Day trip from Portland
Bridge to the Gods, Hood River, Falls and Pizza
Portland is a great destination with wonderful sites in and around the city, from the OMSI to the waterfront with the world-famous Rose Festival. You can ride the Aireal Tram (gondola) that lifts you up and over the freeway to take in the famous “City of Roses,” and when hungry, eat at one of my favorites, Papa Hayden’s in the famous Pearl district. If you are just driving through and unable to do any of the above, you must take the exit, find parking and eat. It’s that good—well, actually the cakes and desserts are that good. They made the wedding cake for two one sister, whereas Jerry Franks’s in Salem, an hour south, made the cakes for the other.
Left: the aireal tram (but wasn’t going the day we were in town) and right: view of Portland heading out I-84 east
Hopefully, your trip includes getting out East, because visitors should set aside one really long day to head east out on I-84 for a day. The experience is like a veritable laundry list of sites and destinations you won’t forget. Bring your hiking shoes, camera and a rain jacket, because you are never going to know what you will experience on this journey. And if you simply can’t spare a full day, you can cram a few things in four or five yours.
The simple map of the bike trails. A more detailed link below
Getting out of the city
The Columbia Gorge is famous for it’s wind, drawing crazy sailboarding-windsurfers from around the world. Watching the surfers speed along the whitecaps, with sails or parachutes was so romantic I tucked it away for a book, (a three-book series actually). Turns out, Danielle Grant, the American recruited to Zurich to trade keeps up her windsurfing on Lake Zurich, which helped me continue my mental and visual love affair with the sport.
The wind starts about 45 minutes outside the city, as soon as the Columbia River comes in to view. Prior to that time, however, are some majorly cool sites that Oregonians take for granted. Well, this one took them for granted, because we never stopped until I left for college.
Sitting on a majestic bluff that appears to have shot straight up from a volcanic event is an observatory. It’s perched on concrete, on rock, overlooking the Gorge. It’s rather famous, and is called the “crowning glory” of the Columbia River. Hikers, water-sport lovers might disagree, but your inner Einstein will be in vigorous agreement. The hours are 9-6 pm daily, but sometimes it closes depending on extreme weather. Bring your camera and a windbreaker—well, you need that regardless.
Left: clip from the website from the top, Right: my snap from the turn-off from the bottom of the road
The Falls is a primary tourist destination, but I’m really sorry to say this: it’s pretty darn mundane compared to the so many falls that exist in Switzerland, Austria, Germany….the list goes on. I mean, nothing compares to water gushing from the Alps. Yet, the hike is beautiful, and for Oregon, the Northwest and yes, for much of the United States, Multnomah Falls is something to see. So if you are a European who has really seen some majestic falls, you take go back home and say “yeah, I saw these falls that are super cool to Americans but we have it better.”
That said—and here is the fun part—what very few, if any, falls in Europe (that we have visited) have is a lodge and the surrounding tourist areas. No such things as a “Gorge” exists in Europe, next to the Falls, next to Vista Point, sandwiched in between quaint, hillside towns such as Hood River. All of these attractions are literally within a 90 minutes (or less) on the major I-84 freeway. And that, my friends, is something you just can’t get anywhere else.
Several historic, amazing hotels are nearby, including the well-known Columbia Gorge Hotel which is very reminiscent of the old-school Beverly Hills Hotel in terms of 40’s glamour and style (at least the front). It sits right at river’s edge amidst lush, old growth trees. It’s a perfect site for a destination wedding, actually, especially if the couple are lovers of the outdoors. Skamania Lodge is another hotel with quite a reputation. It’s a different vibe, with a golf course, wellness and fitness center (as opposed to the “spa” of the Columbia) and has a full-fledged convention center etc. Yet some visitors want the higher-up view (it’s insane, check out the website photo gallery).
To backtrack a bit on the hotel aspect of Portland, if it were me traveling to the city (and because I lived in Portland for six years, I feel well qualified to say this), I’d go for the Heathman Hotel downtown (place of a sister’s wedding reception) because my mom believes that the Heathman has better food and cakes that Papa Hayden’s, which I’m happy to argue about. The Heathman is in a trendy part of downtown but it’s another old-school establishment with high, vaulted ceilings in the lobby and dining room, old and new meeting in a lovely, historical space. My personal fav.
