Located on the far less visited North side of Mount Hood, Tilly Jane is an iconic sight that shows up regularly in Oregon travel guides and blogs so much so that you’ve probably seen it without knowing it. For almost as long as I’ve been living in the Pacific Northwest my friends have been raving about the place, trying to get me to come along for a visit and yet for some reason I kept putting it off in favor of longer adventures around other parts of the mountain but no more!
While it’s currently still “early season” on the mountain the snow level has been building up fas. So a few weeks ago after an adventure on the Southside of Mount Hood, I decided to explore the Tilly Jane trail on the way home. My timeline that day limited to head the entire way up, short of an adventure as it may be, but after a couple miles of fun winter hiking I got the point. A week later a friend and I made the snowy trek for my first visit. It will certainly not be my last.
On the trail:
Built in the 1930s, the TIlly Jane A-Frame sits at just around 5,900′ up Mount Hood. That’s 1,900 vertical-feet and at least 2.5 miles (one way) above the parking area at the end of the Cooper Spur road. Covered in snow all winter long, the trek up to the cabin is by no means a walk in the park but it’s nothing crazy either, provided that you’re ready for a winter adventure that is; there are no facilities along the way.
Packs on, snowshoes clipped to our backs with fingers crossed for deeper snow ahead, we headed out to the trail which begins as a straight forward route through a thick forest of trees. In fall or low snow conditions, the trail gets downright boggy early on. Logs have been pushed together to try and bridge over some of the particularly nasty spots but avoiding all the mud is enivitable. Of course as temps come down to freeze the ground and the snow level rises, this all becomes a non issue and for much of winter Tilly Jane is a skin up route right out of the parking lot.
Climbing through the forest for perhaps 800 vertical-feet, the trail breaks free of the dense treeline and into a landscape covered in the burnt remants of the 2008 fire. It’s a stark and sad contrast though with snow on the ground and light flooding in from above, it was certainly also a stunning sight and a reminder of the cycles of nature.
As the trail continues to climb in and out of now far more sparsely clustered trees, a few steeper hills and ridge lines heighten the effort though nothing is overly exposed or outside a moderate challange. On clear days, views of the mountain dominate much of the landscape ahead while Adams and other peaks can be seen behind you. Even on a stormy day where all you see is grey, it’s still an impressive sight hiking up.
The final leg of the climb is a well cut traverse across the side of a slope where powder quickly accumulates up. The deepening snow slowed our pace and gave a few skiiers on their way up and a few snowshoers on their way down a chance to catch up to use and pause for a chat about the remarkable day out. Part of the fun of winter adventures for me is the people you encounter along the way. With only a few others to share the trail with, I feel like everyone becomes friendlier, ready to time a break together to talk about conditions, related adventures or tips in a way you just don’t find (or want) on a busy, summer crowd. From the ridge there is just one last push to make up a long hill which hides the cabin and then suddenly you’re there, done!
Seeing Tilly Jane’s A-Frame building for the first time would have impressed me any time of year but with a pile of skis in front and snow starting to cover everything around, it’s just one of those places I instantly knew I’d be visiting again. The structure its self is big, like way bigger than I realized from the photos and yet it fits into the landscape so well. The rustic look from another era, the way smoke billows out from the chimney and how the once again lush forest all but engulfs place, it’s incredible.
The cabin is not just a stop to look at from the outside either. You can rent bunk space online and in advance (and by bunk they apparently mean a section of wood on the floor) for an overnight stay, or, if there’s someone inside to open it up, you can step inside and warm up as a day visitor ($1 / person contribution). Firewood is provided to run the stove while drying racks, a few lanterns, picinic tables and other odds and ends can be found inside. Sleeping quarters are upstairs (though I get the feeling plenty of people stay by the fire) and a single bathroom is just outside the front door.
Inside is warm[er], free of the wind and elements, secure and yet as rustic as it gets. There is no power, no running water, no modern technology to be found (though my cell phone had plenty of coverage.) Nothing to take away from the mountain experience and yet everything you need to be able to enjoy the day. Shortly after we arrived at the cabin, a few overnighters showed up and then a couple more day hikers and within minutes were were all chatting about the place, the world. It’s a launching pad for outdoor adventures and a place for like making new friends or at least socializing with new faces and that’s something special these days.
From Tilly Jane it’s about another 1,000′ up to the Cooper Spur shelter for those who wish to push on and take the long road loop down. There are also ski runs and snowshoeing trails, loops to get back to the parking lot and of course endless views all around to be had of the forest and the landscape, if things were clear that is. With just day gear on us, we did not stay long however and with the help of snowshoes for traction, made quick work out of the descent before a forecast storm had time to roll in. But one day was not enough, I’ll be back.
Quick facts about the trail:
- Official Rating: Moderate
- Start point: Cooper Spur Trail Parking Area
- Distance: 5.0 miles R/T
- Duration: 2-4 hours
- Climb: 1,900′ vertical gain
- Terrain: Snow, deep snow and deeper snow (winter)
- Crowds: Light to Moderate
- Recommended time: Sunrise – Sunset
- Facilities: None (stove and pots for melting snow, restroom at the cabin)
- Parking: Small, dirt / snow lot
- Fees: Advance book for overnight stays ($15 / night), Day use contribution ($1+)
- Permits: NW Forest Pass / NPS Pass for Parking
- http://www.reserveamerica.com/camping/tilly-jane-guard-station/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72357 (reserve bunkspaces)
- http://new.onc.org/tilly-jane-a-frame/ (the organization that manages & maintains the cabin)