As an Oregonian, I’ve had the privilege of RVing in this state for nearly two decades. I can say with confidence that the Mt. Hood/Columbia Gorge region packs more majesty per square mile than any other. I challenge you to drive on Interstate 84 along the Columbia River and not be awed by Mother Nature’s work, or to round the bend on the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway for your first glimpse of snowcapped Mt. Hood and not have your heart skip a beat.
The area abounds with campgrounds that have easy access to alpine lakes and waterfall-lined trails. It’s the kind of contact with nature that will nourish your soul. Along the way, you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to feed your body: fresh-picked produce from Hood River Valley, award-winning wines from Columbia Gorge wine country, craft beers from family-owned breweries and local specialties like huckleberry shakes that will prompt you to make a detour.
Need help planning an RV adventure through the Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge region? Here’s my suggested itinerary for this classic road trip.
Day 1: Aerial Parks and Summit Views
From Portland, head east on Interstate 84 until you reach the Wood Village exit. Here you’ll head south until you meet up with US-26. As you head east, you’ll be driving on the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway, which roughly parallels the historic Barlow Road that carried pioneers and their covered wagons west on the Oregon Trail.
As you begin to climb Mt. Hood, take it easy. You’ll find plenty of pullouts alongside the road, if faster traffic needs to pass. There’s no rush; remember, you’re on vacation. As you reach the crest of US-26, stop in Government Camp for a signature milkshake at the Huckleberry Inn.
Set your course to Mt. Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl for thrills at the aerial park, alpine slide, aqua rollers (think human hamster balls), kiddy karts, mini golf and more. You’ll find a large parking lot here with plenty of room for your rig.
Time to make one last climb to historic Timberline Lodge, the highest point that you can drive to on Mt. Hood. Hike a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail for views of Mt. Hood’s 11,249-foot summit. Make sure to consult a map and follow other Take Care Out There guidelines.
End your day with a reserved spot at Nottingham Campground, offering non-hookup sites only. Or drive one hour to Parkdale and stay as a guest at Montavons Berries as part of the member-based Harvest Hosts program. Keep in mind, you’ll be dry camping.
Day 2: Biking and Brews
In the shadow of Mt. Hood, you’ll find the Hood River Fruit Loop, a self-guided 35-mile tour of farms, orchards and vineyards. Before you go, print this map and then plot a course to deliciousness.
If it’s wine that you seek, park the RV and join a biking wine tour with MountNBarrel. It includes three tastings, a locally sourced lunch, and use of a seven-gear hybrid cruiser with a basket and small wooden crate for to-go bottles; e-bikes also are available. As you bike on the country roads of the Hood River Valley, breathe deeply. The sweet smell of fruit wafts through the air.
Spend the rest of your day in the town of Hood River, known as one of the top windsurfing and kiteboarding spots in the world. Watch the pros and have the kids cool off at Waterfront Park (temporarily closed), where they can splash around in a small cove. Don’t forget the sunscreen! You’ll find ample parking for your RV at the nearby Hood River Event Site. Stay along the waterfront (and keep the RV where it is) for an early dinner at pFriem Family Brewers. Always busy, pFriem serves Belgium-inspired beers and an excellent menu with a covered outdoor patio that often has long waits, so come early.
From Hood River, it’s just a 15-minute drive east to Viento State Park. The sites here are spacious with both water and electricity. While this park sits on the Columbia River, it’s also next to working train tracks, so expect to hear train horns throughout the night.
Day 3: Waterfalls and Frosty Treats
(Note that as of mid-June, these sites in the Gorge are temporarily closed. Stay posted on the status of public lands reopening.)
You’ll want to wake up earlier this morning to hike some of the popular waterfall trails in the Columbia Gorge. Head 20 minutes west to the Bonneville Dam exit. Here you can hike to Wahclella Falls. Because trailhead parking is extremely limited, I’d suggest parking a half-mile away at the Bonneville Hatchery. The easy 2.4-mile (round-trip) out-and-back Wahclella Falls Trail winds through a slot canyon to a 350-foot, two-tiered waterfall. When you return, visit the hatchery and then head over to the dam’s Bradford Island Visitor Center to see migrating fish through the fish ladder’s underwater window. Because of fall chinook and coho salmon spawning, September and October are the best months to visit.
The granddaddy of Oregon’s waterfalls, Multnomah Falls is 10 miles west of Wahclella. Again, parking here is challenging, so consider continuing west on the Historic Columbia River Highway for four less-crowded waterfalls: Wahkeena, Bridal Veil, Shepperd’s Dell and Latourell. Note that parking is limited, so prepare to keep moving if needed. Your final stop is Vista House in the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor. Portland architect Edgar Lazarus built the elaborate German art nouveau structure complete with rotunda and hand-carved drinking fountains. While the visitor center is temporarily closed, the panoramic view here is epic — and it’s quite windy, so hold onto your hats.
If you’re traveling in a large RV, stay on I-84 from Bonneville Dam and then take the Multnomah Falls exit, which leads to a parking lot in the highway median. When you’ve finished your visit, get back on I-84. Unfortunately, you’ll find that the Historic Columbia River Highway is a narrow and windy road that’s not appropriate for big rigs.
Want to spend one more night in the Gorge? Grab dinner in historic downtown Troutdale or just down the road near the Sandy River at Sugarpine Drive-In — park the rig and order a frosty treat at the walk-up window. Food orders should be placed online ahead of time. Then head to full-service Sandy Riverfront RV Resort to tuck in for the night.