Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
A towering snowcapped mountain that glows pink at sunset and a mighty river flanked by stunning cliffs and impressive waterfalls — but that’s only the beginning. On top of its namesake natural views, the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region is full of captivating history, cultural wonders and a top-notch food scene. Now, finding all of these highlights is made easier with the region’s new Infinity Loop.
Whether you’ve visited dozens of times or have barely dipped your toe into the magic of the area, the Infinity Loop is the ultimate road trip for the immersive adventurer because it shows off the spectacular highlights that most people miss. Slow down and take the scenic route this summer by following the figure-eight-shaped loop — an off-the-beaten-path journey that will leave you feeling as if you’ve discovered something all on your own.
Troutdale to Cascade Locks
Starting in Troutdale, drive east into the heart of the Gorge. You’ll be driving along America’s first scenic highway, the Historic Columbia River Highway, nicknamed the “King of Roads” — which you can learn about at a permanent exhibit at The Barn Exhibit Hall in Troutdale (temporarily closed). Continuing east, you’ll have the opportunity for a closer look at Bonneville Dam, an active historic landmark that provides power to nearly 1 million homes. Next up is the Bridge of the Gods, a steel-truss cantilever bridge built on the site of an ancient land bridge. This structure also acts as Pacific Crest Trail hikers’ connection northward, made famous by Reese Witherspoon on the big screen in “Wild.” At the base of the bridge you’ll find yourself in Cascade Locks, a town perfectly primed for winding down after a day’s adventure.
Tour the main street’s galleries and bronze artwork on display; sample the fresh and smoked fish from Indigenous-owned Brigham Fish Market; and sip a pint on the heated outdoor patio with river views at Thunder Island Brewing. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, get your mountain bikes out for the family-friendly Easy CLIMB loop trail.
Hood River Valley to Mosier
The next stop on the loop is the Hood River Valley, a gorgeous basin known for its fertile land. You’ll want to eat and drink your way through the Hood River Fruit Loop — a trail that showcases the region’s farm stands, lavender fields, U-pick orchards and wineries. Spend an afternoon seeing why Hood River was named one of the top 40 art communities in the country with the Big Art self-guided tour. Airplane and history enthusiasts will gush over the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, home to one of the country’s largest collections of still-operating antique cars and planes.
From Hood River, you can avoid most of the crowds and take in the beauty of the back roads by exploring on two wheels. Bicyclists rave about the paved, car-free Mosier Twin Tunnels section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, as well as the 3-mile paved, car-free route between Wyeth Trailhead and Lindsey Creek. Stop into Fat Tire Farm Hood River, Discover Bicycles or Oregon E-Bikes in Hood River, or any other local shop for rentals, shuttle and tour info, and expert advice. Consider booking a guided tour through MountNbarreL for a bike and wine tour or another immersive experience you don’t have to plan.
The Dalles and Dufur
Once you’ve reached The Dalles, you’ll want to carve out some time for the East Gorge Food Trail. This network of family-owned farms, vibrant orchards, farm-to-table eateries, and craft cider, wine and beer is a culinary dream with enough offerings to keep everyone in your pod satisfied. Learn about the historical and natural wonders of the region with a visit to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum — and try to time your visit to catch one of their live raptor programs.
Explore the burgeoning downtown, where you can pick up something to read at the state’s oldest bookstore, Klindt’s Booksellers, and fuel up at Kainos Coffee Roasters. Less than a mile south, find an extensive menu of locally sourced breakfast and lunch options at The Riv Cafe, located in a historic stone church. For a tasty meal, stop into the Baldwin Saloon, the iconic restaurant now owned and operated by three recent college graduates who’ve revamped and refined its classic dishes. Spend the afternoon wine tasting with river views at Tierra de Lobos Winery; catch a weekend drive-in movie at Sunshine Mill; and head south to the quiet countryside of Dufur, where you can stay the night in the historic Balch Hotel, built in 1907 right along the Oregon Trail.
Government Camp to Estacada
After meandering through the Dufur Valley, make a pit stop in Government Camp, the friendly mountain town at the base of the state’s tallest mountain. Make sure to stop at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center & Museum, a world-heritage ski museum with exhibits on regional history, art and natural wonders. To breathe in that fresh mountain air, spend a rejuvenating afternoon hitting the trails along the Salmon River at Wildwood Recreation Site. Make sure you’ve left time for the end of your road trip for a stop into Estacada, home to more than 20 stunning outdoor murals around town. Consider grabbing takeout for a picnic on the riverbank at Milo McIver State Park, or enjoy a craft beverage at some of the region’s top outdoor patios including Fearless Brewing, Stone Circle Cider and Bent Shovel Brewing, which features a full tented beer garden in the woods.
With three locations in town, Clackamas River Outfitters is your one-stop shop for getting out on the water. You’ll find gear rentals (kayaks, tubes, stand-up paddleboards and rafts) as well as classes and guided paddling tours on the Clackamas River and Estacada Lake. Small-group tours follow COVID-19 protocols and are a great way to get out for the first time without worrying about logistics.