Living Nordic-ly: Discover Hood River, Oregon
Part of the beauty of what we at this publication have called the “Nordic Approach” is its openness to a diversity of interpretations about what it means to be part of the Nordic ski community, to lead a “Nordic lifestyle.” Sure, there are the basic kernels that it has something to do with cross country skiing, something to do with an affinity for outdoor activity, or to do with exploration, or with nature and the camaraderie that comes from enjoying it together. But really the Nordic Approach, as we see it, is less about checking particular boxes than about the lifestyles that individuals and communities create for themselves, based loosely on a love of the outdoors, snow sports and an ongoing curiosity and adventurousness.
That being said, the city of Hood River, Oregon—with its vibrant culture, its close connection to its sublime natural surroundings, and of course the town’s easy access to excellent cross country skiing—comes pretty darn close to expressing what we mean by “the Nordic Approach.” Hopefully with some of the tips below, you can experience the unique blend of passions and interests and possible activities that make up this remarkably Nordic-y town.
Among Hood River’s greatest draws for visitors is its accessibility. An easy (and stunning) hour’s drive from Portland International Airport, the small city functions as a gateway to the Mt. Hood region—though as we’ll see, it’s a gateway with excitement and attractions all its own. Route 84 East will take you right up to the edge of the downtown, and from there it’s easiest to park and explore the hilly, café-lined streets on foot.
Where to Stay
Once you’ve had your first wander along the frontiersy facades of Hood River, you might want to set up base-camp for the next days of exploration. When looking for lodging in this river town, the Columbia Gorge Hotel will arise as an obvious choice. A palatial Spanish Mission building perched on the cliffs that tower above the famous Columbia River, it drips with a classic charm and unassuming luxury. For touch less glitz, with all the same view, check out the Westcliff Lodge, just up the river. There, spacious and well-appointed rooms look out over the Columbia, while the lodge itself is surrounded by hiking trails and picturesque picnic spots. If you care less about the views than being at the heart of the action, take a look at Riverview Lodge right along the central Cascade Ave.
First things first, get yourself and your crew caffeinated. Doppio Café and Dog River Coffee are two excellent options on opposite sides of Oak St. Doppio tends a little trendier, with chic espresso concoctions and fancy pastries; Dog River—which is built in a former print shop and exudes its industrial history—highlights its unique roasts with the simple perfection of well brewed coffee and expertly barista-ed espresso.
In the summer months, Hood River and the wide swath of the Columbia on which it sits turns into a windsurfing hotbed (although locals will windsurf all year round). Get a feel for the sport with a rental board and a lesson. If you’re more of a paddler than a sailor, kayaks and stand up paddleboards are also widely available, and the rivers calmer shallows can make for excellent morning paddles or sunset loops.
Turning to the mountains, the Mount Hood National Forest is riddled with trails that take hikers to the loftiest vistas, through the lush valleys, and along some extraordinary lakes and wooded waterways.
To get a taste of the type of views we’re talking about, the massive scale of it all, take a drive into the heart of the wilderness, past the Zig Zag ranger station up to road 1848. There, you’ll find the Top Spur and Timberline Loop, a reasonably gentle 2 mile introduction to the National Forest, with unimpeded views of Mount Hood in all its glacial glory. Back on the Hood River side of the mountain, stop off at the Lost Lake parking lot, from which you can walk the perimeter of the lake that local Native Americans called “the heart of the mountains.”
As soon as late November rolls around and the snow begins to fly, the foothills of Mount Hood come alive with some of the finest cross country skiing around. Mount Hood Meadows Nordic Center boasts over 16 km of crisply corduroyed and tracked trails that wend their way through towering Douglas Firs and along the eponymous meadows at the mountain’s base. The broad openings afforded by these meadows offer some of the best views of Hood’s towering, ice-covered volcanic peak that you can find anywhere, while their gentle undulations make for a perfectly tranquil day of Nordic skiing.
Where to Eat and Drink?
To check out some of the hippest joints in Hood River, head down to the revitalized industrial park just off the banks of the Columbia, along Portway Ave. To refuel the whole family after a day of skiing, hiking windsurfing or wayward roaming, stop in at Solstice Wood Fire Pizza for some delicious and innovative pies that highlight the freshest local produce (which, coming from one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the PNW, is some pretty darn good produce). Not in the mood for pizza? Three River’s Grill and the Sixth Street Bistro & Bar both offer excellent American surf and turf; the former has some fancier twists on classic grilled dishes, while the Bistro serves up your standard, super-satisfying bar food.
After dinner, head next door to Solstice to get the kids a frosty treat at Romeo Gelato; for the adults, head a little further down Portway to either pFriem Family Brewers to the West, or Ferment Brewing Company on the opposite end of the street. pFriem brews the full mouthwatering range of classic beers, from Czech Pilsners to Hefeweizens to Triple IPA’s, while Ferment Brewing homes in on a slightly smaller beer list that highlights the obscurer Saison and Farmhouse styles.
For me, this little strip of converted warehouses and former shipping hubs along the Columbia encapsulates the remarkable spirit of Hood River. Of course, the downtown a few blocks south, with its charming, hundred-year-old brick buildings, buzzes with the same unique vibe, and is chock-a-block full of funky outdoor stores and bookshops and brimming with world-class coffee.
But on the waterfront, windsurfing centers sit right alongside the heavily trafficked bike and running path and the riverside park, and bump up against the vibrant heart of Hood River’s robust beer scene. Athletes and amateurs try their hand at water sports, while chefs, brewers and artists hone their crafts just a hundred yards away—and did I mention the same strip is home to two distilleries, a juice maker and a tofurky (Tofu-Turkey) factory? This is an active city, full of folks that like to experiment and explore, and everyone, from cooks to surfers to cross country skiers, value the wealth of natural beauty and resources that this unique landscape—a thin climactic sliver lodged between the temperate rainforests to the west and the high deserts to the east—has to offer. If you want to take the Nordic approach, heading to Hood River is without a doubt in that direction.