I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Why would I choose to spend a week in an even smaller town in Oregon? Well, read on to find out…
I can work anywhere as long as I have WiFi access. So I figured why not Hood River? I’ve heard lots of good things about it. I think reading about Wildcraft Studio School’s sandal making workshop tipped the scales for me. I figured any area that has a DIY art center offering workshops that combine creativity and nature has to be pretty rad. So I rented a house, packed up the dogs in the Subaru and headed 2 1/2 hours north. These are my notes. They are by no means comprehensive, but they’ll give you a start.
KITE SURFING: I like to watch + dog beach!
So, unless you live in a cave, you probably know that Hood River is the kite-surfing mecca of the continental U.S. Yep. All summer long. Then the kite people flee to the warmer climes of Maui, or so I’m told. Anyway, the first order of business when you arrive in Hood River is to cross the 84 and get yourself to the Hood River Waterfront Park. Note the restaurants and pubs on the main road (Portway Ave), you’ll want to come back to them later. Once you’re in the park in front of Pfriem Family Brewers, head east toward the “Event Site” (no idea why it’s called that, I guess kite surfing is an event around here). You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the big lawn on a slight incline, littered with giant kites, all supine and peaceful. You’ll also notice that the kite surfers over 60 all look like retired movie stars – tan, lean, silver hair, weird. Take a seat and enjoy the show. If you have well-behaved dogs who like the water, this is the area you’ll be visiting daily. Oddy, Hood River has no dog parks, but people seem to be cool with off-leash dogs at the kite beach as long as the dogs aren’t assholes.
PRODUCE: Stuff grows here
Those who live in Bend will appreciate spending some time in a climate where things actually grow. My rental house had two pear trees, an almond tree, and multiple rose and hydrangea bushes in the yard. Heavenly. If you visit at the right time of year you can tour the punny “Fruit Loop,” which consists of maybe a dozen local farms that are open to visitors. Cute farm stands galore. Driving down from Mount Hood and down into Hood River Valley was lovely. Sometimes after spending so much time up here in the sage and scrub brush, I forget that there are super green, fertile places. Hood River may be small and a tad windy, but damn, the lushness is awfully wonderful.
THE FARMERS MARKET: Columbia Gorge farmers are so damn cute.
So yes, the produce will wow denizens of the High Desert. Make sure to hit the Hood River farmers market – it’s adorable. I swear I’ve never seen more young-ish and completely adorable farmers in one location in my life. Someone needs to do a Portlandia-style show about the permaculture crowd in the PNW. Most of them were hip and passionate and fascinating. Even the older woman who sells wild flowers was quirky and hilarious.
BOOZE: Hood River’s Camp 1805 vodka – yes, please.
Yeah, yeah, Hood River has some breweries. If you’re a BGTB reader you know the only beer I like is Paul Arney’s Ale Apothecary brews and that hands down I’m a spirits girl. So, you can imagine my delight when I stumbled on a brand new booze distillery on Portway Ave across from the Waterfront Park. Not only is the interior of their tasting room gorgeous, but their spirits are good. Camp 1805 spirits won’t be available in stores/bars until early 2015, so until then the only place to get your hands on the good stuff is in their tasting room in Hood River. The vodka is lovely. Super smooth with very very subtle hints of vanilla (and a little pepper, I think?)
FOOD IN HOOD RIVER: It’s fine….
I wasn’t blown away by the food, probably because I was so excited to stay in and cook with the bounty of local produce available. I hit the usual spots: Pfriem Family Brewers, Solstice, 3 Rivers, Brian’s Pourhouse, the Full Sail tasting room (just because it has a nice view), Nora’s Table and Double Mountain and had very nice meals, though nothing worth writing home about. But I did love this wall in the Pfriem women’s bathroom:
HISTORIC COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY: If it’s paved can it be called a trail?
This is the prettiest hike – and because it’s paved, it’s pretty damn easy. You start at the trailhead east of Hood River at the end of Old Columbia River Drive and hike about 3 1/2 miles to the twin tunnels, then turn around and head back – or you can keep going another mile and a half to Mosier. I didn’t, so I’ve got nothing for you there.
The trail is perfectly paved, and no cars allowed, so I imagine it would be an awesome ‘hike’ for someone running with a baby stroller. I was gimpy and had been ordered to stay on pavement, so it was perfect for me. Not so much for the dogs, I was there in late September, and the poison oak was in full effect, so they had to stay on leash the whole time. Dogs aside, the Historic Columbia River Highway trail is so densely lush, picturesque, and outside of time, you can almost see the old Model Ts motoring through the forest century ago. Oh and if you’re there in the summer, and it’s oppressively hot, this hike will be 10 degrees cooler most of the way, thanks to the forest cover. There are a thousand other more challenging hikes in the area, but most require a bit of a drive. This one is about 10 minutes from downtown Hood River, so the easy access is a selling point.
Overall, I loved the vibe of Hood River. And if you’re moving to Bend, Hood River will become one of the many gems you’ll drive to whenever you need a little switch-up from the not-so-wet high desert. I’ll definitely go back again next summer (and probably take a class at WildCraft), plus I want to explore Mosier, White Salmon and a few other neighboring towns. A week is a long time to spend there if you’re not in the kite crowd (plus it felt like a ghost town mid-week, when I was there), but it’s well worth a 3-day weekend trip.