12 adventurous ways to show Mount Hood who’s boss
Mount Hood is the Disneyland of the outdoor adventure crowd, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an activity on the Hood that doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, your eyes feasting, or your taste buds singing. No matter what outdoor activity you enjoy, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hone your skills on and around Mount Hood, and if you’re prone to enjoying a craft beer or a mess of locally-sourced vittles after killing it on the mountain, well, there’s plenty of that, too.
Seventy miles northwest of Portland rises Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest point and one the most spectacular highlights of the Columbia River Gorge. A dormant volcano, it last erupted shortly after Lewis and Clark showed up in 1805. Today, the peak will likely give you a much quieter— albeit still exciting—welcome. If you enjoy climbing, hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, and windsurfing, you can get intimately acquainted with Mount Hood from base to summit. And if you like your nature at a respectable arm’s distance, thank you very much, you can experience the rich culture that has cropped up around the ‘hood.
Mount Hood’s got vineyards, like Mount Hood Winery in Hood River, where they tell you to come for the wine but stay for the views. At nearly every turn of the winding mountain roads it’s got waterfalls cascading down basalt cliffs, including some, like Multnomah Falls, that you can reach by foot path. It’s got museums, like the Mount Hood Cultural Museum, which contains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Oregon Trail history. It’s got breweries and bike paths, and ski slopes and scenic overlooks.
Sound tempting? Then start taking notes, because we’ve lined up 12 stand-out activities for you to enjoy during your stay on Mount Hood.
1. Trek Through the Forest on Snowshoes
Strap on some snowshoes and take a guided tour through the heart of Mount Hood National Forest with Evergreen Tours. As you walk, an expert naturalist will explain the area’s winter ecology and the geological forces that shaped the towering, snow-covered peaks around you. The historic Timberline Lodge marks your turnaround spot. Built at an elevation of 5,960 feet in the late 1930s, it’s been inspiring nightmares since 1980 when Stanley Kubrick used its grand exterior in his horror masterpiece “The Shining.” Warm your bones next to the lodge’s gigantic fireplace with a glass of locally-produced wine or a cup of Timberline’s famous hot cocoa, which features whipped cream dotted with shaved nuts and drizzled with chocolate and caramel syrup. Work off that delicious concoction on your way back down the mountain.
2. Gape in Wonder at Multnomah Falls
On the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Troutdale, the icy cold waters of Multnomah Falls crash downwards for an impressive 611 feet to join the Columbia River. Pull into the parking area off I-84 and make the five-minute trek to the viewing area carved into the rock face at the base of the falls. Look up—way up—to appreciate the full grandeur of 50,000 gallons of water plummeting to earth every single minute. Then, follow the paved trail for a few hundred feet up the mountain and check out the view from Benson Bridge, which spans the falls well above the second tier’s 69-foot drop and provides an unfettered vantage point to see the spray, hear the roar, and feel the falling water’s powerful vibrations. From the bridge, hike up the ultra-steep path for another mile, and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the wide Columbia river and the towering cliffs that contain it as far as the eye can see.
3. Fly Downhill on Your Bike at Knebal Springs
On the east side of Mount Hood lies tiny Knebal Springs campground, remote and largely tourist-free. Get on your mountain bike for an intermediate, 9.2-mile, two-hour bike ride. You’ll climb uphill for 3 miles at the get go, but for the next 5 miles you’ll be flying downhill as you make sharp, banked turns on the narrow, single-file trail that leads you through three different life zones: a temperate Douglas fir rainforest, an arctic-alpine forest, and a semi-arid, ponderosa pine forest. (Not that you’ll have time to notice those details.) To help ebb the flow of adrenaline, you’ll spend the last three-quarters of a mile hammering up a steep climb just after you splash across your third creek. Keep your eyes peeled for bears along the trail, but don’t worry too much about them. At the speed you’ll be traveling, the bear would need his own bike to catch up with you.
4. Hit the Crosstown Trail on Bike, Boot, or Snowshoe
Government Camp is a charming alpine village nestled at an elevation of 4,000 feet on Mount Hood’s forested slopes. Fairly isolated and coping with 300-inches of annual snowfall on average, the town is home to only 193 souls. But it’s also a gateway to the mountain, and folks from all over the world visit its boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, and trails each year. The Crosstown Trail, located a half mile west of the village at the Glacier View Sno-Park, is a moderately easy, 3-mile trail that runs above and parallel to Government Camp.
The trail starts out in the heart of a lodgepole pine forest, featuring trees as wide as six feet in diameter, and it ends 400 feet higher in elevation, flanked by hemlock trees and 500-year old, 250-foot tall Douglas firs. Every now and then, you’ll emerge into a clearing that provides astonishing views of Mount Hood, towering just five miles to the northeast. After your hike, enjoy a steaming hot, organic coffee at Three Sisters Coffee in the village, a tiny cabin-like cafe with organic baked goods and local art for sale.
5. Have a Few Sips of Suds at Mount Hood Brewing Co.
Mount Hood Brewing Co. is an award-winning Government Camp institution that believes beer is best produced in batches so small that there’s only enough for Oregon, so this may be your only chance to sample its beloved Cascadian Pale Ale or Cloudcap Amber Ale. Located right off Government Camp’s main road, the charming brew pub’s stone walls, warm wood paneling, and cozy fireplace make it feel like an intimate lodge, and their locally-sourced entrees include fresh, cornmeal battered cod, a savory bacon pot pie, and spicy three-bean chili.
