A (Nearly) Year-Round Ski Lodge Like No Other
Oregon's Timberline Lodge offers the longest ski season in North America — but it's about way more than snow.
Conventional wisdom holds that winter is the best time to visit a skiing destination. And while, yes, Oregon’s Timberline Lodge is a bucket-list cold weather escape full of incredible runs and scenery, it’s a sleeper summer getaway — especially for families.
Unlike most ski resorts, where riders follow the slopes down to the main facility, Timberline sits sandwiched between below- and above-treeline slopes. That unique perch leaves the lodge feeling like much more of a majestic outpost than most of its contemporaries, as the mountain’s peak nearly feels within reach.
The interior of the now 85-year-old structure was designed and executed almost entirely by artists and artisans hired by the Works Progress Administration, with hardwood ceilings and floors constructed from native lumber. In fact, some of the supporting columns are lightly planed tree trunks that have retained enough of their original form to make it easy to imagine their previous life towering over the forest floor.
The building also features impressive stonework, including a hexagonal fireplace in the center of the lodge that measures a whopping 60 feet in diameter. It visually anchors the entire building, with its 90-foot-tall chimney stack extending beyond the main room’s vaulted ceiling toward the sky above.
Seventy guest rooms of various sizes are spread across the lodge’s two asymmetrical wings, though only a handful of ADA-accessible rooms offer much space beyond what is needed for sleeping and seating. Handmade furniture and hardwood walls make quarters feel more warm and cozy than cramped, and the aesthetic in the vast majority of the rooms is helped by windows that provide natural light and glimpses of the mountain.
Living just an hour from Timberline, my family never stayed at the lodge. In fact, we didn’t even make the trip during the prime winter months. But with a spirit of creative whimsy, my dad would load my sister and me into our Ford Aerostar minivan and head up the mountain for summer snow day trips that broke up the monotony of the extended break and provided respite from Portland’s hottest days.
Even when temperatures down in the Willamette Valley are pushing 100 degrees, there’s snow on Mt. Hood’s highest ski runs. And it ends up being a best-of-both-worlds destination for those who want a bit of winter wonderland sprinkled into their summer as driving conditions are optimal, it’s warm enough to walk outside without any winter gear (the average high in the summer months hovers around the low 70s), the sidewalks and pathways are cleared of snow, and the daylight hours stretch far longer than in the winter.
Timberline’s position as a summer destination stretches so far back that its outdoor pool and sauna facilities were decommissioned last year after 65 years in service. Construction on a new updated facility should conclude before the next summer season is in full swing, providing lodge guests with the rare splash and snow double feature.
While snow on the lodge grounds becomes spotty in the summer, a relative abundance of powder endures just up the slope. Palmer Glacier — which is technically considered a snowfield at this point since glacial ice movement stopped in the mid-1980s — remains covered the entire year, with a 10-month ski season that’s the longest in the country.
The runs are shorter during the summer than they are in high season when Mr. Hood is piled high with snow (a photograph of a spookily snowbound Timberline Lodge is said to have inspired the description of the Overlook Hotel of The Shining). But the unique summer runs — with dedicated areas for alpine, mogul, halfpipe, slopestyle, and snowboard cross-training — still draw the biggest names in snow sports. Olympic gold medalists Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson, Shaun White, and David Wise all made their way to Timberline in 2021 as they prepared for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
My sister and I weren’t skiers or snowboarders, so our summer visits to Mt. Hood were low-key but refreshing affairs that primarily consisted of hiking the glacier, chucking July snowballs, and making half-hearted attempts at snow angels.
Had our trips stretched longer than a single afternoon, there would have been plenty of ways to fill the time. The famed Magic Mile chairlift provides excellent views on the way up to Palmer’s Glacier and back down for those not interested in returning to Timberline on skis. When constructed in 1938, it was the longest in existence, the first in the world to use metal towers, and the second to be built as a passenger chairlift. It’s received numerous wholesale upgrades throughout its life but is still a fun and gorgeous slice of history to experience.
A separate lift delivers visitors to the family-friendly trails of Timberline Bike Park. Open since 2019, it was purposefully constructed to accommodate all ages and abilities. Among its 16 trails, it includes a wide green trail that’s perfect for a first-timer's bike park experience and several blue and black trails for more experienced riders. Lessons are available for those who aren’t comfortable with true mountain biking, as are bike and pad rentals.
For those using Timberline Lodge as a base of operations, there are plenty of other summer activities in close enough proximity to quickly zip back and forth throughout the day. Ski Bowl is a worthy outing just a 10-minute drive down the mountain from Timberline with a summer activity slate that includes an alpine slide, disc golf, interpretive hiking trails, a summer tube slope, and bungee trampolines.
You’re also positioned to hit the 4.2-mile loop around Mirror Lake early before crowds fill up the limited parking available near the trailhead or hit one of the other accessible day hikes that are just a short drive away. While spontaneity is typically thought of as an attribute of the beach-going crowd, it can also rule the day at 6,000 feet.
But if you find yourself immersed in a daydream of summiting Mount Hood while looking at the peak from one of the rocking chairs on Timberline’s back patio, know that the challenge is much more daunting than it appears. A technical climb with a 5,000-foot elevation gain that is absent hiking trails has proven too much for even experienced adventurers. Make sure to plan your route, pack as if the trek will span two days just in case it does, and pick up a blue human waste bag at the hiker registration station.
And it’s probably a good idea to book that extra night at Timberline post-climb to rest and recover in comfort before heading home. While the fireplaces might not be roaring in summer, you can still regale fellow lodge-goers with the fables of your exploits as those who have gone before you over the last nine decades undoubtedly have.