Columbia River Gorge Part I -> Wildflowers, Lost Lakes & Fruity Loops
Where to begin, where to begin. I have to admit the Gorge has me rather stumped. From what I’d heard about the place I figured I would like it before we came, but I just didn’t imagine I would like it this much. Where can you wallow in wildflowers, bike along a cliff, see mind-blowing panoramas, go wine-tasting, reflect on a snow-capped mountain, windsurf and drink a head-sized margarita in one place? I mean it’s almost too much! Ontop of everything we’ve had 5 days of forecasted solid rain which have turned into slight morning drizzles followed by stunning afternoons of full sunshine. This has driven us like mad chickens out of the RV early each day “to beat the rain” only to result in relaxing days of outdoor gorgeousness. Really now! How is one expected to survive such trying circumstances?
So yeah, I am speechless….well almost….
I’m going to start with a mini-primer on the Columbia River Gorge so you can get your bearings. The Gorge is basically a large canyon, up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) deep in spots that meanders along the banks of the Columbia River that separates Oregon from Washington. The western portion is protected as a National Scenic Area, starting around the confluence of the Deschutes River and ending in Portland, and it packs in a plethora of varying scenery from vast, flat desert-like landscape in the very east (around mile-marker 140) to rolling green hills in the middle (around mile-marker 75) ending in heavily forested cliffs just before the big city. All this wrapped in the pretty little package of the Columbia River with the white glory of Mt. St.Helens & Mt. Adams in the north and Mt. Hood in the south. Got it?
For our visit we decided to plonk ourselves in the middle of the Gorge at mile-marker 73, just east of the very cool city of Hood River (simply awesome little spot). As well as scoring a superb waterfront RV site, we’ve been in the purrrfect spot to pack in the sightseeing, and so we have….well, “to beat the rain” of course. It’s going to take a couple of blog posts to cover it all, but I’ll start you with just a taste:
1/ Wildflowers Galore
This time of the year the hills east of Hood River are simply bursting with wildflowers, and if you’re into this kind of scenery (who isn’t?) you can explore several popular and some not-so-popular trails that will highlight the best of the best. On OR side the area around McCall point is a rather famous spot, but not dog friendly (pooh!), while on WA side there’s Dog Mountain which is hard-core & utterly gorgeous, but very popular. We decided to go completely off-the-beaten-path and hike an obscure trail in the Memaloose Hills*. A bit of bushwhacking required, but almost guaranteed to be perfectly alone even on the week-end…perfect! We strolled an awesome 3-mile loop simply bursting with color with nothing but the tweeting of birds to keep us company. No matter what you choose if you happen to be in the area this time of year, don’t miss the show!
*To get to Memaloose Hills take exit 69 on I-84 to Mosier. Go through town and drive 3 miles to the signed “Memaloose Overlook” parking area. You’ll see an unmarked trail going into the wildflowers opposite the overlook. FREE! Explore and enjoy!
2/ Mt.Hood & Lost Lake
The area south of Hood River is dominated by the imposing and gorgeous Mt.Hood (well, whenever you can see it anyway). From exit 64 you can take Hwy 35 south to Hwy 26 in a huge 105-mile loop back to Portland as part of the Mt.Hood Scenic Byway. It’s reputed to be an ultra-cool drive but, being us, we were looking for something more remote.
That’s when I noticed a spot called Lost Lake on the map….perfect! We tested the weather with our thumbs (yes, rain expected), loaded up doggie and made the 40-minute twisty, turny drive to the lake.
WOW! We were greeted by a mirror of reflections. A perfectly flat, perfectly gorgeous deep blue framed by a clear-sky image of blazing white Mt.Hood. The easy 3-mile stroll around the lake mixed deep forest with babbling brooks and spots for Polly to swim in the water. Oh, and no-one was there. Probably the rain, you know…
*To get to Lost Lake take exit 64 at Hood River and make your way to Dee Hwy (231). Drive south until you hit Lost Lake Road, then follow the signs to the lake. $7 day-use fee.
3/ Fruit Loop & Margaritas
As part of our trip to Mt.Hood we drove a good portion of the Fruit Loop. This awesome 35-mile drive takes you past 30 local fruit and wine stops. Yes, believe it or not the area around Hood River is a huge wine & fruit-growing region and if you’re in the area you just can’t miss this! Many of the orchards have U-pick during season too. We’re about 2 weeks early for the stalls, plus most of the stops don’t allow dogs (a select few such as Mt View Orchards and Wy’East do) but we enjoyed the view of brilliant orchards and snagged a stop at Hood River Taqueria on the way. It’s a pooch-friendly Mexican restaurant with large outdoor patio seating that serves ultra-fresh fare and head-sized fruity margaritas. I say that counts as a fruity stop, right?
*To get to the Fruit Loop take exit 64 at Hood River and follow the Fruit Loop Map
(you can download it or pick up a copy at the Hood River Visitor
That’s about all I can handle in one post so you’re just gonna have to wait in tense anticipation for the next installment. In the meantime we’ll be lounging in our waterfront spot, doing a few more hikes and maybe even hitting some Hood River hangouts.
Unless we get rained-out, of course 🙂