Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is vast in a biblical, land-before-time kind of way. Carved into a bedrock of volcanic stone laid down by the nearby Cascade volcanoes, the gorge itself was sculpted by the Columbia River, a vast waterway in its own right host enormous dams, recreational boaters, and to some of biggest salmon runs on the West Coast. On the river’s banks, which lie in Oregon and Washington respectively, the geography quickly finds thousands of feet of relief in towering cliffs covered in ancient Douglas Fir trees. Misty, prehistoric, and giant, it looks like a romantic landscape painting come to life.
Tucked into a verdant valley splitting these cliffs is the surprisingly spry town of Hood River. It’s a true Oregon gem: while some visitors shy from the bustle of metropolitan Portland, yet balk at visiting the sparse desert of Eastern Oregon, in Hood River they’ll find a small-town feel upgraded with good coffee, a bustling main street, and a young population of mutant craft-beer-drinking athletes who’ve sculpted the surrounding country into an amazing outdoors playground.
Hood River, warm and comfortable, is surrounded by neolithically daunting landscape, but in every direction, like the town itself, you’ll find surprisingly cozy and comfortable adventure. To the East lies the Deschutes River, a world-class trout and steelhead stream also popular among rafters; to the South, Mt Hood caps the skyline, offering vineyards and orchards spilling down from ski slopes; to the West, wooded canyons and waterfalls cut into towering rock walls sheltering a hiking paradise extending to the boundaries of Portland; and to the North lies the Columbia, a river so large that it creates it’s own weather (perfect for kite surfing).
Hood River Main Street
A weekend in Hood River is like a choose-your-own-adventure story, with choices to suit all seasons and personalities. Still, this is Oregon, so despite all the options, most choose to start their adventure along the town’s main drag, Oak Street, with a cup of gourmet coffee. For the two-wheeled types, the favorite is Kickstand Coffee— they roast their own beans, brew each cup to order, and have fresh donuts on hand daily. Plus, they share their space with the Dirty Finger bike shop, a go-to among mountain bikers. At Dirty Finger, the mechanics work behind a bar, and yes, they’ll pour you a beer while they fix your rig. For those chasing the slow-start brunch option, the Egg River Cafe is just around the corner, with kitschy chicken-related decor and a no-nonsense approach to delivering delicious omelets. Further east on Oak street the coffee options multiply, but Dog River Coffee, listed as one of the best coffee shops in the United States, suits the weekend vibe with a comfy, retro feel and uncompromised espresso.
Mornings at Dog River Coffee. Shop the Hood River Collection.
Coffee isn’t all that Oak street has to offer either. On any sunny weekend, it’s buzzing with a mix of diners, shoppers, and outdoorsfolk. Several outdoors stores favoring mountain biking, kite surfing, and fishing, mix with cafes, brewpubs, art galleries, and restaurants. The Gorge Fly Shop is the friendliest around, and its employees live and breathe the local rivers, ready to talk steelhead numbers or point you towards the next hatch. For contrast, just up the street on third street is Cerulean Wine, a bright and modern tasting room showcasing wines that they make themselves from grapes grown in the Gorge.
|After a day exploring the gorge’s waterfalls and basalt cliffs, check out another Hood River staple. Just across from Georgianna Smith park on Oak Street is the tiny, teal shack that houses Mike’s Ice Cream. Open and buzzing from April to October, Mike’s looks whimsical but serves some serious ice cream. There’s usually a short line, but once inside the adorable premises, take your pick of ten elegant flavors before wandering to the lawn and kicking back in one of the many Adirondack chairs on the lawn. A play structure keeps the kids swinging around, or if Mike’s is too busy, you can take your scoop across the street to the park or for a waltz down main street. There’s no better way to while away a summer evening.||Experiencing Mike’s Icecream, a Hood River staple. Shop the Hood River Collection.|
Post Canyon Mountain Biking
Mountain biking Post Canyon. Shop the Hood River Collection.
At pretty much any time of year, you can mountain bike in Hood River. The Mt Hood Wilderness is home to many classic cross-country rides with adventuresome flavor, but Hood River is famous for it’s purpose-built riding close to town. The local’s choice is Post Canyon trail system, just a few minutes out of town by car. Scribbled onto a land management plan that includes ATV and motocross trails, navigating can be a bit complicated, so grab a map from Dirty Finger or online from the Hood River Area Trail Stewards (free) before you go. If you didn’t bring your own, you can rent a modern ripper from Dirty Finger, or from Mountain View Cycles on Oak Street.
At Post Canyon, the trails are buffed, packed, and flowing dirt that’s a blast on almost any bike. Indeed, you’ll see runners and cyclocross riders here too, but “enduro”-style riding is the name of the game. Kids are welcome too, and the Family Man staging area hosts practice loops, pump tracks, and balance challenges to let kids and adults safely build their skills. Once you’re dialed in, you can construct many longer rides that will link Post Canyon’s numerous trails into laugh-out-loud downhill flow.
