The Green Zion
[Hood River, OR]
The Columbia River Gorge, which begins just a few miles east of Portland and stretches for nearly 70 miles along the shores of the Columbia River, is a dramatic landscape of mountains, cliffs and waterfalls created by massive ice age floods” – so read the first sentence of my Frommer’s guide to Oregon.
One can spend days hiking around the gorge, going up and down the numerous trails that connect the many waterfalls in this area. The undisputed king of those waterfalls is Multnomah. At 620 ft, this waterfall is the tallest in Oregon and the fourth tallest in the US. A bridge is suspended in-between the lower and upper portion of the fall, making this one of the most easily recognized landmarks of the gorge.
The bridge is fairly easy to reach and places you right before the upper portion of Multnomah, but we felt the urge to go another mile and go to the very top of the waterfall. Here is where our first reminder of Zion National Park popped up – a set of 11 steep switchbacks. Remember Walter’s Wiiggles, the set of 22 switchbacks at Angel’s Landing at Zion? We certainly did climbing up to Multnomah. It was as if we were visiting the lush, green cousin of Zion. Well, green with lots of fall colors around! We’d come to the right place to get our changing leaves fix!
The overlook at the end of the trail didn’t disappoint. The river feeding Multnomah looked small and unassuming, until we saw a the actual drop off at the top of the falls. Nothing like few hundred feet worth of a steep cliff to turn a mellow river into a harrowing mass of water that spews raindrops all around and continuously erodes the massive cliffs holding it up.
After a quick rest-stop for hot chocolate, we went half a mile down the road to Wahkeena Falls. This waterfall was not as tall but pretty spectacular. Again, there was a bridge that allowed you to marvel the waterfall from up close, and a trail lead to the very top of this (only 242-feet tall) waterfall, but we were satisfied getting to the bridge mid-way.
Next up, we backtracked West a little bit to pick the Mt Hood Scenic Byway, where more fall foliage awaited us. We went by Wildwood Recreational Area, which was, unfortunately, closed due to the government shutdown. We were a bit bummed out, as we wanted to check out the Streamwatch – an underwater river port that allows you to see life in the Salmon River from a unique angle. Bummer!
Our next detour was Trillium lake, named after the wildflower that is common in this area. The lake was gorgeous, and had it not been cloudy, we would have seen a reflection of Mt Hood in it. A return to this place on a day with better weather is definitely in the plan!
Our final stop was Panorama Point. This overlook just before you get back to the Columbia River offers one of the most startling views to be found along this drive. We couldn’t have timed our arrival any better, as the sun had just peeked out from underneath the clouds and was setting behind Mt Hood. The Columbia River was sprawling in front of us, and the volcanic peaks to the North were in the backdrop.
From there, it was a very short drive to the town of Hood River. The town of barely 7,000 people will be our home for the next 3 days. Our super charming B&B, the Villa Columbia Bead and Breakfast, turned out to be kept by a pair of elderly Yugoslavians, who made us feel right at home, We were just a few blocks up the street from this little town’s main drag where most restaurants were. For a city this small, the restaurant scene was pretty vibrant, and we had our pick at some very well rated establishments. We chose the closest one to our B&B, Brian’s Pourhouse, which was super busy. Hood River may be a small town but due to a steady stream of visitors who want to hike Mt Hood, windsurf in the river or take in the natural beauty of the gorge, it is not a backwoods-kind-of town.