When it comes to the abundance of outdoor activities during the summer on Mt. Hood, it’s clear that a multi-sporting mindset is the best approach. With this in mind, I enlisted a friend to join me for a full day of snowboarding, bike riding and yoga, topped off with a meal at the Timberline Lodge & Ski Area. Neither of us were strangers to Mt. Hood as we’d both worked at the summer snowboard camps in the past, but a lot of time had passed since we had spent a full summers day on Mt. Hood.
We embarked on this adventure in mid-July, and even though it was the middle of summer, we had to keep an eye on the weather. The historic Timberline Lodge sits at an elevation of 5,960 feet, making it susceptible to mountain storms and whiteouts, so it’s always a good idea to check the conditions report in advance. The day before our visit a localized storm kept visitors off the slopes, but we got lucky and found clear skies as we pulled into the parking lot at 9:30 a.m. It was a quick two-hour drive from Bend, and an even shorter distance from Portland. In the summer the lifts open at 7 a.m., which is when ski racers in search of firm snow find the ideal fast conditions. We were more interested in classic corn snow and soft landings, so our late morning timing was perfect. We booted up in the parking lot — layering is always a good call for Mt. Hood with a wind and waterproof outer layer, a long sleeve shirt and definitely eye protection as well as plenty of sunscreen.
Part 1: Summer Skiing & Snowboarding
As we approached the lift headed for the slopes, we passed a group of mountain bikers. One of them had a huge grin on his face as he took a photo of us — “I had no idea you could snowboard up here! I had to take a photo! I’m from New York City,” he yelled as he pedaled off downhill with an ear-to-ear grin. At the base of the Magic Mile lift, Bruno, one of Timberline’s two resident St. Bernard dogs, happily greeted us — a great way to start the day.
Timberline is the only ski area operating year-round in the U.S. The resort operates two high-speed quad lifts accessing the snowfields of the Palmer Glacier. The terrain is rated for intermediate skiers and snowboarders and consists of marked lanes of groomed snow, ski race training lanes including giant slalom, slalom and even moguls. Timberline is the summer training ground for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team. The resort also hosts several private and public freestyle parks rounding out the terrain.
The Magic Mile drops riders off midway up the mountain. You have the option of riding straight back down to the lodge through a narrowing lane of snow that also includes the public park. It’s a short walk back to the lift. We opted to head further up the Palmer chairlift, which ascends along the main public ski lane to the viewer’s right. This lane is paralleled by a series of race lanes, which gradually open to the public throughout the afternoon as the racers leave for the day.
The conditions were slushy and fast, and the views were epic in every direction. We made some turns, then dipped into the Timberline Pro Park to check out the rope-tow served big jumps, rails and 22-foot Superpipe. The Pro Park is a new option this year for day visitors. At $100 per day it’s definitely targeted at advanced skiers and snowboarders looking to improve their skills. The pipe ended up being surprisingly fun, so we rode that most of the day, alternating between the rope tow and the Palmer lift for more scenic turns.
We brought a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed at the top of the pipe. (Note: A backpack is key to carry extra layers, water, sunscreen, snacks and lunch. There’s also a group of picnic tables at the top of the Magic Mile.) We opted to take one last ride up Palmer right before the lifts were scheduled to close at 2 p.m. It was a glorious run: The snowfield was all ours, and in the quiet of the moment we noticed the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering by in the breeze — a true Oregon moment.
Part 2: Downhill Mountain Biking
Back at the car we changed out of our snowboard gear and into our bike gear with a plan to ride the Timberline to Town Trail, a 5.5-mile singletrack from Timberline into the village of Government Camp. (Note: Timberline now has lift-accessed mountain biking which opened in August 2019 with lifts running until 5:00pm).
The Timberline to Town trail is well marked, but riders can also follow the route on the several Mountain Bike trail apps like Mountain Bike Project. The conditions were as good as it gets thanks to the rain the day prior. We found cruisey singletrack, twisting and turning all the way down.
