Trip Date 07/09/2018
Posted On 08/06/2018 17:29:07
Destinations | Oregon | Scenic Drives near Portland Oregon | Day Trip from Portland | Mount Hood National Forest | Hood River Valley
During our early July visit to Portland, we devoted a full day to a scenic drive that I had read about in our National Geographic book titled Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways: The 275 Best Drives in the U.S.. It was a great way for Scott and I, along with my Mom and Aunt Jan, to see some of the area's beautiful year round scenery.
If you are visiting Portland, Oregon and have access to a car, take a look at this article for the itinerary for an enjoyable day trip. While you can complete the drive with no stops in just under 5 hours, plan on devoting the better part of a day. With several stops, you'll have time to stretch your legs and truly take in the scenery, plus enjoy a picnic lunch if you so desire. Other than the cost of your transportation and lunch, you can avoid spending any additional money depending on which optional stops you choose.
The Mount Hood Scenic Byway route shown in the map below starts in Portland just east of the river and passes by all of the points of interest in this post.
Gateway to Mount Hood
Sandy, Oregon, known as the Gateway to Mount Hood, is named after the nearby Sandy River. Sandy is quite a cute city, so consider slowing down on your drive to take a quick look. You can't miss the the covered wagon restaurant and food truck trailer park as you drive along US-26. The next part of your drive will be noticeably uphill - after all, this drive is all about views of Mount Hood!
Wildwood Recreation SiteContinue east on US-26 until you reach Wildwood Recreation Site on your right. The $5.00 per vehicle entrance fee is waived for those with an America the Beautiful Annual Pass. As this was the first stop that we made on our drive, we limited the amount of time that we spent here to about 90 minutes - but, we could have easily enjoyed much more time exploring.
Wildwood Recreation Site is situated on 550 acres of land in a bend of the Salmon River. Of the selection of trails and paths allowing you to see the area, we chose the interpretive Cascade Streamwatch Trail, an accessible trail that was less than a mile long. (We had insisted that my 83 year old mother bring her mobility scooter along, and although she refused to ride it, the path was easily navigated on foot as well as on the scooter.)
After leaving the information kiosk, centrally located in the large parking area, our first stop along the trail was at the River Overlook. In addition to the river, we had an opportunity to see the Salmon River Bridge.
A short path off of the main trail took us toward Watershed Watch. The 3D model of the area helped to put our location into perspective once we figured out where we were and where we were headed.
We kept seeing directional signs to the Underwater View Chamber, so we didn't want to leave without seeing the fish from the viewing window below the water level of the stream.
With an assortment of wildlife, a variety of trails, a playground, family and large group picnic areas and even a ball field, this day-use area is a destination in itself.
Mount Hood National ForestA short two miles up the road, you'll pass the Zig Zag Ranger Station and accompanying Wy'East Rhododendron Gardens. Had we not spent so much time at our first stop, we might have taken a self-guided tour around the grounds.
Your drive now brings you into the Mount Hood National Forest visited by millions of people each year. With year round snow, Mt. Hood is popular with mountain climbers, as well as those enjoying a variety of other sports including water activities (boating, fishing, rafting and skiing), hiking, mountain biking and even horseback riding.
Mirror LakeWe made our next stop at a scenic overlook on the right side of the road about 8 miles from the ranger station. Although it was a brief stop, we enjoyed the view of Mount Hood peeking around the bend ahead.
We were intrigued by the description that we had read about the views from Mirror Lake. If you are a backcountry hiker, a reportedly popular one mile uphill hike on the Mirror Lake Trail leads you to the awesome views. With an increased level of difficulty, the trail continues for 2 more miles up to Tom Dick and Harry Ridge. (Trailhead parking is well marked on the shoulder of the road, with a narrow bridge leading to the trailhead.)
Timberline LodgeThe drive continues up through the town of Government Camp before reaching a turn-off for Timberline Lodge on the left.
Your 6 mile scenic drive will ascend up Mt. Hood past several small but pretty waterfalls on your left before reaching the 1930's era lodge and National Historic Landmark.
With year round skiing, we knew that the lodge was a popular tourist location, however had no idea how popular it was. Immediately upon reaching the chaotic parking area, we knew that it wasn't a good time to visit. If you have the time and don't mind a probable parking search, a visit to Timberline can provide unforgettable views from one of the hiking trails or even from riding a chairlift.
