It took me years to understand exactly how wonderful Hood River, an hour’s drive east of Portland, Oregon, is for outdoor activity. Since relocating to Portland in 2010, the Columbia River Gorge’s wind-carved canyon, Mount Hood’s year-round snowy runs, and the plethora of apple orchards and wineries in the Hood River region have all captured my attention. But it wasn’t until 2016 that I was able to fully appreciate Hood River’s beauty after making the one-mile journey across the Columbia from Oregon into the nearby town of White Salmon in Washington; from that vantage, it appears to be some ancient Swiss mountain village—vibrant, tree-covered, carved into the side of the river gorge, and set against a backdrop of Mount Hood’s craggy, 11,240-foot peak.
With a distance of around an hour by driving from its eponymous top, Hood River isn’t precisely a mountain town for those unfamiliar with the area. Due to the wind-tunnel effect, it has developed a reputation as one of the world’s top wind sport locations since the 1980s. As chilly, rainy weather from the Pacific is drawn into the Columbia River Gorge by warm, desert air from eastern Oregon, this section of the river experiences dramatic whitecaps and Goldilocks conditions. Every summer, the side of the river is dotted with kiteboards in vivid colours. TJ Gulizia, a wind-sports specialist at the local Big Winds business, says, “It’s a special dynamic that doesn’t exist in many other places in the world.”
Windsurfing has been around for forty years, and ardent fans worldwide and curious tourists continue to flock here for windy thrills. However, Hood River’s closeness to downhill skiing, world-class white-water, view-filled treks, and treacherous mountain-biking paths in the valley and Mount Hood Wilderness attracts most tourists. The region, located in the heart of Oregon’s orchard region, yields apples and cherries that completely change your perception of these fruits. There has never been a better time to visit this adventure hotspot close to Portland, with many new boutique hotels and a burgeoning food and drink culture on either side of the Columbia. Figuring out where to begin presents the most considerable difficulty while visiting Hood River for the first time.
What You Should Understand Before Visiting
Several of the gorge’s most popular trails are still blocked for repair after the epic Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 burned 48,861 acres of forest on the Oregon side of the river. There’s no need to be discouraged, though, as the waterfall corridor only makes up a minor portion of the 293,000-acre Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Check out the helpful map of trails damaged by recent fires on the Forest Service website if you’re traveling west from Hood River into the corridor. One of the most popular hikes in the valley outside the burn area—nearby Dog Mountain—requires a special day-use permit during the weekends of peak wildflower season from April to June.
Watch out for ice; during the shoulder season and winter, Hood River’s consistent westerly winds may be both a blessing and a curse for tourists. Locals can be readily recognized by their studded snow tires because Hood River and Interstate 84 may become an ice rink due to a mix of heavy precipitation, close-to-freezing temperatures, and strong winds. Visit the website of the Oregon Department of Transportation in advance.
Take a shuttle: Thanks to Columbia Area Transit’s (CAT) cutting-edge public transit, you can avoid navigating congested summer traffic. The Gorge-to-Mountain Express provides free winter rides from Hood River to Mount Hood Meadows, one of the region’s most extensive downhill ski slopes, and shuttles from Portland to Hood River with several stops in the canyon.
What Season Is Best for Visiting Hood River?
Summer: This is the best season for the region, with typical daytime highs hovering in the low eighties, allowing you to windsurf or paddleboard in nothing but swim trunks or a bathing suit. While Mount Hood normally defrosts by early August, many high-alpine backpacking and mountain bike paths become accessible. Although the Palmer Glacier at Timberline Lodge, one of North America’s few year-round ski resorts, is still covered in a reasonable amount of snow, the problem is that everybody else is there with you. You should anticipate considerable traffic on the way to and around the summit.
