MT. HOOD AND
TRIP IDEAS | THE MT. HOOD SCENIC BYWAY
Get to Know The Mt. Hood Scenic Byway:
Standing at 11,245 feet, Mt. Hood is the highest point in Oregon and a powerful symbol for the Pacific Northwest. It was also crowned one of Oregon’s 7 Wonders. The now-dormant volcano is believed to have been formed 11 to 14 million years ago and is home to 12 glaciers and the source for five rivers that run into the Columbia. The Mt. Hood Scenic Byway takes visitors on a majestic route around the edge of this iconic landmark, being exposed to some of the state’s most stunning scenery and sought after recreations destinations.
Heading east from Troutdale or west from The Dalles along the Columbia Gorge on either Interstate 84 or the Historic Columbia River Highway, you’ll reach the beginning of the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway in Hood River. Once a sleepy orchard town, Hood River is now revered as the unofficial windsurfing capital of the world, and a popular vacation escape. The waterfront path is the perfect place for visitors to watch sailboarders, kite boarders and other wind mavens rip back and forth across the Columbia in its natural wind tunnel. Hood River has also grown to be a mecca for less wind-dependent outdoor enthusiasts. It is a hub for mountain biking, cycling, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, fishing and white water rafting. The historic downtown has evolved to cater to visitors, and now offers a host of eclectic shops and no less than 30 restaurants and cafes – from authentic taquerias to first-rate northwest haute cuisine. Beer lovers may already know about Hood River as it is home to Full Sail Brewing Company and Pfreim Brewery, among other breweries, cideries, and wineries.
Of Fruit, Waterfalls, and Pioneers:
Heading south on Highway 35, you’ll come to the Hood River Valley, a magnificent patchwork of orchards, vineyards and farms. Fertile volcanic soils and a temperate climate have made this one of the most prolific fruit-producing regions in the world. Depending on what is in season, many farmers here offer their products at stands along the Fruit Loop. Stop to sample some of Oregon’s great bounty – pears, apples, huckleberries, wild mushrooms and more – and get a taste of local farm life.
Soon you’ll begin gaining elevation as you climb toward Mt. Hood – on a clear day, you’ll enjoy shifting vistas of the volcanic peak. The road soon parallels the rushing waters of the East Fork of the Hood River, which runs off-color thanks to glacial till flowing off the mountain. Before you merge with Highway 26, you’ll come to the Barrow Pass and signs for the Pioneer Woman’s Grave. There’s a mile-long hiking trail here to a memorial gravesite honoring those who have lost their lives along the route.
A few miles west on Highway 26 you’ll reach the turn-off for Timberline Lodge. Enjoy the Byway’s spectacular 6-mile scenic drive as it climbs to the 6,000 foot elevation. The stone and wood edifice that is Timberline Lodge was built in the 1930s almost entirely by hand by legions of laborers and craftspeople. Today, it is one of Oregon’s most highly visited tourist attractions, offering lodging, food and the longest ski season in North America. Don’t forget the views to the south that extend nearly 100 miles on a clear day. Several day hikes depart from Timberline, or you can ride a chairlift to the 7,000 foot elevation point for even more spectacular vistas. The US Forest Service offers free tours of the Lodge and surrounding area and an informational video describing the monumental task of building the Lodge.
After descending from Timberline, you’ll reach Government Camp. In the 1930s, Government Camp provided quarters for the hundreds of workers who fashioned Timberline Lodge further up the mountain. Today, the alpine village is a year-round recreational hub for skiers, snowshoers, tubers, cross country skiers, snowboarders, hikers and mountain bikers.
Coming Down the Mountain:
From Government Camp, Highway 26 winds slowly down through the Cascade foothills, offering up expansive views of hillsides thickly forested in firs and pines. In the village of Rhododendron, you’ll come upon the West Barlow Tollgate – the site of the final toll station on the Oregon Trail. Thousands paid a $5 per wagon toll to come overland on the “road” to avoid rafting the treacherous rapids of the Columbia River.
From here, you are never more than a few miles away from year-round skiing, golfing, hiking, or just relaxing next to the federally designated Wild and Scenic Salmon River and within the national forest lands. Villages you will pass through include Rhododendron, Zigzag, Welches, Wemme, and Brightwood. The Villages offer a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from riverside log cabins to resort lodging, condominiums, and quaint mountain bungalows nestled in the woods. Just west of Welches, you’ll come up on the Cascade Streamwatch at the Wildwood Recreation Site along the banks of the Salmon River. This innovative interpretive area focuses on the watersheds and fisheries of the Mt. Hood region and includes a wetland boardwalk trail, and an underwater stream viewing window.
Sandy to Troutdale:
As you approach Sandy, forest begins to give way to pastoral land. The town takes its name from the nearby Sandy River and serves as a gateway community to the Mt. Hood recreation area. Many visitors enjoy a stop here to browse Sandy’s unique shops and art galleries and to enjoy a delicious snack or meal. Just north of Sandy, you’ll discover the Oregon Trail Interpretive Site at Jonsrud Viewpoint. Here, you can look out across the expansive Sandy River Valley where pioneers crossed the river on the last leg of their epic journey to the fertile Willamette Valley.
The Byway continues west through rich agricultural lands – the region is a major producer of nursery stock, flower bulbs and berries in spring and fall especially, the air is redolent with the smell of thriving plant life.
The city of Gresham offers an ideal mix of urban activity and outdoor fun with trails for hiking and biking including the Springwater Trail Corridor, with an inviting historic downtown area with one of a kind shops and restaurants. The Byway continues to Troutdale, which features a quaint downtown with art galleries, antique shops, museums and eateries – and for bargain hunters, an outlet mall. The Byway concludes in the neighboring city of Wood Village, home of the historic McMenamins Edgefield, a 38-acre estate housed on the former site of the Multnomah County Poor Farm, featuring a European-style inn, brewery, winery and more attractions.