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Perfect 10: North America’s 10 Most Memorable Hikes

Ten trails. Ten unmatched miles each. Get maximum bang for each boot step on hikes that our most-traveled contributors call their all-time favorites.


Perfect 10: Timberline Trail, Mt. Hood
Make tracks around Oregon’s gentle giant.
—John Harlin
 
Volcanic dust poofs into the air with each of Adele’s footfalls. Step, puff, step, puff…her boots strike the Timberline Trail near Cooper Spur. Glaciers reflect the bright morning sun high above on Mt. Hood. I watch her steps and the trail’s reaction to them, and my heart beats in time. Puff, thump-thump; puff, thump-thump. I have something I need to say.
 
We planned this hike to celebrate our 14th anniversary—17th if you count, as we usually do, from when we first kissed. Tonight, we’d have our annual dinner and a room at the Timberline Lodge on the south side of Hood. With each step, I grow more nervous as I work up courage. We’d talked about this before, many times, and always reached the same conclusion: We’d discuss it again later. Only now, I didn’t want an open-ended discussion. I had made up my mind. It was time to change our lives forever. Ten more steps and I’ll say it.
 
Eight, puff, nine, puff…
“Adele?”
“Yes?”
“We should have a kid.” Puff, thump-thump. “Now. I think we should start trying tonight.”
 
Her feet stopped, and my heart raced inside my chest as her boots twisted in the sand until their toes pointed my way. Her face morphed quickly from quizzical to nervous to warm.
 
“OK,” she smiled.
 
We turned downhill to walk and talk. Ten more miles before dinner. These are my favorite 10 on the Timberline on any day, but on this one my heart thumped with pure joy. The trail plunged along Gnarl Ridge, across alpine meadows, through scrub, and into subalpine forest. Soon it led into the cold waters of Newton Creek; we could see where it continued up the other bank. We held each other’s arms tightly to brace against the current.
 
The path then wandered under ski lifts; crested a ridge with views to more
volcanoes in the south; angled down again into the White River’s broad scar of a drainage, victim of a thousand and one floods.
 
The day’s views stayed familiar—after all, Mt. Hood is our local peak. But I’d never seen the mountain look like this before. Truthfully, I haven’t seen it quite like that again, either.
 
It’s still 11,240 feet high, covered in snow, with wildflower meadows draping its sprawling shoulders. But now we have 15-year-old Siena, and each year we enjoy pieces of the Timberline. First, she toddled in its dust, then she tumbled in its flowers, and now she strides across its moraines. Each year, it’s the same mountain, but each time we hike it together we experience it differently. Our lives and perspectives flow like a raided alpine stream. Yet always there’s Mt. Hood, like a big snowy fountain that sits in the middle of our lives, and this section of the Timberline to bring us fresh joy.
 
PERFECT 10 Gnarl Ridge, at junction with Cooper Spur Trail, along the Timberline Trail to the Timberline Lodge
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DO IT
From Portland, take I-84 east to US 26. After 38.9 miles, veer left onto Timberline Rd. and park in six miles. 
PERMIT Northwest Pass required ($5/day or $30/year, fs.usda.gov/mthood) and wilderness permit (free at trailhead).
MAP Mt. Hood ($12, natgeomaps.com)
CONTACT (503) 668-1700; fs.usda.gov/mthood

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1 Comment

  1. lagunahiker

    If you’re planning on hiking Mt Whitney from Kearsarge Pass, study a map carefully before you go. The hike includes a climb over Forester Pass (13,200 ft), the highest pass on the John Muir Trail, as well as the climb over Kearsarge Pass, a 12,000 ft pass. It’s a great hike, with great views (I’ve done it three times), but it is significantly more difficult than backpacking the Portal Trail.

    Avatar of lagunahiker

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