Post Overview: Portland to Hood River Road Trip (Best Stops Along the Route)
Who says road trips have to be hundreds of miles to be chock full of fun? Driving an hour out to the small city of Hood River from Portland will take you through the Columbia River Gorge, which has enough sights to see to scratch your road trip itch (especially when you’re short on time!).
We took a road trip of our own to figure out which of the stops between Portland and Hood River are worth pulling over for. We bet you’ll be surprised how much there is to see and do over such a short stretch of highway.
Quick Word on Hood River
As a lifelong Portland local, Hood River is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve spent many summers in the area and have grown to love all it has to offer.
From the charming (and delicious) wineries to the epic beer scene, the area is ripe for exploration. So much so, that I wrote a quick guide on the best things to do in Hood River. Enjoy!
Swing by Crown Point Vista House
Kick off your trip heading east on Highway 84 from Portland and keep driving until you reach the first stop on this list of the best things to see when driving from Portland to Hood River: the Crown Point Vista House.
Here’s the kicker about this fascinating stop along the route from Portland to Hood River: Vista House was originally built to be nothing more than a glamorous rest stop (bathroom!).
Featuring stained glass windows and marble floors, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful public restroom in the country.
The facility has now expanded into a gift shop and cafe, but the star of the show is the epic view of the Columbia Gorge (from the parking lot, to boot).
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on a sunny day, you’ll get bright open skies and expansive views of the formidable towering rock formations that makes the Gorge so unique.
Hiking Option A: Latourell Falls (2.5 miles)
By the time you reach the trailhead for Latourell Falls, you will have been in the car for a mere 30 minutes. But, for some folks, that’s long enough.
If you find yourself eager to stretch your legs at this point, I suggestion popping off for a quick hike to one of the prettiest waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge.
This 2.5-mile loop is rated as easy and should take the average hiker no more than 1-2 hours to complete.
The hike starts by passing beneath large, moss-laden cedars, alders, and maples. You’ll reach the waterfall before you know it (and you’ll probably hear it before you see it).
Take a few minutes to admire the falls and munch on a snack, Latourell Falls is a sight for sore eyes!
The waterfall plunges 224 feet down into its namesake creek, creating billowing clouds of mist that encircle you as you stand at the base of the falls.
Once you’ve taken in the awe of this majestic fall, continue on the main trail as it loops you back to the parking area to continue your Portland to Hood River road trip.
Keep an eye out for wildflowers, including brilliant indigo-hued irises, in the spring. Visiting during fall is also highly recommended, as the trees are dressed to the nines in striking shades of gold and red.
You May Enjoy Reading: 8 EPIC Waterfalls Near Portland (Worth the Drive)
Hiking Option B: Horsetail Falls (2.5 miles)
One of the more well-known hikes in the Gorge, Horsetail Falls is an easy hike for the whole family to enjoy. This 2.5-mile loop trail is easy and gets you up close to some seriously stunning waterfalls.
In these couple of miles you’ll pass three waterfalls as you jaunt through the typical lush pine-riddled forests we love the Pacific Northwest for.
Right off the bat at the trailhead itself you’ll see the breathtaking Horsetail Falls plunging off a dramatic cliff. Yep, having the opportunity to see the waterfall from the parking lot makes this one of the best stops on a road trip from Portland to Hood River, especially with kids in tow.
If you’d like the full experience, begin to climb the switchbacks uphill. After a short stretch of these, the trail levels out and instead of standing on a trail you’ll find yourself in the heart of a ravine.
This ravine is what you’ll traverse (don’t worry, it’s easy to navigate even for children) toward Ponytail Falls (which the trail passes directly behind).
Continue along the footpath and take in sensational views of the Gorge from a handful of viewpoints along the way. As the trail begins to lose elevation through another series of switchbacks, you’ll be able to get great views of the narrow, fern-lined walls of the Oneonta Gorge.
Gaze across this small valley at Oneonta Falls, Middle Oneonta Falls, and the tiny spout of Upper Oneonta Falls in the distance. Keep following the trail over a metal bridge and then across the old highway bridge across Oneonta Creek.
Whew! There’s so much to take in on this one little hike, it wouldn’t be surprising if enjoying this beautiful trail was the only thing you made time for on your road trip from Portland to Hood River.
Marvel at Multnomah Falls
No list of the best stops between Portland and Hood River is complete without mentioning Multnomah Falls.
I know, I know… Multnomah Falls feels so touristy. But you know what? It’s touristy for a reason.
