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Portland to Hood River: A Drive Through the Columbia River Gorge

Oregon is such a great state when it comes to scenic drives! Speaking of scenic drives, one of the most beautiful drives we have done in Oregon is the trek from Portland to Hood River – an easy Portland day trip destination – that takes you right through the Columbia River Gorge. If you’re interested in making the drive yourself, here’s our day trip itinerary (with a few extra recommendations from previous trips) to give you some good ideas to incorporate into your own adventure!

On The Way To Hood River

If you’ve never driven through the Columbia River Gorge before, we definitely recommend checking out the Vista House, and then driving the scenic route down to Multnomah Falls (which will put you past many other beautiful little falls as well). There is plenty of hiking to do along the way, although that might be a little ambitious to combine with a day trip out to Hood River. You can read about our prior visits to the Vista House here, and Multnomah Falls here.

From the Vista House, you’ll get a beautiful view of the Gorge in all directions, and learn a little bit about the history of the area.

The best part of these stops is that they are completely free!

Since we had visited these on a few previous occasions, we decided to skip these spots and head straight for Hood River, which is a little over an hour away from Portland.

First Stop in Hood River - pFriem

When traveling, breweries are always at the top of our list – especially ones that serve up good grub! Hood River is quite the bustling little town. We didn’t expect things to be as busy as they were, but pFriem Family Brewing was obviously a popular choice for lunch in Hood River. We grabbed a beer from the counter and made our way out to their patio area to sip our brewskies and wait for a table to open up. They have a cozy little fire pit if you’re lucky enough to snag a spot at to keep you warm in the cooler months.

We’d had a few pFriem beers before but it was nice to try a new variety of things that we hadn’t had, including the Kettle Soured Passionfruit Ale, 5.5%, (a nice fruity sour that will satisfy the average sour lover) and the hoppy Down Under IPA, 7.2%, which had flavors of strawberry jam, kiwi, and passionfruit.

Portland to Hood River

Once we were seated in the upstairs dining area, we ordered a flight of tasters and some burgers!

The Beer Fight

  1. Blonde IPA, 6.25%: We loved it – don’t let the word “blonde” fool you. It had a great IPA flavor.
  2. Belgian Strong Dark, 10%: Typical Belgian flavors, which are not our favorite. Described on the menu as “flavors of fig dipped in dark chocolate, ripe fruit, and toffee.”
  3. Old Burn: A light barrel-aged taste to it, but also slightly sour. Quite interesting!
  4. Barrel Aged Saison, 6.5%: We don’t usually go for Saisons, but this on was quite pleasant and smooth.
  5. Double IPA, 9%: Hoppy all the way! Just how we like ’em – described on the menu as “brimming with doubly-rich flavors of fresh berries with notes of papaya.” I love all the fruit-forward notes in these pFriem beers!
  6. Abrikoos, 5.4%: The best for last! This was our favorite of the day with its sour apricot flavor. Very impressed. I’m not sure that you can get it all the time, but if you see it, try it! Especially if you like sour beers.

*Note: some of the above are seasonal beers. We visited in April so you may have to wait for Spring to come around again for those.

The Burgers

Micah had the pastrami burger which he put in his top favorite burgers of all time (WOW) – a 1/2 pound burger topped with house-smoked pastrami, caraway caramelized onions, butter lettuce, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing ($14.00) with a side salad. Have you ever seen that one episode of How I Met Your Mother where Marshall is on a quest for the ultimate tasty burger of his past and when he finally finds it, it’s burger bliss? That is how Micah felt. It had the right amount of juiciness and fat, was cooked to order, and perfectly done. Is it time for someone to slow clap or what?

On the herbivore spectrum, I had their house-made lentil & mushroom burger with butter lettuce and house-made pickles (sans the sambal aioli because I loathe mayo – asked for mustard instead), which was super flavorful and a little crispy. Definitely one of my favorite veggie burgers I’ve had in a while. I also had the side salad, which came with a very tasty green dressing (with lots of garlic and a gingery zing to it). They do dress it very lightly so you may want to ask for a little extra dressing on the side. I like my breath to be extra garlicky after a good meal.

Oh and them buns were nice and fluffy.

pFriem Family Brewers
707 Portway Avenue, #101
Hood River, OR 97031

Watching the Kiteboarders

Did you know that Hood River is known as the Windsurfing Capital of the World? I grew up watching the windsurfers off the shores of Maui, and never imagined that a river destination would actually be dubbed the Windsurfing Capital! It makes pretty good sense though since winds in the Gorge can actually get up to 70 mph!

Aside from windsurfing, kiteboarding is also a very popular activity on the river. So after our lunch, we headed across the street to Hood River Waterfront Park to catch some views of kiteboarders out on the water.

You can even see some interesting artwork and a bit of nature on your walk.

