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Oregon’s Ultimate Scenic Adventure: The Mount Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop

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Embark on Oregon’s Ultimate Scenic Adventure, where majestic peaks, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and historic charm await. Discover the breathtaking beauty and rich history along the Mount Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop.

Embarking on a road trip around the Mount Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop is an adventure through some of the most magnificent and diverse landscapes in northern Oregon. This journey will take you through verdant forests, along rushing streams and waterfalls, past fertile farmlands, and into the dramatic gorge of the Columbia River.

The loop is an opportunity to explore the region’s rich natural and cultural history, with plenty of stops along the way to hike, dine, and immerse yourself in the local scenery. Here’s a detailed guide to the 17 must-see stops on this spectacular road trip.


Your journey begins in Sandy, a charming gateway town to Mount Hood. Sandy offers a welcoming introduction with its blend of small-town charm and outdoor adventure opportunities. Stroll through the town’s historic downtown area, where you can visit local shops like AntFarm Café and Bakery, known for its fresh, homemade pastries and hearty breakfasts.

The Sandy Historical Museum offers fascinating insights into the area’s pioneer past, showcasing artifacts and stories from the early settlers. For dining, the Rendezvous Grill provides a gourmet twist on local fare with dishes like pan-seared salmon and roasted beet salads, while Joe’s Donuts is a must-visit for a sweet treat, offering some of the best donuts in Oregon.

Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate Jonsrud Viewpoint, where you can enjoy sweeping views of the Sandy River Valley and Mount Hood, making it a perfect spot for photography and picnicking. Sandy also serves as a base for numerous outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, making it an ideal starting point for your road trip adventure.

Wildwood Recreation Area

A short drive from Sandy brings you to the Wildwood Recreation Area, a hidden gem nestled in the forest along the Salmon River. This area is perfect for nature enthusiasts, offering well-maintained trails that meander through lush woods and along crystal-clear streams.

The Cascade Streamwatch Trail is a highlight, featuring underwater viewing windows that allow you to observe fish in their natural habitat, such as salmon and trout, in their natural environment. The interpretive signs along the trail provide educational insights into the local ecosystem, making it an engaging experience for visitors of all ages. Picnic facilities are available, making it a great spot for a leisurely lunch surrounded by nature.

For a more immersive experience, try the Wetlands Trail, which includes boardwalks over marshy areas and offers excellent bird-watching opportunities, with species like herons, kingfishers, and various songbirds frequently spotted. The Wildwood Recreation Area is also a fantastic spot for fishing, with the Salmon River providing ample opportunities to catch native fish. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day out in nature or an educational adventure, Wildwood Recreation Area offers something for everyone.

Mount Hood National Forest

Continuing your journey, you’ll enter the expansive Mount Hood National Forest, a haven for outdoor activities, from hiking and camping to fishing and skiing. The forest’s diverse ecosystems range from dense coniferous forests to alpine meadows, offering a wide variety of landscapes to explore. Make sure to stop at the Zigzag Ranger Station to get maps and information on the best trails and scenic spots.

The Mirror Lake Trail is a must-do hike, offering a moderate 4.4-mile round trip with stunning views of Mount Hood reflected in the tranquil waters of Mirror Lake. This trail is particularly popular in the summer and fall when the wildflowers are in bloom, and the autumn colors are at their peak. For those looking to camp, the Trillium Lake Campground is a popular spot with picturesque views of Mount Hood, ample amenities, and opportunities for fishing, boating, and wildlife watching. In winter, the area transforms into a snowy wonderland perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The Timberline Trail, encircling Mount Hood, is another highlight for more experienced hikers, offering a challenging yet rewarding trek with breathtaking views and diverse terrains.

A peaceful scene with the Mount Hood reflected in Mirror Lake in Mount Hood National Forest.

Mount Hood National Forest is also home to numerous waterfalls, including the spectacular Ramona Falls, which can be reached via a scenic hike through lush forest and over rustic footbridges. Whether you’re seeking adventure or tranquility, Mount Hood National Forest provides an idyllic backdrop for your outdoor pursuits.

