Oregon’s Mount Hood Scenic Loop is one of the most beautiful byways in the Pacific Northwest. This classic, meandering drive offers a little bite of everything Pacific Northwest-ish:
- Skyscraping evergreens.
- Lush green forests.
- Pristine mountain lakes.
- Funky lava formations.
- Beaucoup camping, hiking, fishing, birding, and picnicking opportunities.
- Eye-popping views of Mounts Hood and Adams.
- Rushing rivers skipping over moss-slicked boulders and smooth-as-glass shallows.
- Mountains, valleys, orchards, wineries, peaks and canyons.
- Touristy stops like Government Camp and Timberline Lodge.
- A zillion campgrounds and snow parks (“parking permit required.”)
It would take me a week to recap all the beauty and majesty available on this loop. So here are my top picks in the You Won’t Want to Miss These Category, aka:
MOUNT HOOD SCENIC BYWAY HIGHLIGHTS:
Wildwood Recreation Area
The Wildwood Recreation Area along Highway 26 near the town of Welches is worth a day itself. Five hundred and fifty acres of old-growth Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. Lush. Verdant. Criss-crossed with singing streams and the rushing Salmon River. Well-maintained trails include the Cascades Streamwatch Trail and the Wetlands Trail. The former features a pretty cool Underwater Viewing Chamber. Easy and mostly level, both trails are well-marked off the parking lot and are mostly on boardwalk. Both loop trails are less than a mile.
A few miles past the Wildwood Recreation Area is another option for taking in classic Pacific Northwest vistas, weather permitting. If you’re looking for close-ups of Mount Hood, consider a slight detour to the mostly paved Lolo Pass Road (Oregon 18, about 10 miles northeast of Zigzag, on the Clackamas–Hood River county line. Closed in winter).
Continue east past the mountain town of Government Camp. You’ll be climbing. You may also run into thick fog, so be prepared. Be sure to stop at Trillium Lake. It’s situated 7.5 miles south-southwest of Mount Hood. The route to the lake is part of the Barlow Road, a portion of the original Oregon Trail.
Named after the white-starred wildflower common to the area, Trillium Lake offers stunning views of Mt. Hood. It’s worth the narrow, winding downhill road to get there off the main drag.
There’s also a campground and an easy two-mile loop trail around this pristine mountain lake. Watch for a pair of bald eagles fishing off the lone snag at the south end of the lake. The boardwalk at the south end of the lake was underwater and in need of repairs during our early May visit. Be advised.
Head east onto Highway 35 and Mt. Hood Meadows. Keep an eye out for Mount Hood. You’ll pass Sherwood and Nottingham Campgrounds and Little John Snow Park (I am not making this up). Snake along the Hood River through splendid conifer forests drenched in green and meadows marinated in wildflowers.
The highway winds past the Hood River Ranger Station in to the Hood River Valley. Here, the geography changes. Thick conifer forests give way to riparian flora and huge oaks and warmer, drier terrain.
Hood River Valley
You’ll find vineyards, wineries, a White House with fruit, wine tasting, beer and apple cider, and Panorama Point County Park. About a mile off the highway, the Point offers sweeping panoramas of the valley and Mounts Hood and Adams. The view features more than 15,000 acres of orchards, vineyards, and fruit trees in bloom. It’s well worth the brief detour.
Mosier and Rowena Crest
If you have time, take the U.S. Historic Route 30 off the 84E. The road loops around above the I-84 and offers a quieter, different perspective of the Columbia River. Take the Mosier exit (Exit 69). Turn right at the freeway off-ramp. Follow the Historic Columbia River Highway (U.S. Historic Route 30) through the quaint little hamlet of Mosier (pop. 430). Cross Mosier Creek. Keep an eye out for purple lilacs lining the road on your left like neon signs.
Continue east on the old highway for about 7 miles. Look for a turnoff on the right with a big sign reading “Rowena Crest.” You won’t want to miss this viewpoint. It offers an awesome overlook of the changing geography east of the Cascades and the rugged terrain of the Columbia River Gorge. Bonus points for the horseshoe curve.
Located along the Historic Columbia River Highway at Columbia River Mile (RM) 180.5. Rowena Crest is part of Oregon’s Mayer State Park. The area includes Tom McCall Nature Preserve. Parking at the top of the crest provides spectacular views of the Columbia River, Mayer State Park, Lyle, Washington and the mouth of the Klickitat River.
Rejoin the Columbia River Gorge and Interstate 84 at exit 64 off the 35. If you’re game for a pleasant drive of about 20 additional miles along the Columbia River, head east to The Dalles. Wave at Washington lumberyards and railroads as you cruise next to the mighty Columbia River. Keep an eye out for some impressive lava rock formations on your right. After you visit to The Dalles, turn around and head west on the 84. It’s about 60 miles to Gresham.
On the way back along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, pop in to see world-renowned Multnomah Falls. We didn’t on this particular trip, as we visited the falls the day prior.
This is a windy, meandering drive of about 200 miles round trip counting a visit to The Dalles. From Gresham, take Highway 26 east to Highway 35 north. You can head back to Gresham/Portland at the junction with the 84 west at exit 64. If you have the time, head east at the exit for about 19 – 20 miles to The Dalles. It’s sort of a Portland/Astoria hybrid with warmer temps and way too many out-of-sync stop lights.