Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Mt. Hood Scenic Drive: Part 1, Heading East
Lots of adolescent girls have a passion for horses, but my passion was volcanoes—the glacier-covered, dramatic Cascade volcanoes. My main squeeze was Mt. Hood (or Wy’east as the natives called it), just an hour’s drive east from my childhood home near Portland. I climbed up and skied down its slopes, backpacked around it, slept in its alpine meadows, and floated down rivers sourced from its glaciers. One of my favorite ways to reconnect with “my mountain” is the Mt. Hood Scenic Drive that loops around the mountain.
My sister, niece, and I do the loop on a late September weekend, with an overnight at historic Timberline Lodge high up the mountain. During the fall you pass blazing crimson vine maples up near the mountain, and farm stands full of fresh apples and pears above Hood River. If you go before the ski season kicks into full gear (usually mid to late November), you’ll find fewer crowds. (As of October 12, Timberline already got some new snow, with limited skiing on the Palmer Lift.)
East of Sandy on US 26, we lose the suburban strip malls and developments and drive along mostly tree-lined roadway past the villages of Brightwood, Wemme, Rhododendron, and Zig Zag and into Mt. Hood National Forest. Just past Zig Zag, the road starts climbing towards Government Camp. Soon Hood comes into full view, surprising in its craggy closeness.
My sister is on a mission today. She wants a maple bar at Huckleberry Inn in Government Camp, the ski-focused community of cabins and condos at 3,500 feet on Hood’s south flank. Huckleberry Inn has been here for decades and retains a classic Americana café vibe. Their motto is "A cup of coffee and a slice of that world famous huckleberry pie has drawn visitors up the mountain for years." We grab stools at the counter and order a maple bar and huckleberry shake to share. (This is a definitely a nostalgic, not a nutritious snack.) The maple bar is HUGE (we can’t finish it) but soft and wonderful, without the typical greasy fried dough aftertaste. We spoil our dinner. Next post: Part 2, Topping out at Timberline.
When You Go
To view a map of this trip, click on Mt. Hood National Scenic Byway . I usually start by heading east on U.S. Route 26 in Gresham, turning northeast on Route 35 around the east side of Hood and heading down through the Hood River valley, then returning west toward Portland on I-84 through the Columbia Gorge (a little over 150 miles total). The beginning of this route has variations, and the official Mt. Hood National Scenic Byway starts in Troutdale and joins US 26 in Sandy. You can do this in a day from the Portland area or make it a leisurely overnight. Or two overnights if you want to stay up at the mountain, then stay another night in the Hood River area. Hey, you could even make this a several day trip with all the hiking and sightseeing along the way.