Laurel Hill

As you ascend towards Mount Hood, you’ll encounter Laurel Hill, a historic site that played a significant role in Oregon’s pioneer history. This steep and rugged hill was one of the most challenging parts of the Oregon Trail, where pioneers had to lower their wagons with ropes due to the steep grade.

Today, you can explore the Laurel Hill Chute, which features interpretive signs that provide fascinating insights into the hardships faced by early settlers. The site is a poignant reminder of the region’s storied past and offers a glimpse into the resilience and determination of the pioneers. The nearby Pioneer Woman’s Grave is another historical site worth visiting, commemorating the women who braved the arduous journey westward.

For a more immersive experience, take a short hike along the old Barlow Road, part of the original Oregon Trail, where you can imagine the sights and sounds of the pioneer era. The trail offers beautiful views of the surrounding forest and provides a sense of the rugged terrain that early settlers had to navigate. Laurel Hill is not only a significant historical landmark but also a picturesque spot for photography and reflection, making it a must-see stop on your road trip.

Timberline Lodge

A must-see stop on your road trip is the iconic Timberline Lodge, perched high on the slopes of Mount Hood. This National Historic Landmark is renowned for its stunning architecture and breathtaking views. Built in the 1930s as part of a Works Progress Administration project, the lodge is a testament to craftsmanship and artistry, featuring hand-carved woodwork, unique textiles, and massive stone fireplaces.

Inside, you can explore exhibits on the lodge’s history and the surrounding area, including displays on the construction of the lodge and the natural history of Mount Hood. The lodge offers several dining options, including the Cascade Dining Room, which serves gourmet meals made with locally sourced ingredients, and the Ram’s Head Bar for a more casual experience with panoramic mountain views. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a guided tour of the lodge to learn more about its history and architectural significance.

In winter, Timberline Lodge is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, offering some of the best slopes in Oregon. During the summer months, visitors can enjoy hiking and mountain biking on the numerous trails that start from the lodge, including the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes nearby. Whether you’re visiting for the history, the architecture, or the outdoor activities, Timberline Lodge is a highlight of the Mount Hood loop.

Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon.

Trillium Lake

Just a short drive from Timberline Lodge, Trillium Lake is a picturesque destination offering stunning views of Mount Hood reflected in its tranquil waters. This serene lake is a popular spot for photography, especially at sunrise and sunset when the colors of the sky create a perfect backdrop for the mountain. Trillium Lake is also a great place for a variety of outdoor activities.

The easy 2-mile loop trail around the lake is perfect for a leisurely hike or bike ride, providing beautiful views and access to several fishing spots. The lake is well-stocked with trout, making it a favorite among anglers.

Kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding are also popular activities here, with rental facilities available during the summer months. For those looking to relax, there are several picnic areas with tables and grills, making it an ideal spot for a family outing. In winter, the area around Trillium Lake transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

The nearby Trillium Lake Campground offers a scenic place to stay, with campsites nestled among the trees and close to the water. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Trillium Lake provides a stunning and tranquil setting to enjoy the beauty of Mount Hood.

Trillium Lake

Bennett Pass

Continuing your journey, Bennett Pass offers one of the most breathtaking panoramic views of Mount Hood and the surrounding Cascade Range. This high mountain pass is accessible via a scenic drive along the Bennett Pass Road, which is a gravel road suitable for most vehicles during the summer months. From the pass, several trails lead into the wilderness, offering opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the rugged terrain. One popular trail is the Bennett Pass Trail, which provides stunning views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and the surrounding valleys.

In the winter, Bennett Pass is a favorite destination for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, with miles of groomed trails to explore. The area is also known for its vibrant wildflower displays in the late spring and early summer, with colorful blooms carpeting the meadows. Whether you’re here for the views, the trails, or the solitude, Bennett Pass offers a quintessential Oregon wilderness experience.