Now back to the Gorge. If neither of those hotels are in your budget, you definitely need to stay at the Best Western Plus hotel in Hood River, or nearer the Cascade Locks location. Both hotels are right on an inlet of the river, perfect views, and all the amenities a visitor needs, price+convience = you have more money to do and see everything on your list!
If you recall the devastating fires from the summer of 2018, this area was partially blackened. Thanks to the amazing resilience and rains it’s only half spooky. In the upper shelves of the mountains, the trees resemble black skeletons.
Normally, when one hears the words Locks it refers to a series of connected waterways, to be rather simplistic. This is somewhat different. It’s two miles of water create by a massive, ancient landslide. For history buffs, the Cascade Locks had the first steamboat west of the Mississippi in 1862, which is on display at the historical museum. After numerous boats fell apart after hitting the rapids, the US government started the initiative to create the Locks, and this work began in 1880. For nearly 50 years, the river was used to transport goods up and down the river, but after the Bonneville Dam was erected, the area gradually transitioned from a commerce-led township to tourist destination.
If you’re not into the history, then you are likely being compelled to come here because of the fabulous bike trails, and the “Bridge to the Gods.” Yes, that’s the name. It’s as beautiful from the freeway as it is to ride across from Oregon to the Washington side and back again.
Looking from the Oregon side to Washington, where the land is flat, encouraging the industrial activity to occur on the north side of the Columbia River
First up, I want to say we visited this last weekend (June 1, 2019). It was sunny, it was busy, and the signs in both directions of I-84 said the Parking Lots Full and Closed. Huh. Never seen that before. We ignored it of course, because the Dept of Transportation (DOT) hadn’t put up a physical barrier to the entrance, so we drove right on through. Sure enough, people left, we took a spot and walla! That said, it was about 10 am and already crammed, so if you are going on a weekend, go early or late, because the mid-day is pretty gnarly. (yes, that’s a technical term used by us authors).
Lots of fog in the early morning
As you’ve likely read on numerous sites, the walk is easy, the view great, so what’s not to like?
Hood River, the town
Over the last twenty-years, this town has been like the Phoenix rising. It went from downtrodden ashes of a former timber town to a trendy destination which reminds me of a tiny Telluride. E.g. it has the bike shop on mainstreet with $5,000 starter models, next to a stationary store, meat market, hardware then pizza joint.
Nearly every street in Hood River has a view to the Columbia
If you look past the bikes, the rest of the prices for everything is Oregon-style. No sales tax and reasonable. The public library and park are also on main, and you’ll get a nice workout starting at one end, going up the hill, turning around at the library then going back down. As you walk down, turn to your left for the views of the Columbia River, and take pics of the homes, which are totally 1920’s-30’s turn lovingly kept up by homeowners. Of all the places to eat, we chose Pietro’s Pizza. You have to understand I grew up with Pietro’s thin crust, which hasn’t changed in 40 years. Hallelujah. It’s on the main street from the high way exit, at the basement of a brewery.
Main street (original clocks and modern condo’s adjacent to a brewery; attributes that make up the trendy town of Hood River
When you cross back over the freeway, it leads to the marina, beach area (it’s actually rock, but that’s what the hardy Hood River residents call beach) and the inlet where the crewing teams row. If you are worried about cold/heat with the crazy winds, the gusts were ferocious, but we were still hot. As one local told us over pizza, “If we didn’t have the breeze it would be unbearable.” We agreed.
The inlet just off the freeway, next to the Hood River Best Western Plus, marina and beach
Not real enticing as far as names go, but the scenery is glorious. It comprises almost 150 acres and receives only 200,000 visitors a year, mostly in the summer and fall months.
Hiking the trails is the main reason to come to Starvation Creek, because it connects major trails. You can use the day park pass and connect to the Mt. Defiance trail ridge. Going east, you connect the Columbia River Highway State treail, then Viento State Park. This the map for bicycle and hiking for easy reference. I snipped the top-view visual for the map, but the extended map is very intricate so make sure to check that out.
As a side note, many executives come over to the States for summer projects, yet the kids are miserable because they aren’t in school and it can be hard making friends when families take vacation. One activity is the OMSI camps and classes.