Mt. Hood Scenic Byway
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From verdant farmlands to the timberline to the final stretches of the historic Oregon Trail, this Byway leads you through classic Oregon scenery, with jawdropping vistas of Mt. Hood – one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks.
The Mt. Hood Scenic Byway follows an exhilarating route around one of Oregon’s most iconic landmarks, offering exposure to some of the state’s most stunning scenery and sought after recreational destinations. Moving south from the lush Hood River Valley, you’ll approach the alpine environs of Mt. Hood, drop down into temperate rainforests and finally return to the verdant farmlands of eastern Multnomah County. Four-season recreational activities and rich pioneer history await you the distance of the Byway, along with ever-shifting vistas of Oregon’s highest peak.
Heading east from Portland along the Columbia Gorge on either I-84 or the Historic Columbia River Highway, you’ll reach the beginning of this Byway in Hood River. Once a sleepy orchard town, Hood River is now revered as the unofficial windsurfing capital of the world, and a popular vacation escape for Oregonians and out-of-state visitors alike. If the wind is up, visitors can watch sailboarders, kiteboarders and other wind mavens rip back and forth across the Columbia River, their sails rippling in a riot of color against the river’s shifting blues and greens. Would-be sailboarders can book a lesson and rent equipment from a number of outfitters in town. “The Hook”—a manmade cove—offers a sheltered spot for you to master your sails. Hood River has grown to be a Mecca for less wind-dependent outdoor enthusiasts as well, who use the town as a hub for mountain biking, cycling, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, fishing and white water rafting. The historic downtown has evolved to cater to visitors, and now offers a host of eclectic shops and no less than 30 restaurants and cafes—from authentic taquerias to first-rate northwest haute cuisine. Beer lovers may know Hood River as home to Full Sail Brewing Company, one of the early microbrewery pioneers; daily tours of the brewery are available. Oenophiles will likewise find bounty here; a number of wineries offer regularly scheduled tastings.
Of Fruit, Waterfalls and Pioneers
Heading south on Highway 35, you’ll come to the Hood River Valley, a magnificent patchwork of orchards, vineyards and farms. Fertile volcanic soils and a temperate climate have made this one of the most prolific fruit-producing regions in the world. Many farmers here offer their products at stands. Making your way through the valley, you can sample Oregon’s great bounty—Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc and Comice pears, Pippin apples, huckleberries, wild mushrooms and more—and get a taste of farm life as well. Catch a ride on the Mt. Hood Railroad offering scenic excursions between Hood River and Parkdale.
Soon you’ll begin gaining elevation as you climb toward Mt. Hood—on a clear day, you’ll enjoy shifting vistas of this volcanic peak. The road soon parallels the rushing waters of the East Fork of the Hood River, which runs off-color thanks to glacial till flowing off the mountain. You’ll soon come upon a turnout for Sahalie Falls (just before the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area access road). This perennial horsetail waterfall cascades 100 feet into the East Fork, offering ample photo opportunities. Before you merge with Highway 26, you’ll come to the Barlow Pass and signs for the Pioneer Woman’s Grave. There’s a mile-long hiking trail to a memorial gravesite to all those who lost their lives along the route, and where you will follow the actual traces of wagon wheel swales and ruts from Oregon Trail pioneers.
A few miles west on Highway 26 you’ll reach the turn-off for Timberline Lodge. Here the Byway offers a spectacular 6-mile scenic drive as it climbs to the 6,000 foot elevation. One of the gems of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps, the stone and wood edifice was built in the 1930s almost entirely by hand by legions of laborers and craftspeople. Today, Timberline Lodge stands as one of Oregon’s most highly visited tourist attractions, offering lodging, food and the longest ski season in North America…and views to the south that extend nearly 100 miles on a clear day. Several day hikes depart from Timberline, or you can ride a chair lift to the 7,000 foot elevation point for even more spectacular vistas. The U.S. Forest Service offers free tours of the Lodge and surrounding area and an
informational video describing the monumental task of building the Lodge.
