Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Follow all COVID-19 guidelines, get vaccinated before you travel and remember to bring your face covering.
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.
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. (Note: Whitewater rafting on the Clackamas River is suspended in summer 2021 due to recent wildfire damage, but look for opportunities to resume again soon. Also, this portion of the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway and the West Cascade Scenic Byway will be closed likely until fall 2021 due to wildfire-caused road damages.) 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
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
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 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
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, an idyllic 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
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. Before you go, make sure to review the current hours and services of businesses online or call ahead.
County: Hood River
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, founded in 1870. 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
This little detour off Interstate 84 and down the Historic Columbia River Scenic Byway 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
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 podcast 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
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 famous 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, with lots of patio space for dining alfresco with river views.
County: Hood River County
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 (temporarily closed) 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,” offer 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 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