I love to ramble this time of year, when much of Oregon is still shaking off winter’s lonesome run – a time when you’ll find me on the road and looking for something new. So it really pays when you join folks who know their way in, around and through Oregon’s backroads and byways and trails less traveled – it offers me a chance to learn new routes across familiar places.

“For many people, a drive on the Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls is all they ever see of the Gorge,” said Cari Gesch, a lifelong Oregonian who has a passion for the nooks and crannies of the Columbia River Gorge. She quickly added, “…and that’s too bad, because there is so much more to see and do.” Cari and her husband, Jon Gesch, never tire of hiking the extra mile along the little-known Hood River Mountain Trail to find a scene fit for framing.

Gesch noted that some call Mt Hood Portland’s “hip pocket” mountain because it’s so close to town and easy to reach. Many hikers are surprised to discover that the Hood River Mountain Trail offers a unique and spectacular view – not just of the mountain in Portland’s backyard but the sprawling Hood River Valley too.

“It is a bit of a climb to get up here – especially the first half mile of the three-mile looped trail – but once you’re here, you forget all about the first part of the hike. It’s beautiful and on a clear day you see Mt Hood plus Mt Adams, Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier.”

The Hood River Mountain Trail is across private property owned by SDS Lumber of Hood River, but they generously allow hikers access to the trail. It is a place where visitors can find beauty in isolation and majesty in Mt Hood, all rolled up into the three-mile looped trail.

It is inviting mountain scenery to be sure, but when you glance around you discover there’s far more that invites you to linger, especially with a camera in hand: wildflowers galore! That’s what draws Gesch – who is also a professional photographer. She said that the wildflower show is a real “show-stopper” in spring and summer. “Oh, so many wildflowers are peeking up right now; paintbrush and balsamroot and glacier lilies – plus, the beautiful blue sky and stunning mountain views! What’s not to like here?”

Gesch is a photographer who owns a passion for this place where she can practice what she calls “photo-yoga.” She often gets down, close to ground and close to the flowers and frames her shots. She has the pictures to prove her technique works, too.

Her life-long love affair with the Columbia River Gorge began as a kid when her dad showed her trails less traveled. Now she is an “Ask Oregon” expert on the Gorge who volunteers by answering visitor questions about where to eat, stay and find adventures in the region.

In addition to the Hood River Mountain Trail, she offered me a timely tip: drive north from the town of Hood River along the famous 35-mile long Fruit Loop. “It is prime right now with a carpet of spring snow,” said Gesch.

Not the freezing kind, but an endless wash of foamy white, pink-tinged blossoms from pear and apple orchards that rise and plunge toward distant horizons.“The official blossom season in the Hood River Valley is April,” said Gesch. “The peak is generally the third weekend of the month for blooming fruit trees. Plus, there are many events, craft fairs and wineries offering tastings too.”

Back atop Hood River Mountain, Gesch said her spring days seem to zip by because she’s always on the move, making new discoveries so more people can enjoy this place we call home. On this beautiful day, she wryly added with a smile, “To ask for a nicer day would be a bit greedy.”

Editor’s note: If you’re traveling around the Columbia River Gorge and want some local tips to help you plan your trip, you can contact Cari via the Ask Oregon form.

Directions to the Hood River Mountain Trail:

Drive approximately 1/4 mile south of Hood River on Oregon Hwy 35 from the intersection with the China Gorge Restaurant, and turn left onto East Side Road. Follow this road for about two miles and then turn left again onto the Old Dalles Road. About two more miles up this road you will come to an obvious saddle between two ridges. Park so that you don’t block any gateways! The trail is on the south side of the road, marked only by a sign from the private owners of the property explaining that all forms of motorized vehicles are prohibited. Please remember that you are a guest on private land.

About the Author: Grant McOmie

Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

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In this Grant’s Getaway

These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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