Hood River, Oregon nestles against the Columbia River Gorge an hour east of Portland and sits almost equidistant from three volcanoes: Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. The community has taken the rolling farmland, bustling river winds, and mountainous proximity and turned Hood River into a epicenter for agriculture and outdoor adventure. A small town that is hugged by water, beaches and mountains that also has a city center filled with relevant shops and modern restaurants sounds too good to be true. My family took the four hour car trip from Seattle to find out.
Winter is an unfair word. It’s a word that forces your mind to focus on thick jackets and windshields that need defrosting. But there was no windchill or frosted glass on this trip. Hood River welcomed us with 60 degree days filled with blue skies and sunshine. I’m told this is not typical weather for this region. Snow is common with temperatures hanging out around or above freezing. And while I feel for the locals who fret over the lack of snow pack forming on Mount Hood and the threat of Summer fires that go along with it, I won’t complain to Mother Nature for taking a break during our vacation.
Hood River Waterfront Park is the park that every city wants to have. Lush swatches of green grass pocked with new-age playground equipment wrapped in freshly paved paths. To the south you have brand new buildings offering you fresh coffee, fresh food and fresh beer. To the north you have the Columbia River and her sandbars filled with families on a walk, dogs playing fetch and kitesurfers getting their gear ready for Summer.
Driving south of Hood River gives you stunning views of Mount Hood as you curve up, over and around endless orchards. There is no short supply of mountain streams and rivers to call for your attention as you wind your way towards Oregon’s largest volcano.
On our loop back towards Hood River on Dee Highway we found our way to Punchbowl Falls and admired the terrifying moss covered cliff that guided the river. My wife gave me explicit instructions on where I could take photos and how long I could take them. I don’t blame her.
Interstate 84 is a beautiful drive regardless if you are going east or west. Because of this it may be easy to overlook the signs for Scenic Highway 30 routes. I did not notice the signs on our way to Hood River but I’m glad I took the detours on our way back to Seattle.
The first scenic route we took was between The Dalles and Hood River. Had I taken the eastbound route I would have thought nothing much of the road. But since we took the westbound end of the route we were immediately shot up winding cliffs that hold up Rowena Crest. From this vantage point you can see the forested foothills of the Cascades start to flatten out into the sparse landscape of Eastern Oregon.
Our second Scenic Highway 30 route arrived between the Bonneville Dam and Troutdale. The narrow highway runs along the edge of heavily forested cliffs that occasionally open up to show you incredible waters falls trying their hardest to get all their water to surface without the wind taking it away. The road culminates in Multnomah Falls, a neck-craning, jaw-dropping double waterfall.
There was one more scenic detour to Vista House but in our desire to get back to Seattle before evening rush hour we decided to skip it. I don’t feel too bad about missing it though. We will be driving to Hood River again.