Remember to bring your camera, as the panoramic vistas from Bennett Pass are some of the best in the region, providing perfect opportunities for landscape photography.

Panorama Point

Panorama Point, located near Hood River, offers one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the Columbia River Gorge. From this vantage point, you can see the sweeping landscape of the Hood River Valley, with its patchwork of orchards, vineyards, and fields, all set against the backdrop of Mount Hood. This scenic viewpoint is a perfect spot for a picnic, with several tables and benches where you can relax and take in the view.

The area is especially beautiful in the spring when the fruit trees are in bloom, and in the fall, when the foliage turns vibrant shades of red and gold. For a more immersive experience, consider taking a short hike on one of the nearby trails, such as the Oak Ridge Trail, which offers additional viewpoints and a chance to explore the local flora and fauna.

Hood River, just a short drive away, is a charming town known for its excellent wineries, breweries, and farm-to-table restaurants. Make sure to visit a local orchard or vineyard to taste some of the region’s renowned apples, pears, and wines. Panorama Point is a must-visit stop on your road trip, offering stunning views and a taste of the agricultural bounty of the Hood River Valley.

Hood River

Hood River is a vibrant town situated along the banks of the Columbia River, known for its outdoor recreation, local food scene, and picturesque scenery. The town is a hub for windsurfing and kiteboarding, thanks to the steady winds and strong currents of the Columbia River.

Hood River, Oregon, Columbia River Gorge

Visitors can watch the colorful sails dotting the river from the waterfront park, or rent equipment and take a lesson to try the sports themselves. The downtown area of Hood River is filled with boutique shops, art galleries, and an array of excellent restaurants and breweries. For a taste of the local flavors, visit Full Sail Brewing Company or Pfriem Family Brewers, both offering a range of craft beers brewed on-site. The

Hood River Fruit Loop is a popular attraction, a 35-mile scenic drive that takes you through the valley’s orchards, vineyards, and farms, with plenty of opportunities to sample fresh fruit, cider, and wine. Hiking enthusiasts will find a variety of trails in the area, including the Hood River Mountain Loop, which offers stunning views of the river and the surrounding mountains. For a unique experience, take a ride on the Mount Hood Railroad, which offers scenic excursions through the valley.

Blossoms in the farms on the Fruit Loop outside Hood River, Oregon with Mount Hood in the background

Hood River is also home to several annual events, including the Hood River Hops Fest and the Hood River Harvest Fest, celebrating the region’s agricultural heritage. With its blend of outdoor adventure, local culture, and scenic beauty, Hood River is a highlight of the Mount Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop.

The Dalles

The Dalles is a historic town located along the Columbia River, known for its rich history and vibrant cultural scene. As one of the oldest settlements in Oregon, The Dalles played a significant role in the early fur trade and the Oregon Trail. The Fort Dalles Museum, housed in the Surgeon’s Quarters of the old fort, offers fascinating exhibits on the area’s history, including artifacts from the Native American tribes who originally inhabited the region, pioneer-era artifacts, and early 20th-century items. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum is another must-visit, with interactive exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the Columbia River Gorge.

The Dalles is also known for its vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists. The downtown area features a variety of shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, including the beautifully restored Commodore Building. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Deschutes River State Recreation Area offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, and boating. The Dalles is also a gateway to the eastern end of the Historic Columbia River Highway, which offers some of the most scenic drives in the region. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or outdoor adventure, The Dalles has something to offer every traveler.

Historic Columbia River Highway

The Historic Columbia River Highway is a scenic byway that winds along the Columbia River, offering breathtaking views and access to some of the Gorge’s most famous landmarks. Built between 1913 and 1922, it was the first planned scenic roadway in the United States, designed to showcase the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. As you drive along this historic route, you’ll encounter numerous viewpoints, waterfalls, and hiking trails.

Panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge view from Cape Horn cliff-edge viewpoint.

