Mt. Hood-Columbia River Gorge Loop | Reader's Digest

Mt. Hood-Columbia River Gorge Loop

Once part of a nearly impenetrable wilderness that tested the mettle of even the most determined pioneer, the dramatic volcanic peaks and river gorges of northern Oregon today are delightfully accessible.

  from The Most Scenic Drives in America
Multopor Fen Preserve, OregonOregon's Mt. Hood Territory/Larry GeddisThe waters in Multopor Fen Preserve in Oregon's Mt. Hood territory provide serene reflections of Mt. Hood.

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Few landscapes can equal the magnificence and variety of the one encircling Mt. Hood. Mountaintops under a continuous cover of snow, verdant forests laced with rushing streams and waterfalls, fertile farmlands, and the awesome gorge of one of America’s great rivers — these are among the treasures waiting to be discovered here.

1. Sandy
Miles of farmland skirt Rte. 26 on the drive up to the town of Sandy, where visitors can tour historic sites and swim in the close-by Sandy River. As the highway continues to the east, the landscape changes rapidly, with the foothills of the Cascade Range beginning their relentless ascent. Towering Douglas firs, some of them centuries old, cover the slopes. Soon the Salmon River briefly comes into view, running to the Sandy River.

2. Wildwood Recreation Area
Situated on the banks of the Salmon River, picturesque Wildwood is one of many places to pause and sample the countryside. Take advantage of its picnic areas and hiking trails or, in the spring and fall, join the anglers who come in pursuit of trout and salmon. Visit Streamwatch, an underwater viewing port that lets you see life inside the river from a unique angle.

3. Mt. Hood National Forest
The splendors of nature are the star attractions throughout Mt. Hood National Forest. Encompassing more than a million acres, the wilderness is best known for its namesake, majestic Mt. Hood. The highest point in Oregon at 11,235 feet, the mountain’s conical dome is a dormant volcano that hasn’t had a major eruption for probably a thousand years or more. Its treeless upper slopes are blanketed with immense glaciers that glisten in the sunlight.

Between mile markers 45 and 46, past Rhododendron, note the reconstruction of the West Barlow tollgate. It marks a portal of the historic Barlow Road Drive extending from Mt. Hood to Oregon City. Blazed in 1845, this overland route was a lifesaver to pioneers heading west on the Oregon Trail; before the trail was opened, they had to convert their covered wagons into rafts and float down the risky and tumultuous Columbia River rapids.

4. Laurel Hill
Laurel Hill — its steep slopes are a challenge just to walk on, let alone descend in a covered wagon — was the last major obstacle faced by pioneers traveling toward the valleys and coasts to the west. In a task that could take days, the can do pioneers used ropes to slowly lower their wagons down the hill.

5. Timberline Lodge
A six-mile turnoff climbs past vast forests and seasonal waterfalls to Timberline Lodge, a masterpiece of craftsmanship built by the WPA during the Great Depression. Constructed of stone and timber, the hotel is filled with handsome details, including huge fireplaces and fine examples of woodworking. Outside, alpine gardens thrive in the warmer months. You can also explore the surrounding countryside on a network of hiking trails. For a bird’s-eye view, sightseers can ride the mile-long chairlift that traverses the upper reaches of Mt. Hood.