Spectacular Oregon Road Trip: Mt. Hood-Columbia River Gorge Loop
Few landscapes can equal the magnificence
and variety of the one encircling
Length: About 200 miles.
When to go: Popular year-round.
Words to the wise: Roads are sometimes
closed in winter because of fallen trees
and ice- and snowstorms.
Nearby attractions: Hood River and
Flerchinger vineyards and Pheasant Valley
Winery, Hood River. Washington Garden,
rose and Japanese gardens, Portland.
Further information: Oregon’s Mt.
Hood Territory, 65000 E. Hwy. 26, Welches,
OR 970 67, 888-622-4822, www.mthoodterritory.com
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.
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
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
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.
6. Trillium Lake
Named for the three-petaled wildflower
that flourishes in these
woodlands, Trillium Lake lies two
miles south of Rte. 26. Stands of
evergreens surround the lake,
whose surface forms a mirror for
reflections of snowcapped Mt.
Hood. Visitors come to this pleasant
alpine retreat to hike, swim,
fish, and boat.
7. Bennett Pass
The next leg of the journey
through the Cascades follows Rte.
35, which soon climbs to 4,674
feet at Bennett Pass. Once over
the crest, the road curves alongside
the rushing Hood River.
8. Panorama Point
Panorama Point offers one of the
most startling views to be found
along the drive to the Columbia
River Gorge. A short detour on
East Side Road leads to the lookout,
where the panorama takes in
the high volcanic peaks found to
the north in Washington, the river
valley, the forest-covered foothills,
and the omnipresent crown
of Mt. Hood.
9. Hood River
The city of Hood River grew from
and around the timber industry.
After much of the area’s old-growth
forests had been felled,
however, the land was given over
to farming, and thousands of fruit
trees were planted. Today the harvest
includes apples, pears, and
In recent years the area has become
a magnet for windsurfers,
who find ideal conditions in the Columbia River
Gorge. Winds often whip steadily
through the gorge, and small waves
on the river add to the excitement.
For a glimpse of the windsurfers’
colorful sails, stop at Columbia
Gorge Sailpark, where a small
sandy beach abuts the river. The
sport lends a jauntily modern counterpoint
to the city’s many historic
buildings, one of the most notable
being the Columbia Gorge Hotel.
Take a relaxing trip on the Mt.
Hood Railroad. Leaving from
the town’s historic district, the
train makes a scenic 44-mile tour
through the Hood River valley,
with ample picture opportunities.
10. The Dalles
An interstate highway, I-84, parallels
the Columbia River to The
Dalles, which was named by
French explorers who thought
the area’s basaltic rocks resembled
flagstones, or les dalles. As the
interstate follows the generally
widening gorge to the east, the
road leads past tall pinnacles of
volcanic rock deposited in ancient
eruptions, floodplains, tablelands,
and on the opposite bank, hills
covered with mosses and an
abundance of majestic conifers.
Today wheat fields
and cherry orchards edge The
Dalles, and the historic district
contains numerous fine examples
of 19th-century homes and government
11. Historic Columbia River Highway
On the return trip west, leave the
interstate for the eastern section
of the Historic Columbia River
Highway (Rte. 30). Constructed
between 1913 and 1920, the road
remains to this day a testament to
the skills of its builders. Switching
back and forth in search of the
most scenic route, the highway is a
marvel of design, with panoramic
viewpoints, arched bridges, and
beautifully designed stonework.
To the west of The Dalles, the
historic highway soon enters a
region of barren hillsides. These
areas became scablands about
13,000 years ago, when they were
ravaged by huge floods caused
by melting ice-age glaciers. The
growth that occurs today finds its
nourishment in the ashes deposited
by eruptions in the area.
The old highway between
Rowena and Mosier passes into a
transition zone — the dividing line
between the arid prairies to the
east and the moister forests to the
west. Here too you will find one
of the most astonishing segments
of the drive — the Rowena Loops,
where the road zigzags wildly up
and down hillsides. The highway
also passes two natural areas, the
Tom McCall Preserve and Mayer
State Park, both of which showcase
flowers and wildlife.
12. Cascade Locks
Back on the interstate the drive
heads west past farmlands, commercial
centers, and miles of forest
before entering Cascade Locks.
Over the years the town’s name has
become a bit of a misnomer, for its
cascade was submerged after the
completion of the Bonneville Dam
and, since its locks were built to
circumvent the cascade, they too are
no longer a distinguishing feature.
Nevertheless, a park overlooks the
unused passageway, and a museum
depicts the area’s colorful history.
To get an entirely different perspective
on the region, you can
board the Columbia Gorge, a grand
old stern-wheeler that makes daily
excursions in the summer. Travelers
can also view the river from the
Bridge of the Gods, which crosses
over to Washington.
13. Bonneville Dam
The Bonneville Dam was the first
of many dams built to tame and
tap the Columbia River torrents.
A series of fish ladders, or water-filled
terraces, are on view at the
visitor center. Salmon leap from
pool to pool on a remarkable
journey to the upper reaches of the
river, where they spawn. The fish
come from as far away as Alaska,
returning to the very waters in
which they first hatched.
Another viewing area looks out
on the underwater world of the
huge bottom-dwelling white sturgeon.
Sometimes weighing more
than 1,500 pounds, the ancient fish,
with bony plates instead of scales,
have been prowling the rivers and
seas since the time of the dinosaurs.
14. Ainsworth State Park
At exit 35 leave the interstate for
the 22-mile western sector of the
Historic Columbia River Highway,
which skirts a lush forest on its
way to Ainsworth State Park.
Perched atop steeply rising bluffs,
the park sits back from the smooth-coursing
Columbia River. Of the
area’s many hiking trails, one
standout leads to nearby Horsetail
Waterfall, where the hiking
path actually passes behind the
15. Oneonta Gorge
Traveling two miles farther west
through the dense forest, you’ll
come to Oneonta Gorge, a botanical
area maintained by the U.S.
Forest Service. A
fairly difficult hike (especially in
the wetter winter months) climbs
900 feet to Oneonta Falls, and
other trails loop through the area.
16. Multnomah Falls
The Historic Columbia River
Highway passes more than a dozen
waterfalls, but most people consider
Multnomah Falls to be the
grandest of them all. Divided into
upper and lower cascades, the falls
plunge a total of 620 feet.
Plenty of parking is provided for
the area’s many sightseers, and a
nature center and 1920s stone
lodge have fine views of the falls
above. Trails — paved, but on the
steep side — explore the hillsides;
one crosses an arched footbridge
above the lower falls.
Back on the scenic highway,
more waterfalls come into sight,
tumbling down the steep ridges
that line the road. From east to
west, the major cascades visible
from the highway are Wahkeena,
Bridal Veil, Shepperds Dell, and
17. Crown Point State Park
A winding drive on the Historic
Columbia River Highway climbs
upward to Crown Point State Park,
a well-maintained preserve that sits
perched atop an enormous volcanic
rock — the park’s namesake — that
rises more than 700 feet above
sea level. The preserve, with unobstructed
views extending both
east and west, is an excellent place
to observe the breathtaking beauty
of the mighty Columbia River. Almost certain to
catch your eye from here is Beacon
Rock — an even larger monolith
towering nearly 850 feet on the
opposite side of the river,
a fitting close to your visit to the
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