Portland has been a popular Pacific Northwest destination in recent times thanks largely to an exploding food scene and of course the hit TV show Portlandia. In fact, it was the fifth annual Feast Portland food event that brought me to the area in the first place. But before the weekend event, I spent a few days just an hour east of Portland and was amazed to find a completely different landscape. Dubbed the Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge region, this is among the best places to visit in Oregon, and is particularly interesting as the Columbia River is the only thing separating it from Washington State.
While there are certainly plenty of things to do in Portland, driving just an hour away lends itself to a worthy weekend of exploration. This trip is perfect for those from out of town, or those who already live in nearby Portland or Seattle. Even as Seattle residents for nearly a collective decade, my partner and I had never ventured out east of Portland, and only recently even visited the popular town of Bend for the first time. That is to say, Oregon is such a large and diverse state, and it deserves multiple trips to get a full flavor of the land.
The absolute best and most convenient way to sightsee around the Hood-Gorge region is by car. Rent a car, carpool with friends, or take advantage of ReachNow’s day rates, but having a vehicle is an absolute must.
For this two and a half day trip, I pack as light as possible. I also bring a very slim amount of camera gear with me. Since I’m on editorial assignment, I don’t need my full photography gear setup, but I do want a DSLR over my mirrorless camera for the sake of reliability. I opt for my Canon 6D with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, packed into a Think Tank Turnstyle Shoulder Bag. I don’t bring any more lenses or lighting gear since I’m not on commercial assignment, but I do pocket a Moto Z Force smartphone for grabbing quick Instagram shots. I’m relieved to be traveling ultra light for once and end up being so impressed with the Moto Z Force’s image quality, that it ends up being my primary camera. I’ve intermingled photos taken with the Moto Z Force with those taken by my Canon 6D — see if you can tell the differences!
Itinerary – Day 1
West Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls
Start by hopping onto I-84 East and drive an hour east of Portland. Most head this way en route to the popular Multonmah Falls, but do yourself a favor and avoid the crowds by going to the lesser known Latourell Falls. Plunging 249 feet over a wall of columnar basalt that is adorned with patches of bright yellow lichen, Latoutell Falls is a sight to behold. Visitors may hike down along a paved path around the base of the waterfall, or take an extended 2.1 mile loop hike to see the upper falls.
Another pro tip: take exit 22 on I-84 East and hop onto the Historic Columbia Highway. This loopy, one-lane road is celebrating its 100th anniversary and will lead to some of the most beautiful vistas of the Columba River Gorge, while also taking you to Latourell and Multnomah Falls.
Bonneville Dam and Hatchery
After getting your fill of waterfalls, continue down I-84 East to Bonneville dam and Bonneville fish hatchery. Constructed in 1909, the Bonneville hatchery is the largest of Oregon’s 33 hatcheries, and it is located right next to the entrance of the dam. The hatchery is where salmon are spawned, sorted and handled by its many employees. Each year, the hatchery churns out 6.7 million chinook, 750,000 coho, and 310,000 steelhead. The visiting experience varies greatly depending on the season. Visit in the late summer or early fall and you might witness salmon spawning and sorting, which is what we got a full taste of. If you visit during another season, daily operations might be slow and less visual, but there are videos and displays that illustrate the whole process. Also, take a walk outside to see the many outdoor tanks full of fish, including the sturgeon tank where the legendary Herman the Sturgeon lives.
Just beyond the Bonneville Dam is the Hood River city of Cascade Locks. Within the city is the scenic Bridge of the Gods, a toll bridge that is the only bridge to cross the Columbia River between Portland and Hood River. Besides being extremely scenic, Cascade Locks is notable for being an alternative route for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). While visiting the city, several notable eateries and watering holes are worth a visit.
Brigham Fish Market
Owned and operated by the Brigham family, this relatively new fish market proudly displays its family history through vintage photos decorated on the walls. The Brighams have fished the Columbia River for as long as they can remember, and they continue to catch fish from scaffolds not far from their market. Stop by and pick up fresh, locally caught salmon and seafood, most of it caught by the Brighams, and some imported. Notable menu items include the smoked salmon dip and the fried sturgeon fish and chips.
Thunder Island Brewing Co
We can’t talk about Oregon without bringing up craft beer! In Cascade Locks, the favorite local brewery is definitely Thunder Island. Open daily at 12 noon, the taproom and brewery offer handcrafted innovative beers and a full food menu. Since everything is made in small batches, the beer list changes frequently, making it a worthy place to return to time and time again.
Also known as the windsurfing capital of the world, Hood River is a scenic town situated at the crossroad of the Cascade Range and Columbia River Gorge. Its unique geography makes Hood River an outdoor lovers’ paradise throughout all four seasons, and it attracts hikers, mountain bikers, and of course windsurfers. Oregon’s microbrew culture is also alive and well in Hood River as it’s home to both the venerable Full Sail Brewing Co and Belgium-inspired pFriem Family Brewers.
Hood River’s most upscale eatery is the outdoorsy chic Celilo Restaurant, and a dinner reservation here is highly recommended to top off your day. At the helm is chef Ben Stenn whose award-winning farm-to-table cuisine is renowned for incorporating much of the seasonal, fresh foods that are grown locally within the agriculturally rich Hood River Valley. The restaurant’s luxurious wine list is also made up of bottles from local vineyards.
Day 1 Accommodations
There are an array of overnight options abound in Hood River, ranging from rustic bed and breakfasts to luxury and classic hotels. The city’s namesake hotel, which is also its oldest, falls into the latter category. Hood River Hotel, not to be confused with the Best Western Hood River Inn, has been family owned and operated since 1911. Fully restored with an ambiance of a small European inn, the hotel offers 41 rooms and suites, each individually styled with antique furnishings.
End of Day 1
And this concludes the first of two and half days of our long weekend trip to the Hood-Gorge of Oregon. Check out the second installment, in which we continue through Hood River’s Fruit Loop and on to the wild west town of The Dalles.
For more information and ideas for discovering Oregon, check out the resources over at Travel Oregon. Big thank you to them for organizing and sharing this itinerary!