: Vista House by Dylan VanWeelden

10 Top Escapes to Mt. Hood and the Gorge

July 13, 2020

Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Know that most tasting rooms are by appointment only, and face coverings are required for all public indoor spaces in Oregon. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.

For thousands of years, native Wasco, Wishram and Chinook tribes inhabited these lands, forming trail networks and trading cultures around the majestic peaks and productive rivers. Just 175 years ago, Oregon Trail settlers navigated across the rocky foothills of Mt. Hood to make home in the Willamette Valley. Some 70 years later, hundreds of laborers built the Historic Columbia River Highway — the first planned scenic highway in the United States.

Today the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region still calls for exploration and appreciation. Its wild beauty continues to inspire awe and wonder — in its lush forests, mighty rivers, towering waterfalls, deep canyons, heritage orchards and beyond.

Unsure where to start? Luckily, we have it mapped out for you. Here’s how to soak up all Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge region has to offer in 10 blissful trips.

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Rafters wearing helmets paddle down the rapids of the Clackamas River.
A quick escape from Portland, the Wild & Scenic Clackamas River is one of the most popular day-rafting trips in the state. (Photo by Mountains Legacy)

Clackamas River

Prized for its quiet beauty and easy accessibility, the 83-mile Clackamas River flows from its headwaters in the Mt. Hood National Forest to its confluence with the Willamette River. Whether you’re looking to kayak, paddleboard, swim or fish, you can do so along the sparkling Clackamas. Just over half the river is designated as Wild and Scenic, perfect for a family-friendly rafting adventure featuring Class II and III rapids; Blue Sky Rafting and River Drifters are two of the outfitters that run rafting trips through the summer. Native Americans have been fishing for salmon here for the past 10,000 years, and anglers today know the main stem of the Clackamas above the North Fork Reservoir as a premier spot for wild late-winter coho salmon. The river is also home to one of the two remaining runs of spring Chinook salmon in the Willamette basin, as well as a top spot for winter steelhead, cutthroat trout and native lamprey. More Clackamas River fun awaits at Milo McIver State Park in Estacada, where you can hike, camp, play disc golf and paddle. Cyclists take the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway, which parallels the Wild and Scenic Clackamas River along rocky riffles, quiet pools and reservoirs.

County: Clackamas County

Cities: Estacada, Eagle Creek, Gladstone

Where to stay: Red Fox Motel, Best Western Sandy Inn

Two hikers look over a trail's edge at a valley.
Mt. Hood has long been a great escape for hikers when the snow melts and the wildflowers bloom. (Photo by Susan Seubert)

Mt. Hood Hikes

You may have hiked a couple of trails on Mt. Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, but that’s not even the tip of the mountain, so to speak. The Mt. Hood National Forest includes eight nationally designated wilderness areas — a total of 311,448 acres — with so many trails that your bucket list will never dry up. They range from easy, popular strolls like the Old Salmon River Trail in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness and Tamanawas Falls Trail to multi-day backwoods treks like the Pacific Crest Trail and Timberline National Historic Trail. Download an episode of the Hear in the Gorge podcast to learn about the Crag Rats — the nonprofit group of volunteer climbers and mountaineers that is America’s oldest search-and-rescue operation, active since the 1920s. In most cases, you’ll want to make sure you have purchased a Northwest Forest Service Pass before arriving at a trailhead in the national forest.

County: Clackamas County

Where to stay: Mt. Hood Oregon Resort, Mt. Hood Vacation Rentals, Huckleberry Inn

A mountain biker leans with a curve on a dirt track with Mt. Jefferson in the background.
Launched in 2019, the Timberline Bike Park is a lift-assisted system featuring scenic mountain bike trails flowing down the mountain. (Photo by Timberline Lodge)

Mountain Biking at Mt. Hood

Two-wheeled adventurers have a lot to cheer about in the summer months as Mt. Hood becomes the ultimate playground for world-class mountain biking. The Timberline to Town Trail offers 5.5 miles of singletrack from Timberline into the village of Government Camp, including lift access to the mountain. For epic downhill, head to Timberline Bike Park, which opened in 2019, to check out its new trails, ranging from flowy beginner level to technical, challenging trails with ramps and whoop-de-dos for advanced riders. Nearby Mt. Hood Skibowl has a Freeride Bike Park complete with bridges, berms and jumps for a range of ability levels, and a mountain bike skills park to ease into freestyle biking features. Skilled bikers flock to the famed Sandy Ridge Trail System for its challenging natural rock features and big-air jumps or sample the epic Oregon Timber Trail on one of the satisfying Hood Tier segments.

