The Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region is swimming with water sport activities. A 15-part miniseries could be dedicated to the abundant opportunities to be in, on, around, over and through the water in this area. All that rain the Pacific Northwest enjoys annually drains into a natural playground for young and old children alike.
Our day starts at Cascade Locks, in the heart of water sport country. Against the backdrop of the Bridge of the Gods, the wide expanse of the Columbia River beckons. No better way to explore the currents of water and wind than aboard a sailboat. We connect with Larry Landgraver of the Columbia Gorge Racing Association, a volunteer group of sailing enthusiasts eager to show off world-class sailing in their own backyard. Larry patiently coaches our rookie sailing team through the steady hustle of hoisting sails, tying knots, tacking and sorting starboard from port. The boat returns to harbor with the full crew roster and some budding skippers aboard. What other kind of flotation platforms can be enjoyed?
A short drive east through the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge and we arrive at the Hood River Marina, a haven for windsurfers and kiteboarders. On a windy day, bright sails and flashy kites dart around in a dizzying display of aquatic acrobatics. A calm morning creates a glassy surface perfect for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). After an easy SUP rental from Big Winds, we are set to explore The Spit, a long sandy beach extending far into the river at the confluence of the Hood and Columbia. From the water, it’s easy to look back at the picturesque town of Hood River and see why so many water sport devotees made it their home.
SUP is a great workout and our core feels good, but those arms could use a little extra attention. We’ve heard about a record salmon run up the Columbia, and the idea of hooking into a Chinook sounds like just the strength training we’d enjoy this afternoon. Dave with Dave Maroon’s Fishing Adventures meets us at The Fishery just below the Bonneville Dam and confirms that the fishing is off the hook. We pile into Dave’s sledboat and glide with speed up river past the towering walls of the Columbia Gorge spilling with waterfalls. Twenty minutes later and we’ve got lines in the water. Dave regales us with tales of “the one that got away” and in no time at all one of the poles is bowed, twitching into the water. Fish on! Playing a 20-lb. salmon fresh off the Pacific circuit is no easy catch, but after 15 minutes the beautiful fish is hauled into the boat. With the appetite we worked up today, that fresh salmon is going to taste delicious at camp.
There are no shortage of inspiring campgrounds in the Gorge and we opt to stay over at Ainsworth State Park. Under a sky of stars, and in front of a crackling fire, we soak in the memories of the day, and make future plans for all the other water-related activities we discovered — all merely a phone call and a short drive away. But in the meantime, there’s another log on the fire and this golden marshmallow to attend to…