The jewel of the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River shines as a family destination.
Hood River is nestled into one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Columbia River Gorge in the shadow of Mount Hood. I challenge anyone to find a view that’s not awe-inspiring. The town has always been known for its orchards filled with apples, pears, and cherries, but it has evolved into a destination for thrill seekers, foodies, wine and beer connoisseurs, and families alike.
Photo courtesy: Hood River County Chamber of Commerce
What to do and where to eat?
Try to arrive in the morning and get your day going with a stop at River Daze Cafe (202 D Cascade Ave.) right off the downtown exit. It prides itself on local and organic items. I ordered the Plain Jane breakfast sandwich, which was anything but plain. My daughter spotted the large jars of fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies and opted for a peanut butter one. (You can have cookies for breakfast on vacation, right?!) The waffles, too, are kid-pleasers! Gluten-free options abound here, as well. Relax with a coffee and enjoy the wonderful Columbia Gorge breeze in the open-air dining area.
Next, stretch your legs and check out G. Willikers Toy Shoppe (202 Oak St.), a block south from River Daze Cafe. You’ll find two levels of the best toys on the planet. Fair warning, your kids may not want to leave! Moms may enjoy the fashion in Plenty (310 Oak St., #102), the jewelry of Silverado (310 Oak St, #103), and my must-stop shop, The Ruddy Duck (504 Oak St.). The Ruddy Duck carries Tea-brand clothing and Native shoes for the kids. Head upstairs for discounted items. On your way out of the Duck, grab a $2 kid’s cone at Mike's Ice Cream (504 Oak St.). Enjoy your creamy, dreamy ice cream in one of the many Adirondack chairs on the lawn.
Now head down to the Mt. Hood Railroad (110 Mt Hood Railroad) and board the train for a two-hour trip to Odell, near the base of Mt. Hood. (You can also book a trip to Parkdale.) Kids will enjoy the novelty of train travel and the cupola; parents will enjoy kicking back with a beer or glass of wine en route. Coach class offers a tabletop for four. The server often walks through and points out things of interest along the way. You can order a lunch on the train or hold off and grab some great Mexican food at Michoacan Sports Bar and Grill (3405 Odell Hwy.) in Odell for the ride back. Once you get to Odell, you have a half hour to poke around. Someone is typically selling fresh fruit near the station. The kids will enjoy running in the large grass park, while parents take pictures of mammoth Mt. Hood. Cost: Youth $25; Adult $30.
KidTripster Tip: Mt. Hood Railroad also runs special themed and seasonal trains. Check here for the schedule.
If you have older kids who are real adrenaline junkies, skip the train and experience Hood River Valley’s natural beauty on the trail or on the water. Ride with Greg Galliano from Hood River Mountain Bike Adventures (1535 Lincoln Street St.). The trails in this part of the Pacific Northwest are epic. Even though HRMB caters to immediate and expert riders, Greg also can put together a trip for novices, but you need to have a pretty high-degree of fitness to tackle the elevation changes. Spend a few hours on your bike or a rented one from HRMB, and you’ll earn dinner at one of Hood River’s fabulous farm-to-table restaurants. Cost: Varies based on ride and rental.
Or for a rush with a little less effort, hit the water with family-run Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys (248 Highway 141). Located just 25 minutes north of Hood River in White Salmon, Washington, Zollers offers various guided rafting experiences depending on your kids’ ages and skill levels. Cost: Varies based on length of trip and number of participants.
Where to stay?
Once back in Hood River, check into your hotel. A great value is the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn (1108 E. Marina Dr.), located right on the Columbia River. It’s the only hotel in Hood River that offers a waterfront stay with its own private beach and heated swimming pool. Rooms are spacious with extra high ceilings that let in lovely natural light. Sliding glass doors allow access to the balcony with sweeping views. If you don't want to leave for dinner, Riverside, located inside the hotel, is a nice option. It has an outdoor dining deck, so as your day draws to a close, you can admire the views from the shoreline.
