that would have brought us to Newton Creek.
The reduced miles on the 3rd day with Mika's ankle and the kids' generally being fed up from backpacking, led to us hiking to Umbrella Falls near Meadows Ski Resort, 1 mile of the trail at mile marker 39.
After depositing the kids and Mika and the falls to rest and recover, I (Gilad) went back up to the trail and hiked the rest of the way to Timberline Lodge to pick up the car (and complete the loop!).
Length of trip:
4 days, starting late morning and getting off the trail late afternoon.
Perfect September weather for the Cascades: hot days, cold nights and dry. Most of the trail is in forested areas, but on exposed sections like Gnarl Ridge or the climb from White River, the altitude and clear skies lead to high sun radiation areas and the sun shirts were very helpful (and sun umbrellas at times).
Gilad: This is a hard one, as it was a really great trip, though the kids might see it more of a Type 2 fun. I have two competing bests: first was just spending time together as a family without any life distractions. Between jobs, school, business, house renovation, we actually don't get a lot of family time and this trip really gave us time together. For a more specific best, I'll take the camp at the top Gnarl Ridge. I love camping at ridges and saddles, as those tend to be quieter and with great views, and this was no exception. Stunning sunset and sunrise, just below Newton Glacier on an open and exposed ridge was great. The stars were incredible (though the rest of the family fell asleep and missed them) and I haven't seen the Milky Way for a while now. Truly stunning camp and night.
Mika: I agree that spending time together was wonderful. This is the longest backpacking trip we have done with the kids, so it was definitely a stretch for them and felt like an important success. That said, I think crossing the Eliot was my highlight. We had been hearing from backpackers doing the loop counter clockwise about how difficult it was, the water somewhat but the scree more than anything. I have a tumultuous history with water crossings (back when we first got together, I definitely point-blank refused to do one, so that was fun) and of course we had our offspring, so we were all unsure of what to expect.
Well, the scree was pretty slippery, but the kids were absolute mountain goats and we made it down without any trouble. Gilad had to take our younger child across the water on his back, but we all crossed relatively smoothly, and the kids were SO PROUD of themselves. My older child actually wrote about it in school as something hard that she overcame. For me, the whole crossing was a definite highlight.
Gilad: Pretty much every ascent with the kids was terrible as they would immediately start crying, claim to be unable to move and in general "break". But for something specific I'd go for finding out (despite testing at home) that two of our pads had holes in them and were leaking during the night. The worst offender was the Nemo pad that Mika used on the first night and I took for nights 2 and 3. That meant waking up every hour or two, inflating the pad and trying to sleep some more. Not great. I'll add another small thing: my daughter was taking pictures on my phone on the morning of the last day and dropped it, cracking the screen and really messing it up, pretty much rendering it useless. If that happened at any time but the last day I'd say that would have been the worst moment, but alas, ended up being mainly just a pain in the neck to fix later on.
Mika: Twisting my ankle wasn't awesome, and impacted my ability to cheerlead the kids through the tougher parts of the hike. As Gilad mentioned, one or both dissolved into tears on pretty much every incline over 10 steps (so, quite often), and after I hurt my ankle I couldn't "mom' them through it as well as I had been before, since I was a bit distracted. Also on the last night our younger child had a full revolt on dinner and it was just sucky. So, parenting was - as it always is - hard. But other than that, the trip was pretty amazing.
Gilad: Again I have two that actually go together the Timberline Trail map on the FarOut app and my Waymark fanny pack. With the kids having a hard time on the trail, being able to know exactly (most of the time) where we are, what is ahead and what trail conditions (and water sources) made the trip much more manageable. The phone was in my fanny pack and was accessible all the time along with some snacks to help boost the kids regularly. Since my pack was very big and heavy (lots of food for 4 people for 4 days), that easy access of the fanny pack was really useful and probably what I used the most.
Mika: Our cooking setup. Having a hot breakfast every morning was critical to fueling up and having the energy needed for the day, and getting everything done for dinner was also relatively easy. Also the poles, especially after rolling my ankle - I wouldn't have been able to finish the trail without them.
Who would you recommend this trip to?
This is a great trip but should reserved to people who are more confident hiking, especially if taking kids or newbies. At least one person should feel comfortable with backcountry travel, disperse camping and potentially dangerous water crossings.
The hike itself is hard and strenuous, but short of the river crossings that require scrambling and route finding, the trail is well marked and non technical.
A note about river crossings on this trail: September tends to be the best time to hike this trail due to low water levels in the rivers and creeks. When we went, after a long dry season, the water still posed a danger and we saw a few people turn around and opt out. Early morning crossings are best as the water levels are lowest with the least ice melt from the glaciers that feed them. The banks constantly shift and change too, leading to many scrambles of scree and sand, route finding and risky rock hops. If no one in your group is confident with such conditions, you should avoid backpacking this trail, rescues around Mt Hood are pretty frequent due to the high accessibility of a demanding trail.