Hood River ValleyReturning to US-26, drive two more miles until you reach the intersection with Highway 35 where you will head north toward the town of Hood River. You'll soon notice that, instead of climbing, you are now descending toward the Hood River Valley. Through the large forest of trees, you'll continue to enjoy views of Mt. Hood, and will eventually be driving alongside the East Fork of the Hood River.
As you enter the valley, the large trees will be replaced with farms, orchards, vineyards and, depending on the time of day and year, maybe even some fruit stands manned by locals. You might be able to stock up on freshly grown apples, apricots, cherries, huckleberries, marionberries, nectarines, peaches or pears ... and sometimes even mushrooms!
Panorama Point ParkJust over 30 miles after beginning our descent from Timberline Lodge, we saw a sign for Toll Bridge Park. As it was almost 4:00 PM, we made a brief stop for a yummy picnic lunch orchestrated by Aunt Jan. With several picnic tables, restrooms, a small playground and a campground closed during our visit, we had the park almost all to ourselves.
About 15 minutes after packing up the car and heading off after our picnic, we came upon signs for Panorama Point. Based on the name alone, it was a not to be missed stop in my opinion. Although pretty short, the drive up to the small park at the top wound around and around and around some more. Once at the top, the panoramic views of the Hood River Valley were spectacular. (If you can wait for lunch, Panorama Point also had both restrooms and picnic tables along with better views to enjoy while filling your tummy.)
At this point, you have a choice of either returning back to Portland or extending your drive out to The Dalles and then back to Portland on the Washington state side of the Columbia River. As you'll see by reading on, we opted to extend our drive since we were nearing the end of our vacation. If you decide to return to Portland, rather than turning right when you reach IH-84, you'll turn left and will be driving on the Oregon side of the river back to your starting point.
Washington StateAt the intersection with IH-84, drive on the Oregon side of the Columbia River until you reach The Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail and also the eastern entrance to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Rather than retracing your steps along IH-84, cross over the Columbia River on US-197 into the state of Washington. Take in the scenery as you drive alongside the river on WA-14. Don't forget to look for activity in the river - depending on when you are taking your drive, you might have the opportunity to see people participating in a variety of water sports including wind and kite surfing.
Beacon Rock State ParkAfter passing the half way point between The Dalles and Portland, you'll come across Beacon Rock State Park. We realized that we should have gotten an earlier start to our day as we unfortunately didn't have the time to explore the state park. If you have time, Beacon Rock appears to have something for everyone. In addition to camping, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and rock climbing, you'll find views that will take your breath away. Entrance to the park requires a Discover Pass which can be purchased at an automated pay station in the park. Passes are available for either the day ($10.00) or for a full year ($30.00) and are good for all persons in your vehicle at a large number of recreational areas in Washington.
Tips for Enjoying the Mount Hood Scenic BywayHere's a few tips to help you prepare for your drive and hopefully make the most out of your day:
- Plan ahead. Read the information in this post, look at the pictures and take a look at some of the websites referenced above. Visit with those that you will be traveling with and agree on the top few stops that you want to include in your drive. If you plan to do any hiking, you'll need to budget your time as you will not be able to make it to all of the stops in one day.
- Prepare a lunch and pack some snacks and drinks. You'll find that several of the recommended stops along the route have picnic tables, and you'll be able to save some time (and money) if you avoid stopping at a restaurant for a meal.
- Mt. Hood has snow year round, so if you plan to spend any time on the trails or chairlift at Timberline Lodge, make sure that you bring a jacket.
- If you plan to do some hiking, be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
- If you have a valid annual Discover Pass and/or America the Beautiful Pass, make sure that you have them in the vehicle that you'll be using for your drive.
- Get an early start - as early as you can! We didn't start until late morning and definitely could have used many more hours to have time for some additional stops and maybe even some more hiking.
- Although it is unlikely that you will be able to fit this in on the day of your drive (unless you travel in the reverse direction), the tourist train operated by Mount Hood Railroad offers another option for seeing the Hood River Valley. Reservations can be made in advance for the journey that begins at 10:30 AM on select days of the year. A one hour stop in Parkdale gives you time to visit a museum or have a picnic lunch.
Historic Columbia River HighwayCheck out our post titled "All in a Days Drive on the Historic Columbia River Highway" for some more amazing scenery.
Scenic DrivesThinking back on previous scenic drives that you have enjoyed, where was the drive with the scenery that you remember as being the most beautiful, and what made it unforgettable?
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