Craving a good beer? Another dinner option is Double Mountain Brewery and Taproom (8 4th St.). Its mission is simple: make great beer for craft beer fans. It does just that, along with making a mean PB&J with Goldfish on the kids’ menu. Adults can order salads and pizza. We opted for the Truffle Shuffle pizza. The food was a wonderful compliment to a great pint of beer.
KidTripster Tip: The pool at the Hood River Inn doesn't close until 11 p.m., and remember, it’s heated. Don't hesitate to get in one more swim before bedtime.
Photo courtesy: Nick Bielemeier
What to do and where to eat?
If you have chosen the Hood River Inn, it offers a breakfast voucher in the morning. Be prepared for a wait, since the hotel is usually full, but it’s well worth it. If you want to venture into downtown, Doppio Coffee (310 Oak St.) is a great coffee shop with large menu. With such an alluring pastry case, you may find yourself getting two items instead of one!
Fruit harvest is in full swing during the summer and fall months. Click here to check out the Hood River County Fruit Loop map. You can visit farm stands or pick your own fruit. Different farms have different harvests; they often celebrate with music, food, wine, and a chance to visit with the livestock. We wanted to get off the beaten path, so we headed to Root Orchard (1111 Root Rd.), based in the little town of Mosier, just 6 miles east of Hood River. The fourth-generation orchard is known for its huge cherries. When you arrive, grab your baskets and then hop on a four-wheeler to get to the best areas for picking. Pick away and then navigate back to the weighing stand.
Now make your way to the waterfront. No doubt you will be ready for a good lunch and a cold beer. Hit up pFriem Brewery Tasting Room, where you can find Belgium-inspired artisanal beers and a fabulous food menu. pFriem is the standard for family-friendly places. Large vats of beer sit in full view of the tasters. Kids may be captivated by workers checking temperatures and doing processing, while you taste away. Beautiful in design, the thick wooden benches with heavy iron accents surround the tables. There’s outdoor patio seating, as well. The restaurant has a small play area with wooden toys on the main level. The kids’ menu sounds good enough for adults with the Mt. Shadow Burger topped with white cheddar or the house-made bratwurst. Kid favorites like mac & cheese and grilled cheese are on the menu, as well. For dessert, kids are offered vanilla ice cream with a chocolate chip cookie. Something to applaud and take note of is pFriem's bathroom. They have a changing table supplied with diaper wipes and diapers, just in case you forget something. Little ones will also appreciate the stool to reach the sink. High five pFriem!
KidTripster Tip: pFriem is very popular, so get your name on the list and plan to play at Waterfront Park right across the street while you wait.
After lunch, it's time to enjoy Waterfront Park. It rivals any other play park that you’ve seen with rock climbing, musical play structures, and whirly things that I can't put names to. There are many benches and walking paths throughout the park. The bathrooms are always clean and easy to access. There’s a small beach next to the park. Bring your water shoes, as the beach is rocky, but there’s still plenty of sand to make your castles. When you’re done, you’ll find an outdoor shower near the bathrooms, where you can rinse off.
Alternatively, you can go a few blocks west of Waterfront Park, where the Hood River meets the Columbia River. You’ll know that you’re in the right place if you see wind surfers, boarders, and kiters preparing their rides. This area is fantastic for water play, especially if your kids are a little older and want more room to splash and swim; plus there’s no rocks. (This spot is also our dog’s favorite!) The water here is very shallow. Plus, your kids will delight in watching the wind sports, as this location is one of the very best in the world for wind surfing, boarding, and kiting.
If you have teenagers, watching may not be enough. Consider lessons with the expert instructors at Brian’s Windsurfing & Kitesurfing (Event Site, near parking lot). You can also rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Cost: Windsurfing (beginner/2-3 hours) $90; Kiteboarding (beginner/2 hours) $220.
Hood River is located 63 miles east of Portland. It's an easy, beautiful drive along I-84. The route is filled with notably destinations, like Crown Point, Multnomah Falls, and Bonneville Dam, but those attractions are for another day. Instead, get your family to Hood River!
Photojournalist Julie Murray is a Minnesotan who lives in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys urban farming, horses, and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her family.