Splayed between the twin peaks of Mt. Hood in Oregon and Mt. Adams in Washington, the Hood River Valley beckons road bikers with a yen for agri-tourism. There’s low traffic, a constantly changing landscape, and tacos, pies and wine around every turn. What’s not to like?
Every season serves up reasons to bike the valley, and my wife Kathy and I particularly love spring. There’s plenty of sun, but it’s cool enough to refresh. Wait until late April or May to glide through miles of pear and apple blossoms.
If you are new to the so-called Fruit Loop — which designates 36 stops around the valley — download the Hood River Chamber of Commerce’s free county road map and chart your own loop, or slice off all or part of the tour route organized by the 36 members of the Hood River County Fruit Loop. If you have specific stops in mind, call ahead. Not every fruit stand, winery or flower field is open year-round.
Starting from downtown Hood River one lazy Saturday, Kathy and I stop first at dog-friendly 10 Speed Coffee Roasters at the corner of 13th and State streets for a jolt while the crew at the adjacent Dirty Fingers Bike Shop fixes a flat for me.
Then it’s back to work, picking our way uphill on city streets toward the Marchesi Vineyards tasting room south of town. One of several wineries dotting our route, it offers a great patio view of Oregon’s iconic Mt. Hood, and tastes of several Italian varietals. Try the ’08 Sangiovese and ’09 Primitivo, winners of major awards at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
We limit our tasting and aim south in a straight — but relaxed — line toward orchard country. Home to the nation’s largest concentration of d’Anjou pear orchards, the Hood River Valley also supports other pear, apple and specialty farm crops. Heading west on Portland Drive, we arrive at Lavender Valley, a lavender farm owned by the gracious KaiLai Harris; her husband, Dale; and Dale’s mother, Bubba. KaiLai, originally from Taiwan, shows us a variety of products using oil processed on site. Flowers peak in June, distilling in mid-July. Be sure to check out the glassware painted by Bubba.
Riders need to take Tucker Road (Oregon 281) south to cross the Hood River. On our descent, we swing over to the McCurdy Farms stand, operated by Craig McCurdy and Natalie Clay. Clay shows us bottles that have been slipped over buds — so pears can grow inside for a special version of Portland-based Clear Creek Distillery’s famous eau de vie de poire (pear brandy). Just east of the river, we pause at the Apple Valley Country Store. Shelves groan with sauces, jams, jellies and handcrafts. Check out the quilted trivets by Rhonda Harris. After a huckleberry milkshake and fresh slice of pie, we feel like we’ve died and gone to heaven. A rough path leads to a swimming hole on the Hood River. Pick a hot day to take a dip; the water isn’t far from its glacial source.
It’s all uphill from here. The more gradual ascent follows the Dee Highway two miles to Summit Drive, the rear entry to the relaxed farming community of Odell. More than a quarter of Hood River County’s 22,000 residents claim Hispanic roots, which explains the side-by-side dining options here — Michoacan Sports Bar & Grill and Taqueria Los Amigos. Inside Los Amigos, we chat with charming sisters Estela and Luz Banuelos while scarfing “platillos” of tamales, gorditos, rice and beans alongside beer.
Heading east, we meet Donna Cody and her daughter Lisa at the Cody Orchards. “It was the original Sproat & Skibbe packing house in the early 1900s,” Donna says. She shows us equipment from that time, tucked along a wall. The Codys stock a trove of consignment goodies in addition to the orchard’s output. “The coolest thing about the fruit stand is that we have so many people contributing stuff,” Lisa says.
Back on our bikes, we follow Sunday Drive across Oregon 35 to Neal Creek Road and the Nella Chestnut Farm. Bummer — it’s closed. We make a mental note to return for the annual chestnut roast and wine tasting in November. The farm partners for that event with Dick and Christie Reed, owners of the adjacent Wy’east Vineyards and tasting room on Highway 35. Its reserve Pinot noir comes from one of the oldest and highest elevation vineyards in the area.
We savor a sip, then wheel north to Rasmussen Farms. It’s a short pedal north along Thomson and Eastside roads to Van Horn Drive and the Mt. Hood Winery, with its patio aimed right at Mt. Hood. We’ve enjoyed their wines before, but opt to pass this time. The nearby The Gorge White House is a great place to sample — and compare — wines from every Gorge winery. To play it safe, we instead focus our camera at the lavish flower gardens outside.
Hood River lies roughly six miles north — and it’s mostly downhill. Back in town, we collapse onto a sidewalk seat outside Hood River’s finest restaurant (OK, it’s ours, so we may be biased). After a long day of cycling through agricultural bounty, it’s time to let the kitchen at Nora’s Table share its eclectic menu of local ingredients and global flavors — with us for a change. Mmm. We’ll be back.