The trail descends 2,000 vertical feet through a variety of sub-alpine zones — evergreen trees give way to leafy, mossy forest, opening to sunny wildflower fields as we neared Government Camp. We randomly ran into a friend who was riding with her family on the trail; the dad was having a great time and exuberantly proclaimed this was, “The best $2 my wife had ever spent on me.” He was referring of course to the $2 Mt. Hood Express shuttle that ferries riders from a series of pickups along a route from Sandy to Timberline Lodge. This family had loaded the shuttle in Rhododendron for the 16-mile Timberline to Rhododendron downhill ride, which is another local favorite.
We rode the rest of the way together, until they had to split off, while we rode into Government Camp following the well marked signs. We were right on time for the 4 p.m. pick up at the Best Western Government Camp (I had downloaded the Doublemap app earlier to track the bus, which is recommended.). The bus is equipped with an easy-load bike trailer, which was already half-full of bikes when we boarded.
Part 3: Sunset Dining at Timberline Lodge
Just like that we were back at the top of Timberline where we had planned one final activity before our 6 p.m. dinner reservation in the Timberline Lodge Cascade Dining Room. From July 11 through August 29, Timberline Lodge offers “Yoga With a View” at 5 p.m. on Thursdays. The wind had picked up and a bit of a chill had settled in, so we weren’t surprised to find that yoga had been cancelled that evening — I’m not going to lie, we were a little relieved. Instead we orchestrated one more outfit change in the parking lot and made our way to the Blue Ox Bar on the main floor of the Timberline Lodge, where we ordered a couple Mt. Hood Brewing Company beers while we waited for our 6 p.m. reservation. We sat in the upstairs lobby and took in the stunning view of the peak, surrounded by a mixed group of day tourists, Pacific Crest Trail hikers and overnight lodge guests. A sign on the table encouraged us to relax and enjoy the space, but not to sleep there. I’m not sure what repeat series of events led to the need for that signage, but I took it as an indicator that we weren’t the only ones overdoing it on Mt. Hood — the array of adventures also includes scenic chairlift rides, trail hiking, climbing to the 11,249-foot summit, and a brand-new network of lift-accessed bike trails and parks.
We had such a packed day of activities, we hadn’t really put much thought into what dinner might hold. We were seated at a table in the Cascade Dining Room with majestic views of Mt. Jefferson in the distance and nearby Trillium Lake below. We started with a cheese plate, which was accompanied by steaming hot sourdough bread. We followed with a salad course featuring the sweetest snap peas and an herb-filled green goddess dressing. We both opted for the wild salmon main course and it was perfectly done, crisp on the outside and moist inside. We weren’t in a hurry to leave, so we lingered over coffee and a shared chocolate flour-less torte. Timberline prides itself on sourcing fresh, locally-produced ingredients, and that attention to freshness shined through in our incredible meal.
We had noticed a sign announcing rooms available for the night, and we joked about rolling ourselves to the front desk to inquire. But we eventually recovered from our food stupor and made our way back to the parking lot where we re-assembled the chaos that comes with operating out of your car all day. The trip back to Bend was beautiful with long shadows stretching out across the farm country. Just another incredible day in Oregon — yours for the taking.
Suggestions for families with little ones in tow:
- Scenic chairlifts ride on Magic Mile (bring plenty of layers, as it’s always colder than you expect)
- Short hikes on nearby kid-friendly trails, including the popular ZigZag Overlook Trail, a gentle 4.4-mile round trip hike departing from the lodge, and the Mirror Lake Trail, which departs from a new trailhead adjacent to Skibowl West near Government Camp to a glacial lake (two miles each direction).
- The kid-friendly trails in Phase 1 of the new Timberline Bike Park.
- Hot cocoa in the lodge is always appropriate no matter the season
- Plan to run into Bruno and Heidi, Timberline’s resident St. Bernard dogs are on a regular walking schedule through the summers.