A Glimpse of Skamania in Washington State

The Columbia River separates Oregon and Washington so it’s easy to pop over to Washington for a portion of your drive. We wanted to see what the scenery was like on the other side on our drive back toward Portland so we crossed the toll bridge and headed down towards Stevenson, WA (in an area known as Skamania). I could see a steamboat from the road, so we made a little detour to see the American Empress docked down at the Skamania Port Waterfront. People actually book cruises up and down the Columbia on this ship! What a neat way to experience the beauty of the area.

I did also notice a distillery with a tasting room (Skunk Brothers Spirits) just nearby the port if you want to include that on your own itinerary! Also, you can pay a visit to Walking Man Brewery just a short walk (hehe) away. We were a little pressed for time and still had a few more stops so we skipped a visit to these. So many things to do, so little time!

American Empress Info: https://www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com/vessels/american-empress/

Skunk Brothers Spirits: http://www.skunkbrothersspirits.com/

Walking Man Brewing: http://www.walkingmanbeer.com/

Skamania Port Waterfront
Stevenson, WA
Click for Map Coordinates

The Bridge of the Gods

Recommended by our friend Darren, we went across the Bridge of the Gods – a cantilever bridge. It’s actually quite high up off the water for a river bridge, which is to allow for the the rise in backwater from the Bonneville Dam. If you have time, park down by the waterfront under the bridge in Cascade Locks for some better views of the bridge and the Bridge of the Gods mural.

You’ll want to cross over from the Washington side if you want to get a pic with the sign! There is no toll to cross over to Oregon from Washington, but if you cross from Oregon to Washington, there is a toll required. There is a little parking lot before you cross over the bridge that you can park your car at here to get your pic with the bridge sign.

Fun facts: The Bridge of the Gods is actually a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the lowest elevation of the trail is on this bridge! If you’ve read the book or seen the movie Wild, this is where Cheryl Strayed ended her arduous journey of the Pacific Crest Trail (on the Oregon side).

Bridge of the Gods
Enter at Stevenson, WA or Cascade Locks, OR
Toll Info & History of the Bridge: http://portofcascadelocks.org/bridge-of-the-gods/

Bonneville Fish Hatchery

Micah is a hobby fisherman so when our friend told us about this fish hatchery that housed sturgeon, he really wanted to be sure to include a stop here. In addition to sturgeon, the hatchery is also home to salmon and trout. While the sturgeon and trout are at the hatchery for viewing purposes only, the hatchery raises millions of Fall/Spring, Chinook, and Steelhead salmon each year to keep the salmon population up in the Columbia River.

Cost to attend? $0.00. However, if you do want to feed the trout, it’ll set you back 25 cents.

The grounds of the hatchery are very well taken care of, and it is a neat learning experience, especially for kids.

I believe this is a pond full of rainbow trout.

I’m not sure if this is him or not, but the largest sturgeon in the sturgeon viewing pond is named Herman, who is 70+ years old and 10 feet long! The sturgeon viewing pond has a glass window area so you can get up close and personal with the sturgeon.

Bonneville Fish Hatchery
70543 NE Herman Loop, Cascade Locks, OR 97014

Thunder Island Brewing

Before heading back to Portland, we ended with a dinner of some killer nachos, salmon dip, and of course, beer! The dark beer was best at Thunder Island. If you can, get a seat in the outside area overlooking the river. It was a little crowded when we got there so we sat inside and it was a bit dark.

Our Beers of Choice:

  1. Galaxy Pale Ale, 5.8%
  2. Dry Creek IPA, 7.2%
  3. Biker Buzz Porter, 7.2%
  4. Chocolate Thunder Stout, 6.8%

Our personal favorite was the Chocolate Thunder Stout. I’m not a huge dark beer drinker (although Micah does like a good dark beer), but we liked the flavor of the porter and stout better than the pale ale and the IPA.

The Nachos: Micah got pulled pork on the side for himself so I could enjoy them in all their vegetarian glory. I generally find that restaurant nachos are skimpy on the toppings, leaving you with way too many plain chips at the end of the meal; however, these were actually well-loaded and the chips were nice and crispy. My only gripe on these is the price – $10 for nachos + $3 for a small scoop of guacamole + $4 for the pulled pork = $17.00 nachos! Eeek. If you’re cool with skipping the guac and the meat, these would be a good snack to enjoy with that beautiful riverside view.

While the salmon dip was excellent, I found the pita bread to be a bit too dry. I’d probably opt for the baguette instead next time. Also, it was a bit pricey for the small amount of dip that you do get ($12.00).

All in all, not a bad way to end our little day trip out to Hood River.

Thunder Island Brewing
515 SW Portage Road, Cascade Locks, OR 97014

One of the reasons why I liked this day trip so much was that it was really budget friendly. The only money forked out was at pFriem and Thunder Island Brewing, as well as the small toll to cross over the bridge to get into Washington. All the other stops along the way are free!

You can also check out our vlog of our day trip below:

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