After descending from Timberline, you’ll reach Government Camp; this village takes its name from the winter of 1849, when a small command of the U.S. Mounted Rifles had to make camp here when their wagons became bogged down in a soggy alpine meadow. In the 1930s, Government Camp provided quarters for the hundreds of workers who fashioned Timberline Lodge further up the mountain. Today, the alpine village is a year-round recreational hub for skiers, snowshoers, tubers, cross country skiers, snowboarders, hikers and mountain bikers.
Coming Down the Mountain
From Government Camp, Highway 26 winds slowly down through the Cascade foothills, offering up expansive views of hillsides thickly forested in firs and pines. In the village of Rhododendron, you’ll come upon the West Barlow Tollgate—the site of the final toll station on the Barlow Road. The Barlow Road was the last overland leg of the Oregon Trail, from The Dalles to present day Oregon City. Thousands paid a $5 per wagon toll to come overland on this “road” (rough path is more like it!) in order to avoid rafting the treacherous rapids of the Columbia River.
For over a century, Oregonians have retreated to the Villages of Mt. Hood for rest and outdoor recreation (Rhododendron, Zigzag, Welches, Wemme, and Brightwood). From here, you are never more than 20 miles away from year-round skiing, golfing, hiking, or just relaxing next to the federally designated “Wild & Scenic” Salmon River and within the national forest lands. The Resort at The Mountain has served up legendary hospitality since the late 1800s, adding one of Oregon’s earliest golf courses in 1923. The Villages offer a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from riverside log cabins to resort lodging, timeshare condominiums, and quaint mountain bungalows nestled in the woods. Just west of Welches, you’ll come upon the Cascade Streamwatch at the Wildwood Recreation Site along the banks of the Salmon River. This innovative interpretive area focuses on the watersheds and fisheries of the Mt. Hood region, and includes a wetland boardwalk trail, and an underwater stream viewing window where spawning salmon can be viewed in the fall.
Sandy to Troutdale
As you approach Sandy, forests begin to give way to pastoral land. The town takes its name from the nearby Sandy River, and serves as a gateway community to the Mt. Hood recreation area. Many visitors enjoy a stop here to browse Sandy’s unique shops and art galleries, and to enjoy a snack or meal. Just north of Sandy, you’ll discover the Oregon Trail interpretive site at Jonsrud Viewpoint. Here, you can look out across the expansive Sandy River Valley where pioneers crossed the river on the last leg of their epic journey to the fertile Willamette Valley—on clear days, majestic Mt. Hood looms above the scene.
The Byway continues west through rich agricultural lands—this region is a major producer of nursery stock, flower bulbs and berries; in spring and fall especially, the air is redolent with the smell of thriving plant life. You’ll pass Dodge Park, which provides access to six miles of the Sandy River, a favorite spot for anglers and rafters. (The Sandy got its name from Lewis and Clark, who dubbed the river the “Quick Sand River,” as it was filled with ash from the 1802 eruption of volcanic Mt. Hood when they passed through.)
The cities of Gresham and Wood Village offer an ideal mix of urban activity and outdoor fun with trails for hiking and biking, including the Springwater Trail Corridor. The Byway concludes in Troutdale, which features a quaint downtown with art galleries, antique shops, museums and eateries—and for bargain hunters, an outlet mall. Troutdale is also home of the historic McMenamins Edgefield, a 38-acre estate housed on the former site of the Multnomah County Poor Farm, featuring a European-style inn, brewery, winery and more attractions.
Mt. Hood—An Icon of Oregon
There are few more powerful symbols of the Pacific Northwest than Mt. Hood. At 11,245 feet, Mt. Hood is the highest point in Oregon, and the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Range. Like other dramatic peaks in the Cascades, Mt. Hood is a dormant volcano. Believed to have been formed 11 to 14 million years ago, Mt. Hood has had at least four major eruptive periods during the past 15,000 years. The most recent eruption occurred shortly before the arrival of Lewis & Clark in 1805. Mt. Hood is home to 12 glaciers, and is the source of five significant rivers, all of which eventually drain to the Columbia. It is one of the most frequently climbed glaciated mountains in the world. From Portland, Hood River, The Dalles and points far beyond, Mt. Hood hovers dreamlike in the distance, a postcard of alpine symmetry.
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