County: Clackamas County

Cities: Sandy, Welches, Zigzag, Government Camp

Where to stay: Timberline Lodge, Collins Lake Resort, All Seasons Vacation Rentals

A canoe sits on the glassy waters of Trillium Lake with Mt. Hood's peak in the background.
Trillium Lake is a popular recreation site and campground in the Mt. Hood National Forest. (Photo by hood-gorge.com)

Mt. Hood Scenic Byway

To fully appreciate the majesty of Mt. Hood, you’ll need to explore the lovely communities at the foothills of the mountain. You can do that in a day, or longer, along the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway. Starting on the mountain’s western flanks — though the byway is easily navigable from east to west too — stop at the Jonsrud Viewpoint for an expansive look over the Sandy River Valley, then travel through the quiet towns of Rhododendron, Zigzag, Welches and Brightwood, part of the infamous Barlow Road stretch of the Oregon Trail. (Download an episode of the Hear in the Gorge podcast for the fascinating history.) The Wildwood Recreation Site is a great place to learn about Oregon’s environment, with interpretive trails and the Cascade Streamwatch window giving a glimpse at underwater life of the Salmon River. Alpine lakes like Mirror and Trillium also offer happy detours, though the popular sites are best visited early on weekdays. To the east, Government Camp is Oregon’s ski town, a busy hub where you’ll find great food and drink along with alpine slides and other activities at Mt. Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl in the summertime. The historic wood- and stone-built Timberline Lodge and Ski Area is perched at 6,000 feet, offering North America’s longest ski season. Continue eastward to Parkdale, a lovely spot to grab a bite along in the fertile Hood River Valley, dotted with orchards, vineyards, berry farms and alpaca farms. Cap your journey at one of several award-winning breweries in Hood River — where the Columbia River is a magnet for windsurfers and kiteboarders.

Counties: Clackamas County, Hood River County

Cities: Sandy, Government Camp, Parkdale

Where to stay: McMenamins Edgefield, Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa, Best Western Mt. Hood Inn, Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

A smiling child holds out fresh-picked apples.
Longstanding pear, cherry and apple orchards checkerboard the Hood River Fruit Loop. (Photo by Tyler Roemer)

Hood River Fruit Loop

Fertile volcanic soils, glacial water and a temperate climate have made the Hood River Valley one of the most prolific fruit-growing regions in the world. Get a taste of the land along the Hood River Fruit Loop, a scenic 35-mile route showcasing bountiful farm stands, orchards, wineries, cideries and purveyors situated in the stunningly scenic foothills of Mt. Hood. This loop is meant to be traveled leisurely, stopping at your own pace for irresistible artisan goods. The best part about visiting these spots is talking to the makers, who all have stories about chasing their passions, caring for the land and making some of the best products Oregon has to offer from its natural bounty. There are also plenty of top-notch lunch spots along the route. During Oregon’s phased reopening, visitors should review the current hours and services of businesses online or call ahead; additionally face coverings are required in indoor places or where physical distancing is not possible — support these communities while remaining patient and flexible as things can change.

County: Hood River

Cities: Parkdale, Odell, Hood River

Where to stay: Hood River Hotel, Columbia Cliff Villas, Old Parkdale Inn, Sakura Ridge

A bird's-eye view of cyclists pedaling on a paved path next to the Columbia River.
The Dalles' Riverfront Trail traces the south bank of the Columbia River where it bends from east-west to a north-south direction. (Photo by hood-gorge.com)

Old and New in The Dalles

Less than 90 miles from Portland, The Dalles feels like it’s a world away. Framed by the majestic canyon walls of the Columbia River Gorge, this postcard-perfect city is one of the oldest in Oregon, known as the end of the Oregon Trail for many pioneers before the Barlow Road was built in 1846. For thousands of years before, Wishram and Wasco tribes gathered here at the banks of the Columbia River to fish and trade. Learn about their traditions and Celilo Falls, a once productive fishery for native communities that was flooded with the creation of The Dalles Dam, among the many exhibits at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum. More historical attractions await, including the Fort Dalles Museum & Anderson Homestead and Klindt’s Booksellers & Stationers, the oldest bookstore in Oregon. Find a quirky blend of new and old infused in every part of The Dalles, from the shiny new National Neon Sign Museum and restored Granada Theatre to Sunshine Mill winery and the city’s numerous historic murals. Just 14 miles south, the community of Dufur offers a trip back in time with the 1907 Historic Balch Hotel and the Living History Museum, as well as the ghost towns of Boyd and Friend just a short drive away.

County: Wasco County

Cities: Mosier, The Dalles, Dufur

Where to stay: Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn, Cousins Country Inn, Celilo Inn

The iconic curved road of Rowena Crest is well photographed.
The horseshoe curve of Rowena Crest is probably the most photographed road in Oregon. (Photo by Dylan VanWeelden)

Rowena Crest

This little detour off Interstate 84 and down the Historic Columbia River Highway leads to a viewpoint that is easily one of the most beautiful places to spot spring and early-summer wildflowers. You can hop out of your car and walk to the meadow at Rowena Crest, or just peer down at the famously U-shaped bend in the highway featured frequently in car commercials. The horseshoe curve of Rowena Crest is probably the most photographed road in Oregon. From here, hike along the Tom McCall Nature Preserve, either across the road along the plateau overlooking the Columbia River Gorge (and a major chokepoint of Ice Age floods) or up the challenging but rewarding McCall Point Trail; since it’s a nature preserve, no dogs are allowed. Continue west to Mosier, where historic orchards and vineyards beckon and a hike up the Mosier Plateau includes a pioneer cemetery, a waterfall and scenic gorge views.

