Road trip: Pacific Northwest loop leads you to fabulous falls, amazing peaks

Mt. Hood and Balsam Root wildflowers blooming in spring at the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.
(David Gn Photography / Getty Images)
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The route: From Portland, Ore., drive east on Interstate 84, cross the Bridge of the Gods toll bridge to Washington 14 east to Bingen, Wash. Then head south over the Hood River Bridge (toll) and Oregon 35 through Hood River to Mt. Hood. To return to Portland, head west on U.S. 26 from Government Camp.

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Miles: About 170 miles round trip from Portland; add 45 miles for a side trip to the Dalles.

Best time: Summer and fall for prime weather and farm-fresh produce.

Why: The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a wonderland of hiking trails and incredible views. It contains a big chunk of the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway, which can by enjoyed by adventurers in search of world-class wind surfing on the Columbia, white-water rafting on the White Salmon River or snow skiing at Mt. Hood Meadows. Or you can take it slowly and enjoy Hood River County’s fresh fruit, craft beer, cider and spectacular views of Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Adams to the north.

Highlights: Multnomah Falls draws more than 2 million visitors annually for the views and hikes, so try to arrive before 11 a.m. to get parking. Spend a morning or afternoon on a white-water rafting trip, where near-nonstop rapids left us soaked and giggling. The city of Hood River is a magnet for an afternoon stroll through the vibrant downtown, with shops peddling books, outdoor gear, spirits, wine and art.

Memorable stay: The comfortable Best Western Plus Hood River Inn is perched on the Columbia River. Take in views from your balcony or from the on-site Riverside restaurant, where the breakfast (think a tostada with house-made chorizo and roasted poblano peppers) is exceptional.

Memorable meals: Craft breweries in Hood River are outstanding for food and drink, notably Ferment Brewing Co. for a warm hummus and flatbread platter and a complex, herbal Bière de Garde; pFriem Family Brewers for a kale salad, crispy Brussels sprouts and a smooth pilsner; and Double Mountain Brewery for a mushroom and mozzarella pizza, live music and a crisp Kölsch.

Tourist trap or treat: It requires a 25-minute drive east from Hood River to the Dalles, but the National Neon Sign Museum is well worth it. The streetscape upstairs left me feeling as though I had stumbled onto Main Street USA, circa 1950.


Plan to spend: This loop can easily be done in a day, but plan to spend the night to enjoy the outdoors and urban experience.