After driving through Wyoming and Idaho, stopping off at several parks along the way, our next destination on our Summer Road Trip was the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. We decided that the town of Hood River would make a great base for our adventures in the area, and it turned out to be a much better destination than we had originally hoped for. A good omen was the drive west from Idaho along I-84. First it crosses green rolling hills through eastern Oregon before entering the Columbia River gorge. This was some of the most scenic highway driving that we’ve ever experienced.
Hood River sits in an ideal spot along the Gorge for a variety of reasons. First, the surrounding area is home to a number of orchards, vineyards, and farms – many of which can be toured by visitors. Second, Hood River is close to many of the beautiful waterfalls and scenic views of the Columbia River. When you combine the nearby attractions with the great shopping and dining within the town of Hood River itself, it’s a no-brainer: this place makes a great destination.
A number of state and local parks can be found along the Columbia River offering scenic views, picnic spots, camping, swimming, and water sports. The winds trough the gorge are often strong, and this attracts many kite surfers and wind surfers to the river. For that same reason, we decided to camp away from the gorge. We had some trouble camping in high winds earlier on our trip, so this was something we wanted to avoid. We found Tucker Park on the south side of town. The campground was a nice, quiet spot overlooking the Hood River, which is a smaller stream that flows north into the Columbia. And another benefit to this park is that it was close to many of the vineyards and orchards in the area.
The Fruit Loop
In fact, we spent our first full day in the area exploring some of the more interesting farms and vineyards which collectively make up the “Fruit Loop” of Hood River. This loop is a driving tour that takes visitors to around thirty or so of the orchards, vineyards, and farms in the area, all while admiring the views of Mt. Hood on the horizon. We fed alpacas and learned about how their wool is turned into clothing and other textiles. We picked strawberries and other fruit at an orchard. We tasted wine at the Gorge White House, a winery which brings in grapes from nearby vineyards. We had fresh homemade ice cream. We toured apple and pear orchards. We did so much stuff that we can’t even remember it all! But we definitely remember that it all tasted really good!
We also hung out at a park on the Columbia river in town with a fun beach where we could play in the water and watch the wind surfers and kite surfers attempt to tame the waves and wind of the river. We also had an amazing lunch at Boda’s Kitchen, which also had super-friendly service. Highly recommended!
Waterfalls on the Columbia River Gorge
The next day we drove west along the river gorge on historic highway 30 to visit numerous waterfalls and vista spots. Some of these waterfalls are right next to the highway, while others require a bit more hiking to reach. Multnomah Falls is the largest and most famous, as it reaches over 600 feed in two stages with a scenic arched bridge in the middle. It’s easily reached from the main road, assuming you can find a place to park on a busy summer day. At least half a dozen other waterfalls are also next to the road and have their own parking areas. Once we passed the waterfalls heading west on highway 30, we reached the Vista House in Corbett, which offers amazing views of the river and surrounding gorge in both directions.
Near the Vista House is the turnoff onto Larch Mountain Road, which winds its way up to the top of Larch Mountain. Here we found one of the highest spots in the region, known as Sherrard Point, and a short quarter-mile trail took us up to a viewpoint where we could see 5 of the highest peaks in the area. The weather was perfect that day and we saw Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Jefferson, each topped with a snow-capped peak. A seven mile trail connects this viewpoint to Multnomah falls if you have the time and energy to make the trek which gains around 4,000 feet in elevation. But we have a 3-year-old, so we drove.
Admittedly, we had no idea that this area of Oregon had so much to offer. We were blown away. We didn’t even have time to do some of the other great activities, such as visit nearby Mt. Hood, or venture over the river to the Washington State side of the gorge, or go hiking, or take a boat ride on the river, or eat at all of the great local restaurants. The list goes on – one day we WILL return!