It’s impossible to dread the hour-long journey between Portland to small-town Hood River, Ore. As the road gracefully follows the slight bends of the Columbia River Gorge, every sweeping curve offers stunning views of the famous Pacific Northwest canyon to the north, with groves of tall trees layering the south side of the highway. The verdant landscape remains in plain view along the entire commute, and the two-lane highway is speckled with worthy turn-off points to snap a panoramic photo along the way.
“Here you’ll discover a world of year-round outdoor recreation, dramatic vistas, historic landmarks, fantastic food, wine and beer—and best of all, warm, friendly people,” says Joanie Thompson, the marketing director at Breakaway Promotions, which hosts races in the region. “Our year-round running and recreational activities for the whole family and our fresh local culinary delights and award-winning wineries make it a popular destination for visitors from around the world.”
Veer off halfway through the drive to discover Multnomah Falls, one of the area’s notable landmarks and Oregon’s tallest waterfall. The roaring waters mark the start of the Mark O. Hatfield Trail, a perfect choice for a demanding run or hike of any distance. The entire trail goes for 60 miles and ends at Starvation Creek in Cascade Locks, with trail access at various points along the way.
Drop your bags at the Hood River Hotel for the weekend, and scurry a few blocks east toward the Old Columbia River Drive, following the climbing switchbacks until your quads have had nearly enough. Once the public road ends and the on-foot-only access begins, the lookout points between you and the end of your run seem to silent screaming legs.
Where To Run
Named after a former state senator, the Mark O. Hatfield Trail offers up to 60 miles of dirty bliss, totaling an elevation gain of 13,000 feet and exploring the Hatfield Wilderness away from civilization. The popular route has five total trailheads—perfect for mapping out a day hike. For the outdoor enthusiasts, five days is the recommended time between start and finish, with various camp locations sitting 4–7 miles from each other along the way. Located in Cascade Locks, less then 30 minutes from Hood River, the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead offers both a beginner and experienced option for runners. Both loops cover portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, one a demanding 10.4-mile trek and the other a 4.4-mile jaunt with much less elevation gain. If you’re dying for nature without the rugged trail, park at the top of Old Columbia River Drive in the lot and continue on foot past the gate on the Columbia River Highway State Trail, where the sounds are your footsteps and sights are towering maples changing with the seasons.
Where to Race
For those searching for the ultimate trail experience, run the Gorge Waterfall 50K or 100K (March 29 & 30; rainshadowrunning.com). The out-and-back course passes a ton of falls in the area, giving runners an opportunity to experience them twice during their journey. Starting and finishing on the Marina Green along the river, the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon (Oct. 25; columbiagorgemarathon.com) has proven to be one of the most scenic races in the country. With a date set right at the change of the seasons, the course is dotted with fallen maple leaves in every shade of fall. Runners climb for the first half of the 13.1-mile distance before heading back down and joining the full marathoners on the course. Plus the finish is stocked with a heated tent and full Mexican buffet for every person with a bib. The Bridge of the Gods Run (Aug. 16; bridgeofthegodsrun.com), offering a marathon, half and 10K, is another must-do to truly revel in the area’s beauty. All three distances cross over the race’s namesake bridge and run adjacent to the river—don’t forget to straddle the Oregon-Washington state line before you finish!
Where to Shop
Official partner of the Columbia River Gorge Marathon, Shortt Supply (116 Oak St.; shorttsupply.com) is a go-to stop for runners in downtown Hood River. The local vibes and small store size allow for a personal experience with employees, all of which are knowledgeable in shoes, gear and the neighboring trail system all along the gorge. Before you venture from the Portland Airport to the heart of the gorge, stop at the Portland Running Company (800 SE Grand Ave.; portlandrunningcompany.com)—but be prepared for a slight workout from the store’s on-site gait analysis. Bonus points: Bring an old pair of trainers so one of the employees can check out your wear patterns before sending you around the block a few times in a new pair!
Where To Eat
There’s no shortage of eateries and coffee stops in Hood River, most of which are within walking distance of each other. Stop in at River Daze Café (202 D Cascade Way) for local, organic eats made from scratch. The joint is praised for its delicious sandwiches, including the all-day breakfast options served up on a homemade English muffin. After fueling up, talk a short walk up Oak St. toward Dog River Coffee (411 Oak St.), the coffee provide at the Columbia Gorge Marathon. The espresso and coffee options deliver the appropriate amount of zing, and the secondhand furnishings take a chapter out of Portland’s eccentric feel, offering a fun atmosphere to rest the legs and catch up with your running buddies. For dinner, go for Italian at The Subterranean (113 3rd St.), a basement establishment offering up traditional pasta dishes and seafood. Snag a spot at the four-seat bar and make friends with the owner, who frequently greets the patrons as they arrive. If a greasy pie is more your palate, Andrew’s Pizza (109 Oak St.) across from the Hood River Hotel serves up the basic options, including a gluten-free crust option for a few extra bucks.
The region experiences rain or snow every winter, with December and January being the highest months for precipitation. Winter temps can dip below 30 degrees, and summers can climb into the high-80s in July and August. Pack a jacket and experience the changing colors and seasons in October, a popular time for the area to shed its last fall leaves and start calling for running gloves. Visit during the early summer months and try your hand at windsurfing in the Columbia River.
Hood River County is host to a thriving wine scene with more than 15 wineries offering tastings.
Travel Oregon named the Columbia River Gorge one of Oregon’s “seven wonders” due to its outstanding scenery.
Grab a ticket for one of Hood River’s Mount Hood Railroad excursions, including a murder mystery or Western robbery theme for riders!