What makes a great hike? I would say ease of access, scenery, variety, options, and something cool nearby to do afterwards. That’s why I think the Paradise Park loop from Timberline Lodge is one of the best hikes on Mount Hood.
Just the starting point is worth visiting: Timberline Lodge was built in the 1930s and remains a must-visit location in Oregon. The views are stupendous, from the Willamette Valley to the heart of the Cascades and east towards the high desert around Bend. The main highlight is Mount Jefferson, Oregon’s second highest, a glacier-capped marvel about 45 miles to the south.
From there, just walk up the road a bit, then turn left onto the Pacific Crest Trail (which I wrote a book all about) as well as the Timberline Trail, which goes around Mount Hood. They join here for about 10-15 miles.
About the variety: The whole loop here is 12+ miles with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain, but in no way do you have to do all of that! In fact, the first few minutes of trail are quite easy and scenic, going in and out of forest and open spaces, always with views up and down. Totally do-able for kids!
Here are some views from along the first part of the trail:
You will encounter some junctions in here, but just keep going straight, following signs for Paradise Park. After about two miles, this will happen:
This is ZigZag Canyon. The good news is, if you want to, you can turn around here. You should be back at the lodge in a hour or so, although you will now realize that you were coming downhill to here — meaning you have to go back uphill to return!
If you do keep going, you’ll descend into the canyon, down to the ZigZag River itself.
From here, you start climbing into more open, wildflower country:
Finally, you come into Paradise Park itself, a place of flowers and views and creeks and campsites. It’s really magical.
If it looks like it might be worth the climbing, believe me it is! Once you’re into Paradise Park, you can make a loop of it and see even more waterfalls. You can also spend the night in one of many wonderful campsites. Or just go back the way you came. It’s all good in Paradise, after all!
And then, for one final reason why Paradise Park is one of the best hikes on Mount Hood: When you’re done, you’re back at Timberline Lodge, where you can get yourself something to eat, a milkshake, or perhaps an adult beverage. A coffee with Bailey’s might sound good to you by the time you get back …