Winter in the Pacific Northwest is a misty, verdant affair. As moss proliferates, river levels rise, and Mount Hood revels in fresh dustings, the Columbia River Gorge reclaims the mysticism that dissipates in the scorching late summer.
If you’re dead set on soaking up sunshine during a long weekend getaway, Hood River in the wintertime is not your best bet (though you’ll catch more rays in the gorge than you typically will in Portland). But with a durable rain jacket, waterproof boots, and an adventurous spirit, the hills, the rivers, the slopes, and the vibrant small town can become an incredible playground.
Situated at the helm of the Columbia River Gorge Natural Scenic Area, Hood River is choice for adventurers of all sorts: wine tasters, hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, kayakers—you name it, and this area serves up world-class opportunities for most types of recreation. This itinerary assumes that the reader is interested in a bit of everything. From waterfall peeping to cross-country skiing; from hiking to kayaking, a mere three days is enough to take in the best of Hood River.
One thing that visitors may not be well aware of is that it’s just as easy (and oftentimes cozier and quieter) to dig up a vacation rental in Bingen or White Salmon, Washington. At its furthest point, it’s still a mere 10-minute drive to the heart of downtown. And these relatively unknown communities offer a charm all their own.
Finally, it’s important to note when planning a trip to Hood River that many of the gorge’s most beloved trails have been closed indefinitely due to unstable conditions caused by the Eagle Creek and the Indian Creek fires that ravaged the area in late summer 2017. Be cautious and respectful of all closures.
Catherine Creek Hiking Trail | 2.90 miles round trip, 600-foot elevation gain |
Travel mere miles to the east of Hood River and the difference in climate is downright stark. The green hues and lush foliage give way to arid plains and craggy basalt outcroppings to create a landscape that’s incredible in its own way. Here, chances for sun and clear skies are much higher, and, if you catch it on a clear day, Mount Hood’s silhouette rises majestically in the distance. Be sure to bring boots with excellent ankle support—the trail is quite uneven.
Horsethief Butte | 1 mile round trip, 120-foot elevation gain|
About 15 miles further east is the stunning cathedral-like Horsethief Butte, replete with Native American petroglyphs and stunning views of the Columbia River. From the top of the short hike, the 180-degree views are simply staggering. Plus, if you like to boulder, toss your pad and climbing shoes in your car—Horsethief is one of the locals’ favorite places to get a few burns in.
On your way back to Hood River for the evening, swing by one of the lovely wineries in Lyle, Washington, like COR. The views are amazing, just like the wine!
Teacup Lake Sno-Park | 5-mile loop, 300-foot elevation gain |
One of the delights of exploring Hood River and the surrounding hills in the wintertime is that one day you can be hiking around the high-deserted hills to the northeast, and the next you can find yourself in a winter wonderland of soft snow. One of the best places to experience this is at Teacup Lake Sno-Park. It’s quite close to Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort’s northernmost parking lot, and is a top-quality cross-country ski area. Day gear rentals in town are quite cheap if you don’t own skis yourself. And if you are looking for less traffic and an ungroomed ski, the trails at Pocket Creek are just a short ski or drive away.
Tamanawas Falls | 3.8 miles round trip, 500-foot elevation gain |
On your way back to your home base, stopping to get a peek at the gorge’s world-class waterfall scene is a must. The trailhead for this one is right off Highway 35, and it’s nearly impossible to miss (there will undoubtedly be a number of other people with the same idea as you). If there’s snow about, it’s highly advised to bring snowshoes along. Though the trail is quite well traveled and relatively short, icy conditions can exist. Revel in the crystalline cascade at the terminus of this quick out-and-back hike.
On your way back, take a quick detour to the small town of Parkdale to patronize Solera Brewing Co. If the sky is clear, most locals will contest that there exists no better view of the northern aspect of Mount Hood than the one from their back porch. Plus, their beer is downright delicious.
Wind Mountain | 2.5 miles round trip, 1,600-foot elevation gain |
After two days of making serious tracks, top off a full weekend with a quick jaunt up the short-and-steep Wind Mountain. If you’re headed back west after your weekend trip, enjoy a leisurely morning meandering around town and hit Wind Mountain on your way back to the city. It’s about 20 minutes west of White Salmon on Highway 14, and the summit of this satisfying hike serves up stunning views of the Columbia River. Plus, you’ll have a privileged view of the Eagle Creek and Indian Creek fires.