Need to clear your head with some alpine air, but don’t have a car to get there? A train, two buses, and $5.50 can take you up to Timberline Lodge.
Stringing three different transit agencies’ timetables together can get complicated, but if you plan to leave the center city at least two hours before the Mt Hood Express leaves Sandy you should make it. You’ll need additional padding on the weekends, when the Gresham-Sandy connection is less frequent, so I recommend playing hookey or calling in sick and going on a weekday.
Pack some snacks, cash for bus fare and a quick doughnut at Joe’s, and something to read (or color, if your traveling companion happens to be 5) on the way, and then sit back and enjoy not having to worry about traffic, chains, snow tires, logging trucks, or gas prices. Here’s how a recent trip went:
11:20 A.M.: With a suitcase and backpack crammed with coloring books, brand-new back-to-school markers (kindergarten starts in three days), a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and snacks, my 5-year-old daughter and I board a Blue Line MAX bound for Gresham. A longtime North Portlander, I’ve never been much past Gateway on the train, and I feel like a tourist taking in the sights. I make a note to come back and check out a curious Uzbeki restaurant we pass. TriMet fare: $2.50
12:05 P.M.: We miss the noon Sandy Area Metro (SAM) transit bus. Lucky for us, it comes every half hour, so we can take the 12:30 one and still have a good buffer. My daughter entertains herself by looking at the luxury spreads in real estate ad booklets and asking why we don’t have a pool. SAM fare: $1
12:55 P.M.: The SAM bus drops us in “downtown” Sandy, with enough time to try a local take on the cronut at red-and-white landmark Joe’s Donuts, plus a cup of coffee from Mountain Moka (the powdered creamer on the counter at Joe’s is a red flag for any Portland coffee snob, so I went across the street, where there was also a restroom that was easier to access with a suitcase and a 5-year-old in tow). The man working at a farm stand next to the bus stop gives my daughter an apple. Another little girl waiting for the bus gives her a candy necklace.
1:25 P.M.: We hop on a versatile short bus towing a bike trailer. There are a few other quick roadside stops en route to Timberline, mostly for mountain bikers thankful for the one-way transportation. My daughter spots clouds in the shape of a narwhal and a “duck skeleton” while she waits for the mountain peak to come into view. We dig into our sandwiches. Mt Hood Express fare: $2 (yes, thanks to public money from the feds and heavy subsidies from Timberline, Ski Bowl, and the Resort at the Mountain, it’s cheaper to ride from Sandy to Timberline Lodge than to go 10 blocks on TriMet)
2:35 P.M.: Arrival. It was a hot, sunny, still day as far as Government Camp, but at Timberline’s elevation the wind is fierce, and soon the lodge is enveloped by a cold fog.
We spend the next 24 hours enjoying a “chalet” room full of bunks at Timberline and even taking on a bunkmate, a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who is enjoying a night off the trail and stopping to pick up some packages sent there by family and friends. It’s not ski season, but there’s table tennis, shuffleboard, a writing nook that my daughter declares her “office,” a heated pool, a hot tub, dinner at the Ram’s Head, a St. Bernard to pet, puzzles, board games, a fire to cuddle up next to, a Timberline mini-museum, an adjacent wilderness to explore, and plenty of windowside seats to nurse a Mt Hood Brewing pint and look up from my book to watch Trillium, Timothy, and Clear Lakes come in and out of view in the shifting fog.
2:45 P.M.: After an out-of-the-booth brunch buffet (at which the little one operates both a waffle iron and a meat slicer), a hike to the Little Zigzag River, and another stint at the writing desk, we board the bus home. We’re alone with the friendly driver at first, but in a few stops we’re joined by a teenager with an after-school job at the Rhododendron Subway. Fare: $2
4 P.M.: We’ve barely disembarked the Mt Hood Express before the SAM to Gresham shows up—no time for doughnuts. Since each consecutive mode of transit is more frequent in this direction, the trip home is a lot quicker and less reliant on luck than the trip there. Fare: $1
4:28 P.M.: I take it back about luck. We sprint to a Blue Line car at Gresham TC and barely make it. High fives. Fare: $2.50
5:05 P.M.: Rose Quarter reached, alpine travels over, time for the rush-hour slog home.