“Dufur is a dog of the people,” my husband, Jonathan, says at least once a week, when we find our black lab befriending a stranger with a stick, tennis ball or French fries, or nuzzling his big, wet nose into someone’s open arms. Much of his spirit is derived from this place, the Columbia River Gorge, where he’s been blessed with the same snow, trails and rivers that many of us cut our teeth on while learning to ski, bike and kayak.
At a nudge over 12, he’s getting a little slow. But like so many in the Gorge, he’s got that timeless, sage-fit quality about him. Today, Dufur’s daily regime includes walking, swimming, sleeping and sniffing — followed by more sleeping. Unlike some people who protect their secret spots, Dufur’s happy to share his favorite haunts during the moist winter months. For him, the more dogs, the more people, the more sticks, the better.
Hood River is the cat’s meow for dogs. Located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and about 45 minutes from snow-covered trails on Mt. Hood, this picturesque city has lots of dog-friendly trails, beaches, restaurants and places to stay. Walk through downtown Hood River and you’re bound to find bowls of water, “dog parking” at restaurants and plenty of dog treats for your pooch.
Hood River Waterfront Trail + The Spit: This 2.8-mile paved trail along the Columbia River is easily accessible if you’re staying at one of Hood River’s waterfront or downtown hotels. Dufur usually convinces me to take a detour to the spit, which is dog heaven. This 40-acre sandbar at the confluence of the Hood and Columbia rivers is surrounded by water and welcoming to off-leash dogs. To get there, walk toward the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Hood River. From the west end of the bridge, head north on a gravel road. You’ll know you’re there when you’ve reached a huge sandbar — and likely other dogs and their owners.
Pine Street Bakery & Pine Street Kitchen: Located in The Heights neighborhood in Hood River, this locally owned bakery is buzzing with dog-friendly amenities, including dog water bowls and homemade biscuits. Plus, “Lucky” is always outside watching over the pack of dogs tied up outside.
(Pictured: Dufur making a new friend at Pine Street Bakery in Hood River by Jonathan Graca; The Spit by Nickie Bournias)
Tamanawas Falls: This popular summer hike puts on a beautiful winter coat. Located off Oregon Highway 35 in the Mt. Hood National Forest, this snowy 3.5-mile loop leads to 100-foot Tamanawas Falls and back. The trail is less busy than nearby White River Sno-Park, making it a destination for snowshoers and families with dogs. However, parking is limited and can be unsafe in extreme weather — be cognizant of parking signs.
Punchbowl Falls: Not to be confused with the Punch Bowl Falls on Eagle Creek, Punchbowl Falls in Dee is Hood River County’s newest and most scenic park. Located at the confluence of the East Fork and West Fork of the Hood River, the short quarter-mile trail above Punchbowl Falls winds along a basalt cliff above the aquamarine river flowing below. The trail leads to a beach right above the confluence, where dogs can be entertained for hours.
Traveler Alert: Many popular trails in the Columbia River Gorge were impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire and some remain closed. Before you head out, make sure trails are open with this handy map from Friends of the Columbia River Gorge. And check with USFS for the most up-to-date information on closures.
Thirsty yet? The Gorge has no shortage of great breweries, but not all have views like Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks. Leashed dogs are welcome on Thunder Island’s outdoor patio, which serves up craft beer, salads, sandwiches and views of the Columbia River and Bridge of the Gods.
(Pictured: Tamanawas and Wahclella Falls by Joshua Meador)
White River, Bennett Pass and Barlow Sno-Parks: These snow parks around Mt. Hood offer dog-friendly, cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. White River Sno-Park is among the most popular, thanks to its breathtaking views of the White River Canyon and Mt. Hood. If you go, mid-week is best.
Pocket Creek Sno-Park: The Pocket Creek trail system is less popular than nearby Teacup Lake, which is groomed yet off-limits to dogs. There are numerous loops from this park, including a 6-mile loop connecting the Pocket Creek and Meadows Creek trails. Dogs are allowed off-leash but must be under control.
Dog Daycare: On powder days, when we hit the ski slopes, Dufur loves to go to Cascade Pet Camp, where, depending on the lift lines, he often has more fun than we do. It’s conveniently located on Highway 35 on the way to all the local ski resorts.
(Pictured: Bennett Pass and White River Sno-Parks by Nickie Bournias)
Know Before You Go
Trail Etiquette: Most hiking trails and some ski trails require dogs be on a leash and/or under voice command because our furry friends may disturb sensitive areas, disrupt nesting birds and spread noxious weeds. Always clean up after pets and follow these Leave No Trace tips. Most trailheads will have signs posted.