I understand if you’re a local who wants to skip this stop because you’ve seen it a million times. But if you have out-of-town visitors in tow, it’s a must-see.
The parking lot can get full at this incredibly popular destination, so some patience may be in order. Rest assured that once you get out and walk up to the main viewing platform, you’ll enjoy a visual feast as you stand dwarfed by the whopping 620 foot waterfall.
The fall gracefully drapes itself over a dizzyingly tall basalt cliff face, and there’s even a hiking trail you can take that winds you up toward the top of the falls.
Honestly, I know such a popular feature can be easily taken for granted by locals, but this truly is a one-of-a-kind waterfall, and an incredibly easy to access one to boot!
Which is why it’s a must-see during a Portland to Hood River road trip in my book.
Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery
The Bonneville Dam was the first lock and dam built on the Columbia River in the 1930s.
While dams are controversial structures that often compromise the health of waterways, there is no arguing that this dam is still an impressive feat of engineering.
The dam is an active hydro-electric plant, powering cities across the western coastline. There is a visitor center (with free admission) that takes you through the history of the dam and why it was built.
My favorite part of touring the dam is visiting the the fish hatchery. Learn about some of the environmentally and culturally important fish who dwell in the waters of the Columbia River, including salmon, trout, sturgeon, and shad.
Walk around the grounds to see the tanks where baby fish are raised, and take a moment to visit the famous Herman The Sturgeon, and feed the rainbow trout in a nearby viewing pond.
There’s even a viewing window inside of the visitor center where you can watch the wild fish as they swim upstream through the dam (look out for lamprey, too!).
Volunteers are stationed around the center to answer all of your burning questions. This recreation are also has a ton of places to get outside for everything from birdwatching to boating and everything in between.
I remember visiting Bonneville Dam as a kid and it left a lasting impression on me. Which is why I consider this one of the best spots between Portland and Hood River for young families.
Hiking Option C: Dry Creek Falls (4 miles)
If the first two hikes mentioned didn’t scratch that itch, consider Dry Creek Falls.
If you’ve ever wondered what hikers experience while on the 2,000 mile+ Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) you can experience just under 4 miles of it on the trail to Drift Creek Falls.
The trailhead is found right at the base of Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, Oregon. This damp slice of classic Pacific Northwest forest is a great stopover on a road trip from Portland to Hood River.
Meandering past dramatic lava rock formations, you’ll follow the (easy) trail before spitting out at the grand finale: a show-stopping amphitheater of basalt from which Drift Creek Falls plunges a little over 60 feet.
Here people enjoy stopping for a bite to eat before heading back, this time uphill on a slight incline, recrossing small creeks and footbridges to return to civilization.
Perhaps a 4-mile hike is just what you need while embarking on a grand Portland to Hood River road trip. If so, Dry Creek Falls is sure to fit the bill.
Picnic at Starvation Creek
Starvation Creek has quite a foreboding name, but is ironically one of my favorite places spots for a quick picnic.
This small rest stop was named after early pioneers traveling by train got stranded in heavy snow for three weeks in this area.
A large, two-tiered waterfall is viewable right from the parking area, though we suggest taking a short walk to get right up close to it.
From this area there’s an option to walk along the paved Columbia River Highway State Trail, a path that will also connect you with a handful of hiking trails that wind up through the hillside.
If you have time, there is an option to take an easy 4 mile out-and-back trail that leads you past multiple waterfalls. These include Starvation Creek, Hole-In-The-Wall, Lancaster, Harrison, and Lindsay Creek Falls.
Not a bad display for just 4 miles of trail! Of course along with the glorious waterfalls this trail weaves you through a forest painted in every shade of green imaginable.
When the waterfalls aren’t stealing the show, take some time to notice the short, stubby wildflowers that crow in the cracks of the craggy rocks lining the trail, and keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of wildlife, including songbirds, raptors, deer, and chipmunks.
Plus, if you make it to the creekbed itself, you’re in prime habitat to see some Pacific Giant Salamanders. We once saw one of these guys who was nearly one foot long-just imagine!
While these little amphibians can be quite elusive, it still might be worth taking a peek for them in the calmer, shallow areas of the creek (while being mindful not to disturb the environment or the critters who live there).
Anyways you slice it, taking in the panoramic views from this incredible viewpoint is one of the best stops on a Portland to Hood River road trip.
Arriving in Hood River
Alas, you’ve reached the final destination on this Portland to Hood River road trip itinerary!
Enter the town of Hood River: a quaint and cheerful little place that makes for a perfect landing point after a day of exploration.