Fall: There is a prime time in September when there are fewer people, and the temperature is still pleasant. Expect daytime highs in the seventies, with overnight lows in the forties. The Hood River Fruit Loop, a 35-mile beautiful trip through farms and woods at the peak of the produce’s ripeness, is a huge plus. It features limitless acres of apple orchards with heirloom types of apples, ranging from Arkansas Black to Northern Spy.
Winter: From December to March, knowledgeable powderhounds make Hood River their base of operations. In contrast to the daily gridlock on Highway 26, which directly connects Portland to Mount Hood, there often needs to be more traffic on the scenic Route 35 as it ascends the mountain from Hood River. If you don’t have snow tires, you should always take chains in the winter.
Spring: The rain-shadow effect of Mount Hood means that even if it’s pouring outside in Portland on a spring day, you’ll probably find consistent sunshine in Hood River and to the east. It is because the prevailing winds rise, cool, and condense into rain (or snow) on one side of the mountain, leaving dry, warm air on the other. The Mosier Plateau, Dalles Mountain Ranch, and Lyle Cherry Orchard Trails all put on beautiful displays of lupine, paintbrush, and phlox, to mention a few, from March through May, which is peak wildflower season in the canyon.
Accommodations in Hood River
A flood of newly designed hotels has appeared in the region for several years. The company behind Portland’s exclusive Jupiter Hotel gave the downtown Hood River Hotel, built in 1912 (starting at $99 per night), a retro-chic makeover in 2017. The 420 in the Gorge package, a collaboration with the nearby cannabis store Gorge Greenery, and a branch of the well-known Scandinavian brunch spot Broder St. within the hotel are just a few of the exclusive benefits. The 80-year-old schoolhouse, now the Society Hotel Bingen, is across the river. It currently has a modest outdoor clubhouse with shared bunk rooms priced at $45 and a small colony of cottages priced at $159 surrounding a sizable spa and baths. Visitors can use the hot and cold pools, sauna, fresh juice café, and the underground meditation chamber Sanctuary for free.
Sakura Ridge (starting at $225), a wealthy farm stay with five rooms, 30 acres of pear and apple orchards, 20 beehives, grazing sheep, and stunning mountain vistas, is just seven miles south of Hood River and offers a more rural experience. Tents may be set up close to the Columbia in Viento State Park, eight miles west of Hood River, for as little as $17, or just across Hood River’s namesake at Tucker Park, six miles to the south, for as much as $25.
How to Spend Your Time There
Hood River is the home base of some of the greatest names in wind sports for a reason: it’s the perfect site to be carried across the lake by nothing but a strong breeze. Hood River also annually hosts the Association of Wind and Lake Sports Industries’ Board Sports Expo. Here is a quick background for people who are still confused about the wind-sports industry:
- Windsurfing dominated the 1990s.
- Kiteboarding appeared in the early 2000s.
- Kite and wind foiling began in the 2010s, allowing riders to hover above the water at more incredible speeds than were previously conceivable, thanks to a hydrofoil-like fin projecting beneath the board.
In Hood River today, every conceivable form of wind sport still thrives.
Big Winds, one of five outfitters perched on the brink of the Columbia, provides training for brave beginners (starting at $49) in every kind of specialized sport, from laid-back stand-up paddle boarding to cutting-edge wing foiling. People just starting often practice in “the hook,” which is off the main promenade. Veterans who pack their gear will soon learn that the finest wind is four miles west, near the Hatchery, on the Washington side, rather than just in front of Hood River. Any rental businesses, outfitters, and guides lining the shoreline can provide a thorough map of the area.
Both kayaking and white water rafting
From the Salmon to the Klickitat, a vast confluence of designated Wild and Scenic Rivers flows across this region of Oregon and Washington. Many outfitters are in business one mile north of Hood River at White Salmon. Wet Planet, a local favorite, provides excursions in both states, such as a full-day Class III–IV roller-coaster rafting experience for kids and adults on the White Salmon River (starting at $140), which concludes with a 12-foot nose plunge into Husum Falls.