Oregon’s tallest peak and the surrounding Columbia River Gorge are a bonanza of outdoor fun all year round — a hub for waterfall hikes, scenic bike trails, friendly farms and unending vistas. As temperatures drop, the landscape is transformed as the alpine rivers and lakes become new worlds of exploration for snowshoers, sledders, cross-country skiers, mushers and snowmobiles. Winter here is also for leafy nature walks along verdant trails, browsing for art by local artists and taking in the mighty Columbia River in all of its majesty. Here’s how to take a winter trip in Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.
Snowy Fun for Everyone
If you live for black diamonds — or if you’re looking to learn to ski or snowboard — winter deals at Mt. Hood’s five resorts are hard to beat. Each offers a different vibe, but all deliver epic fun. Powderhounds pine for the groomed trails at Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood Skibowl, Summit Ski Area and Cooper Spur Mountain Resort and Timberline Lodge & Ski and Snowboard Area. Plus, there are miles of groomed trails for snowshoeing around Trillium Lake, as well as Nordic skiing at resorts and sno-parks. Of the nearly two dozen sno-parks around Mt. Hood, many — including Trillium (nearby Government Camp, for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing) and Little John (on the east side of Mt. Hood, for sledding) — tend to get very crowded. So go early and leave early, spend the night or visit in the spring when the mountain is less crowded. There are plenty of more secluded spots as well, including Billy Bob Sno-Park, accessible only through the town of Dufur. Open for snowmobiling, mushing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, Billy Bob requires a Northwest Forest Pass (no sno-park permit needed, but check on requirements for your park before you go). Find a Mt. Hood sno-park that suits you, and remember to follow Leave No Trace practices to keep these spaces pristine for generations to come. To skip the hassle of driving and parking, consider a car-free trip to Mt. Hood or the Gorge and take advantage of the many free shuttles and other bus, charter tour and ride-share opportunities.
Rejuvenating Trail Escapes
The trails of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge draw outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world for epic mountain biking, hiking and road cycling. Experienced mountain bikers fly through the curves of the award-winning 15.4-mile/24.8-kilometer Sandy Ridge Trail System, while beginner dirt surfers zip through 2.7 miles/4.3 kilometers of rolling single-track on the Easy CLIMB Trail. Skip the crowds and head to the lesser-traveled 4.4 miles/7.1 kilometer Dry Creek Falls Trail, where you can feel the brisk spray of the waterfall on your face. Pup Creek Falls is a moderate, 7.8-mile/12.6-kilometer jaunt to a dramatic, two-tier falls. With a paved interpretive trail thats let you observe native fish through a viewing window in their habitat, Wildwood Recreation Site is a family-friendly hot spot, especially beautiful in the winter. Skip the hassle of driving to the area with shuttle services like Mt. Hood Express and Columbia Gorge Express (look to visit midweek for the best experience). Road cyclists take in dramatic Gorge views along The Dalles’ Riverfront Trail, and cyclists can cruise car-free sections of the Historic Columbia River Highway from Cascade Locks and Mosier; take an afternoon to explore the newly opened car-free 3-mile route. Less than an hour east of Portland, stretch your legs on miles of accessible trails at Milo McIver State Park or Oxbow Regional Park, both quiet retreats close to the city. (Make sure to check trail conditions before you head out in the winter, and abide by closures and other notices.)
Artsy Alpine Retreat
The dramatic natural landscapes of the Gorge have inspired an outpouring of expression from artists of all mediums. In Troutdale renowned sculptors Rip and Alison Caswell capture the grace of wild creatures and human emotion in their signature bronze work. Their collection is displayed at the Troutdale Art Center, which showcases local sculptors, painters, photographers and mixed-media artists at work. Cascade Locks is home to Lorang Studios, a gallery showcasing the metal art and architectural work of Brad and Debora Lorang. At Söderberg Gallery & Studio, bronze artist Heather Söderberg creates out of one of the first woman-owned foundries in the United States. The city of Hood River has been recognized for its world-class art scene, with more than two dozen pieces of public art exhibited around town — pick up a Big Art Tour map for a self-guided walking tour. Take in an exhibit, class or children’s theater performance year-round at Columbia Center for the Arts, a welcoming space for the region’s creative community. East of Hood River, The Dalles Art Center offers classes and regular exhibits in all mediums, while the nearby National Neon Sign Museum preserves this signature expression of a bygone era.
If You Go:
Winter in Oregon can be chilly and wet with pockets of sunshine, so wear layers and come prepared by brushing up on tips at How to Winter Like an Oregonian. Plan a trip to Hood River for holiday festivities or for Foodie February, when participating businesses create special sandwiches to compete against others. Be a steward of the land with tips at Ready, Set, Gorge.
Mt. Hood ski areas and sno-parks
Estacada, Sandy, Welches, Cascade Locks, The Dalles
Troutdale, Cascade Locks, Hood River, The Dalles