Maybe the best state in the US for the variety of natural beauty is Oregon. If you like the beach, breathtaking seascapes, mountains, deserts, forests, rivers, waterfalls or unspoiled nature, Oregon has it all.
In a previous trip, we explored the Oregon coast. This time, we’ll take a very popular day trip out of Portland and visit the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River and Mt. Hood.
Portland is a wonderful city, and a great base for operations. This post assumes that you have explored Portland and have one day to see some of the sights within a day’s drive.
Portland to the Columbia River Gorge
Just east of Portland lies the Columbia River. Most rivers, such as the Monongahela River where I grew up in Pittsburgh, cut a V-shape valley over millions of years. Some rivers have been carved by glaciers into U-shaped valleys. The Merced River in Yosemite Valley is one of these. So is the Columbia. The land north and south of the river is a fairly level plateau. The glacier scoured out a U-shape valley that is formed by cliffs that fall vertically hundreds of feet from the plateau to the valley floor. The river is wide and a flat bank area lies between it and the cliffs. Two highways follow the river; I-84 and US-30, which run together, or the Historic Columbia River Highway. Do yourself a favor and take the latter. There are several places to pull off the road for scenic views and other sights.
The other key features of a glacial valley are waterfalls that are formed when small streams and rivers plunge off the high cliffs. There are some spectacular falls in the gorge. One of the best is Multnomah Falls about 35 miles from the city. Although it sounds like bad news you might get from you dermatologist, Multnomah is a Chinook Indian tribe from the Columbia River area. The falls drop in two sections 542 ft. in an upper section and 69 ft. in a lower section. There is a large parking area and a trail that leads along the falls to the top. This trail is not an easy climb, but is safe for all ages. At the top of the falls, you can stand right next to the stream and watch the water drop. The view from the top up and down the gorge is amazing and well worth the hike. Unlike Yosemite, the falls run year-round and do not dry out in the summer.
Further up river is the Bonneville locks and dam. A hydroelectric plant across the dam provides over 500 MW of electrical power. The dam was also an early source of environmental controversy. Salmon and steelhead that migrate up-river to spawn were stymied by the dam. Sportsman spearheaded the drive to build fish ladders around the dam to allow the fish to swim past. These ladders are now a major tourist attraction during migration attracting humans and fish eating California sea lions who swim the 200 miles from the sea for salmon dinner.
Columbia Gorge to Hood River
Hood River is located in the gorge about 62 miles east of Portland at the point where the Hood River meets the Columbia. The town is in a natural wind tunnel due to the east-west orientation of the gorge and prevailing westerly wind. It was always considered to be a difficult place to live until wind surfing was invented. Hood River is now the wind surfing and kite boarding capital of the world. The wind speed and direction is nearly constant which makes it ideal for these sports. Also located here is a bridge across the Columbia to Washington.
Our route goes south along the Hood River toward Mt. Hood.
Hood River to Mt. Hood
No road goes to the top of Mt. Hood. One way to get close is to drive up to the Timberline Lodge which sits on the south slope of the mountain at about 6000 ft. The lodge is home to the Timberline Ski Resort, and has the distinction of being the hotel used in the movie The Shining. To reach the lodge, we take OR-35 south from Hood River for 38 miles, then take US-26 West for about 3 miles to Timberline Highway. Then 5 miles straight up.
The lodge setting is breath-taking. The mountain summit looms 6000 ft. above you. The resort is so high and gets so much snow, that the US national ski team trains here all summer. Denise and I spent an afternoon hiking up the slopes behind the lodge making it up to about 8000 ft. by my watch altimeter. Blue sky, white snow, and green pines that quickly fall away as you pass the tree line. A sandwich and a microbrew in the lodge lounge, then back to Portland.
Mt. Hood to Portland
I wish I could tell you that the trip back to town was anything special, but it really isn’t. Back down the mountain to US-26, then back to Portland as you transition from Cascade mountain forests to shopping malls. As this is a fairly short drive, you’ll be back in plenty of time to experience one more night in the city.
Lots of people have done this trip. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It is easily one of the best day trips you can make, and the variation of natural beauty is unmatched in a scant 170 miles. The shortness of the drive will allow you to spend more time doing fun stuff.
Day Tripping with Rick