It is hard not to be drawn to Mt Hood’s rugged northern perspective marked by rocky crags, steep inclines and the gigantic Elliot Glacier. On the way to the mountain, I am drawn to the many family owned farms and orchards of the Hood River Valley. This year the trees bear the heavy weight from an early fall fruit bounty.
Farms like Kiyokawa Family Orchards near Parkdale, Oregon will entice you with an incredible variety of apples and pears. Owner Randy Kiyokawa said that visitors enjoy their three acres of U-pick fruit: “No ladders are required, so it’s really a lot of fun whether you’re two and a half or six feet tall – there will be an apple there for you to pick!”
Another delicious moment waits for you at the Apple Valley Country Store, where they whip up some of the thickest milkshakes around. “We take a scoop of fresh huckleberries, mix it with some of our huckleberry jam for a bit of sweetness and then mix it with three scoops of Tillamook ice cream and blend it up and you’ll be amazed,” said owner Bob White.
It’s a place that stays in touch with history, too – reaching back a century when hardware, antiques, even fishing tackle ruled the scene!
It’s a fine warm up for the history lesson that waits just up the road on the less-traveled northern route toward Mt. Hood, via Cloud Cap Road near Parkdale. This nine-mile long roadway puts you face-to-face with a more dramatic side of Mt. Hood, and to coin the phrase of a free US Forest Service brochure (available at an information kiosk along the route), “the mountains seem closer and the valleys deeper.”
The welcome mat is always out for visitors interested in a unique chapter of Oregon history at the Cloud Cap Inn. Built in 1889, Cloud Cap Inn was actually the very first hotel on Mt. Hood. In fact, folks came from all over the world to make the two-day trip to get up this side of the mountain for the alpine scenery.
But distance and transportation, plus tough economic times, made the Cloud Cap Inn an uncertain business operation, and it’s run as a mountain hostelry ended after 35 years. In fact, with the start of WWII, people’s interest in alpine vacations disappeared entirely as interest in the homefront war defense effort rose. By 1950, the Forest Service was talking of demolishing Cloud Cap because of vandalism and the effects of the weather.
That’s when the Crag Rats took over. The Hood River-based Search and Rescue team took responsibility for Cloud Cap Inn in 1954 and saved it from demolition.
Longtime Crag Rats Bernie Wells and Bill Pattison agreed that the Cloud Cap Inn makes visitors feel right at home. “This is the most dramatic side of the mountain,” noted Pattison. “There’s the Cooper Spur trail and climbing route, there’s massive Elliot Glacier with incredible geologic formations, plus the quiet alpine setting of trees and wildflowers. Such a different world from the Timberline (southern) point of view, and it just gets into your heart.”
At the oldest alpine mountain lodge in the west, the site feels more like a museum rather than a base of operations for search and rescue Wells is happy to show visitors around and pleased to show off the valuable restoration effort that has given the old inn new life. “It got to the point where we realized we could not keep up with the deterioration,” said Wells. “So we put into effect a long-term restoration project that lasted for 12 years. We were able to go through the entire building and restore it back to the way it was.”
They certainly gave Cloud Cap’s old bones a new life, but they also held onto important history too – like the “signature wall” that’s located in one of the seven bunkrooms. “As people came up to stay on the mountain, they would write on this wall who they were with at the time. Some of these signatures are from the 1800s,” said Wells.
Wells added it’s even more remarkable that the building still stands given the many fires that roared across the forest and even right over Cloud Cap Inn. “Most wooden buildings constructed like this have burned from open food fires and the like. We’ve come close over 120 years –but thankfully, it’s still here.”
Thanks to the US Forest Service and the 105 members of the Crag Rats, Cloud Cap Inn is open to visitors who admire the view and the Inn’s connection with Oregon’s past. If you’d like visit and tour the Cloud Cap Inn, the US Forest Service offers free guided tours each Sunday. The Forest Service will be hosting the tours on Sundays throughout the summer. Tours will start at 11:00 a.m. and at 1:00 p.m. and last approximately 45 minutes to one hour.
The tours will be limited to 12 people per group. Reservation slots go quickly, so book your tour soon. The reservation system protects the inn and ensures visitors get a quality historical experience.
For more information about Cloud Cap Inn tours, and to sign up for a tour, please contact the Hood River Ranger District Information Desk at (541) 352-6002.
Directions from Portland: Cloud Cap is reached from Portland by taking I-84 east to Hood River. Then drive south on State Highway 35 about 25 miles to a sign indicating Cooper Spur Ski Area. Drive west on Cooper Spur Road for 3.3 miles to Tilly Jane Junction. Turn left onto USFS Road 3512 (Cloud Cap Road) and follow the signs for approximately 10 miles to Cloud Cap Campground and parking area.