Hiking up a hill to a nice viewpoint is fun. But if you can get to a nice viewpoint without doing all that work, why not? During the summer months, it’s pretty easy for hikers to scale the slopes of Mount Hood — because the Magic Mile ski lift at Timberline Lodge does most of the work. Hop on, and you’re transported up the mountain on a thrilling ride to the rocky slopes above treeline. And from there, you can hike a little, just so you’re not lying when you tell people you hiked up Mount Hood.
A drive up to Timberline Lodge is a highly recommended part of the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. From US 26 at Government Camp, take Timberline Highway up the hill to the end of the road. The end of the Magic Mile Skyride ski lift is located on the far side of the lodge. Signs are confusing and somewhat misleading — just walk up to the entrance to the main lodge, then keep going, slightly over the hill, and you’ll spot the end of the chair lift.
A ride up Mount Hood should begin with a detour into the Timberline Lodge. You’ll probably recognize this grand old structure from Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining. Exteriors of the hotel were used in the movie, and in the film, room 217 was changed to 237 (a room that didn’t exist at Timberline Lodge), to avoid scaring people away from staying in the forbidden room 217.
The lower end of the Magic Mile lift is just beyond the entrance to the main lodge. For some reason, when I was there, signs for the Magic Mile pointed to the day lodge, and then once you walked through the day lodge, there were no more signs. I backtracked twice, looking for what I missed. Then I went into the main lodge and asked an employee, who didn’t know where it was. Eventually I went outside, walked around, looked for the chair lift, and followed it to the end.
As of 2015, a ticket for anyone over age 7 cost $15. You can buy your ticket at the window on the side of the lift station. Then, walk inside and hop on the next chair.
The trip up the mountain is a blast. It’s roughly 15 minutes, one-way, but the time flies as fast as you’re flying. You’ll gain a thousand vertical feet, from 6,000 feet above sea level at the lodge, to 7,000 feet at the upper station.
In no time, you’re closer to the top of Mount Hood (I swear it’s up there in the fog) as you arrive at the upper station.
Once your feet are back on the ground, you have a few choices. If you’re here to ski (yes, skiing is an option for most of the year), you can transfer to the Palmer lift, which continues up the mountain to Palmer Glacier. (That ride is not included in the cost of a Magic Mile ticket.)
You can also choose to just look around for a bit, and then take the ride back down. There aren’t any restaurants or gift shops up here — just some thin air and plenty of passing clouds.
A short hike over to the east takes you to the Silcox Hut — a warming hut and special event facility. I visited it after my hike — more on it in a moment.
I decided that 7,000 feet wasn’t high enough. Heck, the top of the mountain is right there! Why not just hike all the way up it?
There’s a good reason. Mount Hood’s peak may appear close, but it’s 4/5 of a vertical mile above your head. And it’s snowy up there, even in August.
So, I didn’t hike all the way to the peak, but I was determined to gain some more elevation. There are some “trails” of some sort, that head up the mountain from the chair lift station. I made my way through a ravine and up onto a fairly easy spot, and started going higher.
It seems like this rock is big enough to create an obstacle for skiers, but I guess the snow up here gets deep enough in the winter that it’s completely buried. In summer, though, it makes a nice destination for hikers.
I can’t tell you exactly how far I hiked, but it seemed like a long way. It was far enough that I had this view of the chair lift station…
… and with my zoomiest of zoom lenses, I could look all the way down to the Timberline Lodge, and parking area.
After reaching a ridge that I had arbitrarily set as my goal, I headed back down, and swung over to Silcox Hut.
Silcox Hut was built by the WPA in 1939. When the chair lift was rerouted in the 1960’s, the hut was abandoned for a few years, then struggled with vandalism for decades. A group called Friends of Silcox Hut took over in the 80’s, and gradually restored the structure, opening it to the public in 1993.
Nowadays, you can spend the night at Silcox Hut — assuming you’re part of a large group of people willing to pay for the privilege. The cost per person is pricey, but not overly extravagant when you consider exactly where you’ll be staying. The hut is available for overnight stays, weddings, corporate retreats, and other events.
If you can’t see the top of Mount Hood, just wait a while. Remember how foggy it looked about an hour earlier? By the end of my visit it was clear and beautiful.
All that was left was my ride back down the hill, and my drive back to Portland. This was my final stop of the trip, and it was a great way to cap off a week in Oregon and Northern California!
The Bottom Line
A ride up the Magic Mile Skyride is a lot of fun, and hiking around on the rocks at the upper end of the chair lift is great, too. It’s worth the ride, just for the views on the way up and the way down. If you take some time hiking at the top, you’ll find even more great places to take pictures, or just sit and relax.
Here’s a look at the drive on the Mount Hood Scenic Byway up to Timberline Lodge…
… and from the lodge, down and around to I-84 at Hood River, Oregon: