A Guide To Exploring Modern-Day Oregon Trails

Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge Loop

A majestic mountain, a mighty river and misty waterfalls.

Drive through the national treasures that neighbor Oregon's largest city. Loop around 11,235-foot Mt. Hood through the magnificent Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, past a dozen waterfalls, Bonneville Dam, Cascade Locks, Timberline Lodge and countless panoramic viewpoints. Stop along the way to learn of the region's rich pioneer and Indian history. Although you can cover the entire route in a leisurely four-hour drive, you'll want a day or two to really take in the sights.

The Urban Gateway: Before you even leave the city, the scenic attractions begin. Start on Sandy Blvd. at The Grotto, Portland's outdoor wilderness cathedral with sculptures, fountains and a panoramic view of the Gorge. Then continue via Gresham, where 240 acres of parks and open spaces bring the grandeur of the neighboring scenic area right into town.

The Skier's Route: Follow Hwy. 26 to Sandy, once a stop on the Barlow Road segment of The Oregon Trail. Visit Wasson Winery, known for award-winning raspberry wine, and then proceed through Welches to Government Camp on Mt. Hood. Gere, SkiBowl features the Northwest's only alpine slide, as well as the nation's largest lighted night ski area. Mt. Hood's five major ski areas include Timberline, site of Timberline Lodge, built in the 1930s and a National Historic Landmark. Nearby, Mt. Hood Meadows is the mountain's largest ski area. The Hoodland district welcomes visitors with lodging and dining services.

Ring Around the Mountain: Leaving the ski areas, loop around Mt. Hood onto Hwy. 35, over the Barlow Pass at the summit of the Cascades where you can still hike parts of The Oregon Trail. From here, drive through the Mt. Hood National Forest and into the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on your way to Hood River.

The Hood River Valley: At the foot of this fruit-growing valley is Hood River, known as the “sailboarding capital of the world.” Watch the action from the Sailpark in Port Marina Park. Visit the county historical museum. Experience the grace and history of the Columbia Gorge Hotel. And wander down to the Mt. Hood Railroad Depot, departure point for 2- and 4-hour train rides to the foothills of Mt. Hood. Scenic car routes from Hood River include the country road to Lost Lake and scenic route east to Mosier, leading to the Tom McCall Preserve.

Cascade Locks and Bonneville Dam: Traveling west on I-84, the drive leads along the Columbia River to Cascade Locks. See Indian and pioneer artifacts at the old lock-tender's former residence, and in the museum at Marine Park. From there, you can board the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge for a two-hour summer cruise to Bonneville Dam.

By car, the massive hydroelectric facility is just minutes west of Cascade Locks. The Bradford Island Visitors Center offers salmon migration interpretive displays, navigational history and an under-surface viewing room. Take a self-guided tour of the hatchery, and walk along the canal to see the boats and barges.

The Historic Columbia River Highway: About six miles west of Bonneville Dam, exit I-84 and wind through the Scenic Area at a more leisurely pace along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Intricate stone work, arched bridges, viaducts and tunnels decorate this route which passes a dozen waterfalls - including 620-foot Multnomah Falls - before arriving at the famous lookout at Crown Point. Here, Vista House provides a visitor center and gift shop in a stone memorial built in 1916. A little farther on, the town of Corbett sits high on the cliffs overlooking the Gorge.

Troutdale back to the City: I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Highway merge at Troutdale, known as the Gateway to the Columbia River and Sandy River gorges. Visit the Harlow House Museum, built in 1900, before returning to the beauty of Portland.

The Mt. Hood/Columbia River Gorge Loop is one of eight drives detailed in a guide available through The Northwest Oregon Visitors Center, Box D.L., 26 SW Salmon St., Portland, OR 97204. 503/295-7387.

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