6. Head Out for a Day of Wine and Waterfalls
Hitch a ride from downtown Portland with Evergreen Escapes and head east for a day of hiking, drinking, and eating on an intimate tour of the Columbia River Gorge, an 80-mile long and 4,000-foot deep canyon. As you travel eastward along the Historic Columbia River Highway, the landscape changes from wet forests of fir and spruce to high desert dotted with Ponderosa pines and scrub oak. Look up and you might spot a bald eagle flying past the towering basalt cliffs. You’ll definitely see your fill of waterfalls during scheduled stops, including 611-foot Multnomah Falls, the highest in the state. After some hiking and plenty of showy photo ops, you’ll continue heading east, stopping near the sleepy town of Hood River to tour a few of the local wineries. On the itinerary is award-winning Wy’East Vineyards, Oregon’s highest elevation winery, named for the Native American word for Mount Hood.
7. Get Yourself into Some Hot Water
Ten thousand years’ worth of human interaction with the Bonneville Hot Springs have, as of the present moment, culminated in the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Located about an hour northwest of Mount Hood, the resort is the epitome of pampering. Here, you can take a hot mineral bath in a ginormous clawfoot tub, soak your snowshoe-weary bones in the outdoor hot tub, indulge in an aromatic therapy salt wrap or facial. A swim in the resort’s mineral pool is an immersive experience in more ways than one. The luxurious room features wood-paneled walls and ceiling and gigantic windows looking out on the forest.
8. Ski the Slopes at Timberline Lodge
Located near the top of Mount Hood in the Mount Hood National Forest, Timberline Lodge is the only ski area in North America that’s open year round, thanks to the Palmer Glacier. Timberline Lodge features 1,415 skiable acres, 700 of which are dedicated to intermediate skiers with the rest divvied up between beginners and experts. If you’re more into freestyle snowboarding, you’ll enjoy the multiple terrain parks and its jumps, banks, ramps, hits, jibs, rails, and other natural and man-made terrain features. After you’ve had your fill of the slopes, head inside the lodge and enjoy a hot toddy in the Ram’s Head Bar on the second floor balcony.
9. Hail All Things Lavender at Lavender Valley Farm
Lavender is a versatile herb in the mint family, used for flavoring foods, healing a number of minor ailments, and keeping your stinky sock drawer smelling like a fancy-pants French boutique. The Lavender Valley Farm, located at the foot of Mount Hood near the unincorporated town of Parkdale, grows 10 varieties of baby lavender on six of the property’s 25 acres. They also raise bees and harvest honey, which they sell, gently infused with, yes, lavender.
Mid-June through July is bloom season, and you’re welcome to stop by the farm and check out the whole operation. Help out with the harvesting of the flowers, and witness the distilling of lavender essential oil, which is used to create the aromatic lotions, soaps, balms, and body mists they sell on-site. Load up on organic lavender edibles, including the aforementioned wildly delicious lavender honey and the aromatic herbs de provence mixture that’s popular in the cuisine of southeastern France. Enjoy a picnic lunch as you take in views of Mount Hood and enjoy the scent of lavender wafting over from the gently waving fields of purple flowers.
10. Hike Horsetail Falls Loop
Just east of Troutdale off of I-84, pull into the car park, lace up your hiking boots, and head out for a memorable trek on the Horsetail Falls Loop. Start at the 176-foot Horsetail Falls and continue along the five easy switchbacks that eventually level out, at which point you’ll be confronted with expansive views of the Columbia Gorge. Continue along the trail that’s carved out of the rock behind Ponytail Falls (so named due to the way it spews out of an opening in the rock face and falls to the ground without hugging the cliff).
Keep hiking westward along the bluff, and if you’re so inclined, take the short side trail that leads to more gorge-ous lookouts. If it’s a partly cloudy day, watch the way the light plays on the cliffs, trees, and river far below. Get back on the main trail and follow the switchbacks down to Oneonta Creek. Look up, and you’ll see the 15-foot drop of Middle Oneonta Falls. Look down, and watch Oneonta Creek disappear over the brink of the Lower Oneonta Falls and into the Oneonta Gorge. Beyond the bridge, turn right onto Oneonta Trail and follow it to the Historic Highway, which you’ll take for the half-mile trek back to your parking spot.
11. Windsurf the Columbia at Hood River
Windsurfers from around the world travel to Hood River, a small town known for the big winds that have made it a windsurfing capital of the world. Big Winds on Front Street is one of the largest purveyors of wind sports gear in the U.S. Here, you can rent a windsurf board, kite board, or stand-up paddle board, and any other supplies you might need as you head out to conquer the sassy, windblown waters of the Mighty Columbia. If you’re new to the whole windsurfing scene, sign up for a lesson with one of Big Winds’ experts, and you’ll be ripping across the river in no time. Ready to go for it? Put in at The Hook, a sheltered, man-made cove that makes it easy to get your balance and bearings. Then surf away the day against the backdrop of magnificently high, treelined cliffs in the foreground and pearly white Mount Hood in the distance.
12. Wear Your Ski Glasses at Night
Mount Hood Skibowl is the largest night ski area in the country. It’s also got the most Black Diamond runs of any ski area in the state, along with plenty of beginning and intermediate hills. At night, you’ll find 34 lit runs as well as two fully-lit terrain parks. Swoosh through the gleaming white snow against the backdrop of a starry sky. When you’re all skied out, grab a mug of rich hot cocoa at the aptly-named Starlight Cafe, located at the mountain’s base, or sip an Irish Coffee slopeside at 70 Meters Bar & Grill, located at the Multorpor Lodge.