County: Wasco County

Cities: Mosier, The Dalles

Where to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites The Dalles, Hampton Inn & Suites Hood River, Westcliff Lodge

A smiling person holds wine in front of a lavender field.
The sunny, warm areas of the eastern Columbia River Gorge are a haven for fruits and wine. (Photo by Joni Kabana)

East Gorge Food Trail

The landscape changes dramatically as you head east along the Columbia River on Interstate 84, from the lush green hills and valleys of Hood River and Mosier to the patchwork fields of the arid high desert in The Dalles. The best way to explore this area’s sweet small towns — much less crowded than the west part of the Gorge — is through its food. Find everything from U-pick cherries and blueberries to vineyard tasting rooms, family-friendly pizza stops and more along the self-guided East Gorge Food Trail. The bountiful landscape is rich with history too — with Ice Age floods forming the region’s unique geologic sycline and soils, shaping how wine grapes are grown. The hillsides are covered with fruit trees planted 75 years ago, deemed heritage orchards, with farm stands selling sweet varieties. Listen to the “Hear in the Gorge” episode about Min Yasui, a Hood River native who fought laws that targeted Japanese Americans, and visit his family’s former orchard now honored at Garnier Vineyards in Mosier.

County: Wasco County

Cities: Mosier, The Dalles, Dufur

Where to stay: Comfort Inn Columbia Gorge, Celilo Inn, Historic Balch Hotel

The red-and-white Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler navigates under the steel Bridge of the Gods.
The steel Bridge of the Gods is named after a former natural dam created by a landslide in the 13th century.(Photo by hood-gorge.com)

The Columbia River at Cascade Locks

Nearly an hour east of Portland, Cascade Locks is famously known for the iconic Bridge of the Gods spanning the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington; the steel structure is named after the historic land bridge of Klickitats lore. This location is one of the most important spots for tribal fishing in Oregon, with many practicing their ancient traditions today. Stop in at Brigham Fish Market for a bowl of chowder or smoked salmon to go, and meet owners Terrie and Kim Brigham, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Download a podcast about the sisters’ generations-old fishing traditions for your next road trip. You can get up close to the mighty Columbia River by taking a stroll onto Thunder Island, which was carved in 1890 to build the locks and canal. Or book a narrated tour of the river aboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler to learn about the area’s fascinating geology. The infamous Pacific Crest Trail intersects with Cascade Locks (the town is featured in “Wild”), and you can get a slice of the glory with the 4.4-mile Dry Creek Falls segment accessible from the parking lot near the Bridge of the Gods. Afterwards, buy a drink for a thru-hiker at Thunder Island Brewery, which will soon debut its new location. 

County: Hood River County

Cities: Corbett, Cascade Locks, Hood River

Where to stay: Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn, Cascade Motel, Cascade Locks Marine Park Campground

A waterfall splashes down on mossy rocks.
The two-tiered Latourell Falls is located along a 2.4-mile hike near Bridal Veil Falls State Park. (Photo by Sparkloft Media)

Historic Columbia River Scenic Byway

With its dreamy blue-and-green eye-candy views, the Historic Columbia River Highway is arguably the most scenic highway in Oregon, and the most historic. First dedicated in 1916, the highway was at the time deemed an engineering marvel and the “King of Roads.” Today it’s a centerpiece of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Sandy River marks the scenic area’s western gateway before the route winds uphill to the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint, where many iconic photographs of the Gorge are snapped. The first destination built along the highway, the 1918 Vista House at Crown Point offers a comfort station and small museum. The highway and its recreation sites along the next stretch, known as the “Waterfall Corridor,” are temporarily closed, but you can still plan your future trips to these jaw-dropping cascades. Less-crowded alternatives to Multnomah Falls — the state’s most popular visitor attraction — include the 2.4-mile round trip to Wahclella Falls, the 4.4-mile out-and-back at Dry Creek Falls and the 1.4-mile out-and-back to Bridal Veil Falls. More alluring sites await east, including the Bonneville Lock and Dam and the car-free Historic Columbia Highway State Trail; walk or cycle two favorite segments: the new Wyeth Trailhead to Lindsey Creek and the Twin Tunnels Trail, named for long tunnels chiseled through the basalt as part of the original road.

Counties: Multnomah County, Hood River County, Wasco County

Cities: Troutdale, Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier, The Dalles

Where to stay: McMenamins Edgefield, Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn, The Adventure Lodge

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters, annual Visitor Guide and other editorial content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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