Unlike large cities that can take tons of time to navigate just to do a few activities, Hood River has plenty of things to see and do without the hassle.
Take a stroll downtown and get your fill at one of the many local restaurants, bars, and cafes. We recommend Riverside restaurant, a fancier joint right on the river serving seafood and classic American fare.
For something more casual, I enjoy Solstice Woodfired Pizza down on the waterfront (their 72-hour fermented dough is to-die for).
If you’re feeling like an adult beverage with your meal, check out pFriem Brewing or Crush Cider Cafe for unique, award-winning brews and familiar pub grub with a twist.
Bonus: Order from pFriem’s takeout window and enjoy your food at the Hood River Waterfront Park only steps away. The Waterfront is a popular place that has an almost boardwalk-like feel, but on a small scale.
While you’re enjoying the area, you’ll probably see windsurfers out on the river. Did you know that Hood River is known as the “windsurfing capital of the world?”
If you’re visiting during the summer, expect the waterfront to be dotted with families having picnics, laying out in the sun, and splashing around in the cool waters of the Columbia River.
Take in the views at Panorama Point
Definitely don’t miss out on driving a little south of Hood River to see Panorama Point before heading back to Portland.
The view at the top of this ridge is likely one you’ve seen across social media: a scene looking down at a horseshoe-shaped curve in the road below, with a colorful landscape of trees, orchards, and rivers spreading all around.
The rolling hills around Panorama Point are full of tiny creeks, hiking trails, and an explosion of wildflower blooms from April through July each year.
This area also has numerous farms and orchards, many of which are open to the public for u-pick and we-pick options.
Collectively known as the “Fruit Loop”, driving around to a few of these farms during the summer and fall is sure to score you a bounty of fresh and delicious produce, flowers, and more to take back home with you.
Heck, to make it even easier for us city folks to access a plethora of nutritious fruits and veg, Hood River hosts a weekly Farmer’s Market every Saturday between May and November.
Load up on farmed goods, handmade gifts, and more at this huge event. Between the Fruit Loop, farm market, and Panoramic Point, these just might be worth the drive out to Hood River on their own!
Quick Idea: Hood River to Portland Road Trip
Instead of heading west on highway 30 back to Portland, consider taking the Hood River Bridge across the Columbia River to Washington.
Once there, you’ll take SR-14 west then cut back across the river using I-205 S or I-5 S depending on which part of Portland you live in.
This route only adds about 15 minutes to your drive but gives you wonderful views of the Oregon side of the Gorge while driving from Hood River to Portland.
There are also plenty of incredible hiking options on the more desert-like hills on the Washington side of the Gorge, which you’ll get close-up views of as you drive through it.
Portland to Hood River Road Trip: Hearty Hike Option Along the Route
If you’re keen on getting in a very hearty hike while driving from Portland to Hood River, you may want to consider Angel’s Rest.
Angel’s Rest Trail was an unfortunate victim of the 2017 Eagle Creek fire, but fortunately for us the beloved hiking area is still alive and well since being restored and reopened to the public.
As you hike toward the summit through Douglas firs and a now-sparse understory of sword fern and vine maple, the charred trunks of the trees are obvious marks of the fire that raged through the area.
Hiking this popular trail during the spring catches bright white Trillium dramatically blooming against these blackened trunks—quite a dramatic sight!
Toward the craggy peak there are waves of blooming oceanspray and delicate thimbleberry flowers which will eventually give way to the ripe red berries birds fiend for.
With the absence of trees post-fire, the view from the top is less obstructed, letting hikers take in a roughly 270 degree view of the Gorge in all its glory.
Hang out on the summit and bask in the sunshine on the warm rocks (try out your best lizard impression, we dare you!) before heading back the way you came.
Look across the Columbia River toward Cape Horn and make a mental note to hike that one day if you haven’t yet–it’s a real treat, especially if you’re after more sensational views and a twisting forested trail.
You May Enjoy Reading: 15 Epic Hikes in the Columbia Gorge (For All Skill Levels)
Driving From Portland to Hood River
In sum, here’s a list of best stops from Portland to Hood River on a road trip.
- Swing by Crown Point Vista House
- Hiking Option A: Latourell Falls (2.5 miles)
- Hiking Option B: Horsetail Falls (2.5 miles)
- Marvel at Multnomah Falls
- Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery
- Hiking Option C: Dry Creek Falls (4 miles)
- Picnic at Starvation Creek
- Arrive in Hood River
- Take in the views at Panorama Point
- Angel’s Rest