This spring, spend a weekend exploring Hood River, where you’ll find a mix of outdoor recreation, local bounty and unique history in the backdrop of the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood.
It’s a beautiful day for a bike ride. To our left, the great Columbia River glows deep blue under the May sunshine. To our right, a lush hardwood forest of alder and rhododendron provides shade. The road beneath our tires is 100 years old, and was the nation’s first planned scenic roadway, built to take in Columbia River Gorge views just as stunning today as they were then.
I am new to road cycling, and my husband spent years as a competitive cyclist, so finding compatible routes for us can be a challenge. The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail out of Hood River strikes the perfect balance. The historic highway is mostly famous as a scenic car route, but several sections are designated non-motorized use only, including seven miles between Hood River and Mosier. No traffic, outstanding scenery, two tunnels to navigate, history, terrain just hilly enough to be interesting—there is enough to like for both of us, though one of us is still slower (me).
An hour and a half later, ride completed, we drive into Hood River for lunch. Full Sail Brewery is one of the oldest breweries in Oregon. Murals grace the walls, depicting the history and beauty of the Gorge, and huge windows frame magnificent river views. Salmon fish and chips and a fire burger hit the spot, and then it’s time to explore the town.
Set on a steep slope that descends to the Columbia River, with Mount Hood looming in the distance, Hood River has an unbeatable setting. From just about anywhere in the downtown area, the river is in view. The energy of that waterway, and the famous wind created by the Columbia River Gorge, define the town. We wander from store to store, perusing sportswear at Melika and the Ruddy Duck, jewelry at Twiggs and Chemistry, art at Made in the Gorge Artists Co-op.
Our room for the night is at The Hood River Hotel. Dating back to 1888 and on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel has restored original features including lofty ceilings, expansive windows, a brass elevator gate and a marble-faced lobby fireplace. Rooms are recently renovated and are comfortable with the warm hint of history, and large windows overlooking the street front.
For dinner we visit Three Rivers Grill, where it is just warm enough to dine on the second-floor outdoor patio with sweeping views of the town and the river. The French-inspired menu satisfies with Northwest steelhead and halibut almandine. We round out our evening with a nightcap at Oak Street Pub, complete with a round of shuffleboard (similar to the cycling, I did not emerge from this contest as the winner).
Bette’s Place Restaurant has a legendary reputation, and sure enough, when we get there in the morning there is already a line out the door. Located in a classic old-style mall and family-owned for four decades, the diner offers a huge menu of deliciousness including a Dungeness crab benedict and a Mexi scramble. After the generous meal, it was tempting to go back to the hotel and take a nap, but the sun was out and the waterfront was calling, so we stroll down to the Hood River Waterfront Park.
Windsports were practically founded in Hood River. On any given day, the bright colors of kiteboards and windsurfing rigs dot the water. The wind that makes all of these windsports possible is blowing, but the air temperature is balmy and the park full of weekend revelers.
Bend was calling for our return, but we take our time leaving the Hood River Valley. The “Fruit Loop,” as it’s called, consists of thirty destinations in the fertile valley offering wine, cider, fruit, veggies and more. We stop at Packer Orchards and Bakery for a jar of slow simmered apple butter, Wy’East Winery for a bottle of pinot noir and Fox Tail Cider for a tiny sip of triple hopped cider before we head for home.
Full Sail Brewing was founded in 1987 in an old fruit cannery and still anchors the waterfront with great brews and food.
Double Mountain Brewing in the heart of the city has seating inside and out and specializes in brick-oven pizza.
Bette’s Place Restaurant has been going strong under one family’s leadership for four decades, with a huge breakfast menu and frequent wait times.
Three Rivers Grill is the place to be in the summer, when the second-story patio offers outdoor dining with an incredible view of the Columbia River.
Frement Brewing is Hood River’s newest brewery, located in an ultra-modern building near Waterfront Park.
Solstice Wood Fire Pizza is also on the waterfront, and a local’s favorite for hyperlocal ingredients and riverfront views.
Hood River Hotel has anchored downtown since 1888 and is still a great central location from which to base your stay, within walking distance of most everything great.
Oak Street Hotel is another downtown gem, a boutique hotel with nine rooms and a farm-fresh breakfast based on seasonally-available foods.
Columbia Gorge Hotel is the region’s grand old beauty—a gorgeous Mission-style hotel right on the river, built in 1920 by one of the developers of the historic Columbia River Highway.
Hood River Mountain Trail takes hikers atop a 2,000-plus-foot rise south of Hood River, from which wildflowers and orchards stretch to Mount Hood, popping impressively in the distance.
Hood River Fruit Loop is a thirty-five-mile scenic drive that begins and ends in Hood River, passing through the valley’s orchards, forests, and farmlands, visiting orchards, wineries, farms and more.