For a longer hike, try the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, a paved trail that follows sections of the old highway, offering a peaceful and scenic route for walking, biking, and picnicking. The highway is not only a marvel of early 20th-century engineering but also a gateway to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. Take your time to explore the numerous pull-offs and trails, and enjoy the stunning scenery and rich history of this iconic roadway.

Cascade Locks

Cascade Locks is a small town nestled along the Columbia River, known for its stunning scenery, outdoor recreation, and historic sites. The town gets its name from the series of locks built to navigate the treacherous rapids of the Columbia River before the construction of the Bonneville Dam. Today, you can visit the Cascade Locks Marine Park, which features the historic locks and offers beautiful views of the river and the surrounding mountains.

The park is also home to the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, a replica paddlewheel boat that offers scenic cruises on the river, providing a unique perspective on the Gorge’s natural beauty and history. For hiking enthusiasts, the Pacific Crest Trail passes through Cascade Locks, offering numerous opportunities for day hikes or longer treks. The Bridge of the Gods, a steel truss cantilever bridge that spans the Columbia River, is another notable landmark, providing stunning views and connecting Oregon to Washington.

Cascade Locks is also home to several breweries and restaurants, including Thunder Island Brewing Company, where you can enjoy a craft beer with a view of the river. Whether you’re interested in history, outdoor adventure, or simply relaxing by the water, Cascade Locks is a charming and picturesque stop on your road trip.

Sunrise Fishermen at Cascade Locks, Oregon.

Bonneville Dam

Bonneville Dam, one of the most significant engineering feats in the Columbia River Gorge, is a must-see stop on your road trip. Completed in 1938, the dam spans the Columbia River and plays a crucial role in hydroelectric power generation, flood control, and navigation. Visitors can explore the Bonneville Lock and Dam Visitor Center, which offers educational exhibits on the dam’s construction, operation, and its impact on the region.

One of the highlights is the fish ladder, designed to help salmon and other migratory fish navigate past the dam. The viewing windows inside the visitor center allow you to watch these incredible fish as they make their journey upstream. The dam’s grounds also feature beautiful gardens and picnic areas, perfect for a leisurely afternoon. For a more in-depth experience, take a guided tour to learn about the history and engineering of the dam, as well as its role in the region’s ecology and economy.

The nearby Bonneville Fish Hatchery is another interesting site, where you can see sturgeon, trout, and other fish species up close, and learn about the efforts to preserve and enhance fish populations in the Columbia River. Bonneville Dam offers a unique blend of natural beauty, engineering marvel, and educational opportunities, making it a fascinating stop on your journey through the Columbia River Gorge.

Ainsworth State Park

Ainsworth State Park, located along the Historic Columbia River Highway, is a perfect spot for camping, hiking, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Gorge. The park features a well-maintained campground with both tent and RV sites, making it an ideal base for exploring the surrounding area. The park’s proximity to several stunning waterfalls, including Horsetail Falls and Multnomah Falls, makes it a convenient starting point for hiking adventures.

The Horsetail Falls Trail offers a moderate hike that takes you past the beautiful 176-foot Horsetail Falls and continues to Ponytail Falls, where you can walk behind the cascading water. For a more challenging hike, the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop provides breathtaking views of multiple waterfalls and the lush forest. Ainsworth State Park is also a great spot for picnicking, with several tables and grills available in scenic locations.

The park’s quiet and serene environment makes it a perfect place to relax and reconnect with nature. Birdwatchers will appreciate the diverse bird species that inhabit the area, including eagles, owls, and various songbirds. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful retreat or an adventure-filled day, Ainsworth State Park offers a wonderful blend of natural beauty and outdoor activities.

Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Oneonta Gorge

Oneonta Gorge is one of the most unique and beautiful spots in the Columbia River Gorge, known for its narrow, moss-covered canyon and stunning waterfall. To reach the gorge, you’ll need to hike the Oneonta Gorge Trail, which requires wading through the creek and scrambling over logs and rocks. This short but adventurous hike leads to Lower Oneonta Falls, a picturesque waterfall nestled within the lush, green canyon walls.