Warming up at the Family Man staging area. Shop the Hood River Collection.
One classic loop begins with winding singletrack on trail 150 from the Family Man staging area, weaving cross-country and punctuated by wooden skinnies and views of Mt Adams. Then, grunt up the switchbacking climb on Eight Track. You’ll pop out at the Extended Play area, which hides some large jumps for the freeriders out there. The mere mortals pull an about-face and rip down the aptly named Bad Motor Scooter, which ducks and dives through dark woods with table-tops and bermed corners before merging with Grand Prix, and all-out speed and berms ripping descent. Another XC climb up Spaghetti Factory leads you to the blurry-fast Mitchell Ridge trail, and enduro-style descent to the Seven Streams Staging Area. From here, climb back to the car or stop off for a couple of laps on the brand-new Kleeway trail, a machine built flow trail that’s accessible to all, but just gets more fun the faster you go.
Hiking Eagle Creek Trail
If two-wheels aren’t your thing, grab your backpack and sample a favorite among casual hikers and ultrarunners alike: the Eagle Creek trail. Just 25 minutes West along the gorge highway, the trail begins at an unassuming parking lot and campground. You’ll need a Northwest Forest day pass to park, which you can buy when you arrive.
Prepping for the Eagle Creek Trail. Shop the Hood River Collection.
The trail itself is unlike any other: In late Fall, spawning salmon swarm Eagle Creek’s lower waters while the trail itself takes the high road, carved into the basalt walls of the canyon. Usually fairly wide, it at times narrows to just a few feet, traversing the rock face on a narrow path with bolted cable for handy reassurance. At every turn, blue pools and ribbons of waterfalls unexpectedly unfold. Enjoy the view, but watch your footing!
Hiking to Punchbowl Falls. Shop the Hood River Collection.
About a mile and a half in, the misty quiet gives way to a growing roar until the tremendous Punchbowl Falls comes into view. Its great mass of falling water splits a mossy top before plunging into a deep-blue pool surrounded by basalt cliffs and swirling mist. Leaping from the apex of the falls has led to unfortunate rescues, but a safer trail winds down to the waters below, where you can grab a chilly swim or cast away for small but wily trout.
At around three miles in comes the High Bridge, which spans the creek at a narrow but deep chasm. This is a fine turnaround and lunch spot should you choose to go easy, but for a full day of hiking, continue to Tunnel Falls at six and a half miles in. Here the trail was carved into the rock itself, traversing behind the falls and emerging right at their thundering edge. The truly energetic can continue on all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail, but most enjoy the mist and solitude of this turn around.
Watersports on the Columbia River
If you’re a watersports junky, then Hood River is also your mecca. The Columbia River Gorge is so large that it funnels the Western winds that flow inland from the Pacific Ocean, leading them quickly and stoutly Eastwards towards Idaho. In their transit, they sweep at the doorstep of Hood River, so the town has long been host to those capturing the wind’s power. While the nineties brought windsurfers to the Gorge, Kiteboarding has exploded in more recent years, and the town has embraced it. Numerous kiteboarding schools dot the waterfront, and kiters take advantage of the jutting, sandy “Spit” to launch onto the Columbia.
SUP on the Columbia River. Shop the Hood River Collection.
Just downstream from the Spit is Hood River’s waterfront park. This is the perfect spot for a family outing. On calmer days, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard and launch from the park’s sandy beach, enjoying the vastness of the Columbia with simple and accessible gear. A playground with PVC-pipe bongo drums and a small rock wall will keep the kids happy while you explore the waters. Be careful to check the forecast or ask for wind-favored spots at the rental shop, as gorge winds change throughout the day and can make some SUP zones a no-go. But on calmer days, its hard to beat the joy of exploring the shore by such quiet means.
To wind down your weekend in true Northwest style, there’s no better place than the pFriem (“freem”) brewery, which looks out over the waterfront park. In a town full of brewpubs, pFriem is young at just three years old, but you’d never know it by their beer: their crisp bohemian pilsner, barrel-aged blonde ale, and strong, aromatic IPAs are painfully good.
Order a flight to try all of pFreim’s flavors. Shop the Hood River Collection.
pFriem built the brewery in collaboration with architecture students, and the dark wood paneling contrasted with ample natural light makes for a lively but comfortable space. They haven’t neglected the food menu either: the tasting room seats guests in among the steel brewing tanks and outside around a flickering fire, serving classic pub fare with an haute-northwest twist. With a tall IPA and some mussel fries, there’s nothing quite like watching the sun set on the gorge while soaking up the satisfied fatigue of weekend adventure. There’s something for everyone here; just look in any direction and go.