Jun 10, 2024

Slow down and discover what there is to do and see on the road to Mt. Hood


Mt. Hood as seen from the Draper Girls farm in Parkdale, Oregon

Bike high above the Columbia River through tunnels blasted through basalt by road builders in the 1920s.

Sip cider made from locally-grown apples and pears while salsa dancing on outdoor patio.

Spend the night in a doll-sized tiny house in the woods, followed by sushi and saki in a vintage school bus.

Seattleites traveling to Mt. Hood - Oregon's tallest mountain and a year-round outdoors destination - might be tempted to make a beeline to the ski areas, hiking trails and iconic 85-year-old Timberline Lodge. The drive, after all, takes a minimum of 3.5 hours, and that's if you take the shortest route directly through Portland. 

With some extra time to spare, my husband and I decided on a slower pace for our first post-Pandemic trip south. By bookending our trip with stops between Hood River on one end and the small-town villages of Welches and Sandy on the other, the journey to and from the snow-covered mountain became part of the adventure. 

Views from Mosier biking/hiking trail above the Columbia River

Heading south on Interstate 5 towards Portland, we  first detoured east for a bike ride above the Columbia River near the town of Mosier, then used the car to explore orchards, cideries and farm stands in the lush fruit-growing area in the Hood River Valley.

From there, it was a 40-mile drive to Timberline Lodge, a destination worth several days, but also easily enjoyed in just a couple of hours. Snow fell as we warmed up with bowls of roasted cauliflower soup before heading down along Highway 26, a byway that for decades has connected travelers to campgrounds, roadhouses and old-school resorts.

Here were a few of our favorite stops.

The Mosier Twin Tunnels 

Hikers catch the view from a window inside one of the Mosier twin tunnels

Walk or bike through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, built for the original Columbia River Highway (replaced by I-84), now part of a car-free section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.

The views of the Columbia are spectacular along a wide, paved trail which runs 4.5 miles between the towns of Mosier and Hood River. Give yourself plenty of time. Although short in distance, elevation gains and high winds make it a longer ride than expected.

Builders dynamited through solid basalt to create the tunnels when this section of the Columbia River Highway was built in 1921. With the completion of the new highway in 1954, the tunnels became obsolete, and were filled with rock rubble. They were reopened in 2000 with help from local benefactors who wanted to ensure the highway would remain car free.  

Start your hike or ride at the Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead, and finish with a stop at Randonnee CQ Coffee https://www.mainstreetmosier.com/randonnee  CQ in Mosier, or a tasting at several wineries nearby.

Cider stops

Since a change in the state law in 2017, small orchards have been allowed to operate tasting rooms with alcoholic ciders made from fermented apples, pears and other fruit.

In summer, drive the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive through Hood River Valley farmlands, wineries, you-pick orchards, cideries  and lavender farms.

Salsa dancing at Cider Crush Cafe

Off-season, the family-run Cider Crush Cafe  is a one-stop venue for sampling a variety of locally-produced European-style alcoholic ciders.

Choose from 17 ciders on tap while dining on flatbread pizzas, chili and cornbread in an outdoor cider garden. My favorites were the Nellie 2022, made with winter Nellis pears from Hood River, and the Kingston Black made with local British cider apples. 

A local salsa dancing club offers free lessons at 6:30 p.m. with open dancing at 7 p.m.

Heading away from town to Mt. Hood along Highway 35, the Draper Girls Country Farm  is a must-stop for canned cherries, peaches, jams and ciders, all produced on the farm Theresa Draper inherited from her parents, and now runs with her partner and three daughters.

Theresa Draper

Country music welcomes visitors into an old-time general store leading to a flower garden and goat pasture with a view of Mount Hood from the patio.

"Why let anyone walk out the door without buying anything," was Draper's thinking when her daughters encouraged her to start selling hard ciders a few years ago from her farm-grown fruit.

Flavors include quince, made their own quince, and cherry pie, made with seven varieties of cherries.

Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

With summer rates ranging from $255 to $455 per night, the Timberline Lodge isn't in everyone's budget. Fourteen miles east along Highway 26 in the town of Welches is Mt. Hood Village, an eclectic collection of forested cabins, cottages, yurts, and for anyone who wants to try out what downsizing might feel like, tiny homes.

Glamping under cover at Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

Built by a company called Tumbleweed, the miniature houses, all on wheels and with names such as Zoe, Scarlet and Lincoln, surround a well-kept courtyard with chairs and a fire fit. 

Small enough to fit in a driveway, the colorfully-painted houses  range in size from 175 to 260 square feet. All come fully furnished and have a full bath, kitchen, heat and AC. Rates start at $139 per night. With sleeping space in a loft, the largest can accommodate up to five. 

Koya Kitchen

Red paper lanterns and strings of colored lights flashing from the highway draw curious travelers to the Koya Kitchen, an Asian-inspired restaurant, saki bar and gift shop.

Koya Kitchen's outdoor living room 

Describing herself as a "white lady making Asian food," owner Jolynne Milone lived in Japan and India before remodeling a "haunted shed" into a restaurant, taking inspiration from historic log-cabin roadhouses that offered travelers with food, music and fun.

Koya means shanty or shack in Japanese, a place to rest and relax. 

"Seven years ago, I didn't think the mountain was ready for sushi, but it became my No. 1 seller," she says.

Milone and her staff prepare the sushi, poke bowls and Indian curries in a food truck out back, Customers eat inside the cabin under a ceiling filled with hanging plants; outside in outdoor living room decorated with heaters and curtains; or inside a vintage church bus with a psychedelic ceiling.

School bus dining

"It rolled it up, and I said myself, 'is anyone gong to want to sit in a bus? Turns out they do, especially kids who like to open and close the door.' "

Splurge option

If you're up for a splurge on the way to or from Mount Hood, consider an overnight stay at Sakura Ridge Farm & Lodge in Hood River.

Reminiscent of an Italian agriturismo - a farm that also provides accommodations to visitors - the five-room inn provides a luxury stay on a 22-acre working farm, surrounded by 4,000 pear and apple trees, gardens and berry patches. Sheep roam the hillsides, and resident chickens lay fresh eggs.

Log-cabin style balconies overlook Mount Hood

Operated for years as a modest log cabin-style B&B, the property took on new life when the owners of Vashon Island-based Nashi Orchards began looking for property in Oregon to expand their apple and perry (pear) cider business.

In 2005, Jim Gerlach and Cheryl Lubbert bought a home on the island designed in the tradition of a 17th century Japanese country estate. It happened to come with a declining 300-tree Asian pear orchard. Neither had an agricultural background, but they set about renovating the orchards. Jim started fermenting the fruit. People loved his Asian perry, and Nashi Orchards was born.  

This time around, while looking for property in Oregon, they acquired an orchard that just happened to come with a lodge. 

Carrying out their love for Japanese design, they embarked on renovations, incorporating stone soaking tubs, fire places, cork floors, private balconies and long log-style porches with views of Mount Hood.

Breakfast is served

A private chef takes orders in advance from guests to produce breakfast from organic ingredients grown or raised on the farm or from a local co-op. Appearing on the dining table might be buttermilk biscuits with homemade blackberry jam, chia seed pudding or Persian-inspired herbed frittatas.

Biscuits and homemade jam

Overnight guests can arrange for private dinners at $150 per person. The inn is open April through October. Rates range from $425 to $650 per night. 

If you go:

Tourism information at Travel Oregon 

Click here for Old Columbia River Highway State Trail info.There are parking lots and pay stations at both ends of the Mosier Twin Tunnels trail.

Click here for maps and listings for the 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop scenic drive. 

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