The gorge is a popular spot for photographers and nature lovers, offering a serene and otherworldly landscape. Be prepared to get wet, as the water can be thigh-deep in some areas, especially during the spring and early summer. The hike can be challenging, but the reward is a secluded waterfall surrounded by towering cliffs and vibrant vegetation.

The area around Oneonta Gorge also offers other hiking opportunities, including the trail to Triple Falls, which provides stunning views of three parallel waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Oneonta Gorge is a must-visit for those seeking a bit of adventure and a chance to experience the raw beauty of the Columbia River Gorge up close.

Oneonta Gorge in Oregon.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is the crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge, attracting millions of visitors each year with its breathtaking beauty. At 620 feet, it is the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the most iconic landmarks in the Pacific Northwest. The falls are easily accessible from the Historic Columbia River Highway, with a large parking area and visitor center offering information and amenities.

From the base of the falls, you can take a short, paved trail to Benson Bridge, which spans the falls and provides a spectacular view of the cascading water. For a more challenging hike, continue to the top of the falls on the Multnomah Falls Trail, which offers stunning views of the Gorge and the surrounding forest. The trail to the top is about 2.4 miles round trip and includes several switchbacks, making it a moderate hike suitable for most visitors. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a viewpoint overlooking the Columbia River and the lush, green landscape below.

Multnomah Falls is also home to the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, where you can enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee while taking in the view. The lodge features a restaurant, gift shop, and interpretive center, providing a perfect spot to relax and learn more about the area. Whether you’re admiring the falls from the base or hiking to the top, Multnomah Falls is a must-see stop on your road trip.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon.

Crown Point State Park

Crown Point State Park, home to the historic Vista House, offers one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the Columbia River Gorge. Perched on a basalt promontory 733 feet above the river, the Vista House provides panoramic views of the Gorge, with the river winding through the lush landscape below. The Vista House, built in 1918 as a rest stop for travelers on the Historic Columbia River Highway, is an architectural gem with its elegant design and stunning location. Inside, you’ll find exhibits on the history and geology of the Gorge, as well as a gift shop and observation deck.

The views from the Vista House are particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset when the light casts a golden glow over the landscape. Crown Point is also a popular spot for photographers, offering dramatic vistas and excellent opportunities for capturing the natural beauty of the Gorge.

The area around Crown Point features several hiking trails, including the Columbia River Highway State Trail, which provides access to other scenic viewpoints and waterfalls. Whether you’re stopping for a quick photo or spending time exploring the trails, Crown Point State Park offers a perfect end to your journey through the Columbia River Gorge.

Vista House at the Columbia River Gorge.


The Mount Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop road trip is a journey through some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes that northern Oregon has to offer. From the charming town of Sandy, through the lush forests and scenic viewpoints of the Mount Hood National Forest, to the historic and cultural treasures of Hood River and The Dalles, each stop on this loop offers its own unique experiences and breathtaking sights.

As you wind your way along the Historic Columbia River Highway, marvel at the engineering feats of the early 20th century and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region’s many waterfalls, including the iconic Multnomah Falls. Take the time to explore the serene trails and tranquil waters of Trillium Lake, or the adventurous pathways of Oneonta Gorge, where nature’s raw beauty is on full display.

This journey is not just about the destinations, but also the rich history and vibrant communities you will encounter along the way. From the pioneering spirit commemorated at Laurel Hill to the architectural splendor of Timberline Lodge and Vista House, the road trip is a living museum of Oregon’s past and present.

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking for your next hiking adventure, a history buff eager to delve into the region’s pioneer heritage, or simply someone looking to enjoy some of the most stunning scenery in the Pacific Northwest, the Mount Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop has something for everyone.

Take your time, savor the local flavors, and immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of this incredible region. This road trip is more than just a drive; it’s an experience that will leave you with memories of majestic landscapes, vibrant communities, and the timeless allure of Oregon’s natural wonders. Safe travels and happy exploring!

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