It’s a gray, drizzly morning in the city of Portland. Mike assures us it’s going to “burn off” as we follow a long line of cars snaking toward Mount Hood.
Our friends Mike and Steph have planned a day of adventure for us. They are relentless explorers who also love finding hidden nooks and crannies to play in. Their 4-Runner is permanently stocked with camping gear and supplies. Steph shows me her road atlas, which is covered in highlighter and trail notes. I know we’re in good hands.
As promised, the sky clears just as we reach our first destination of the day – Trillium Lake located at the base of Mount Hood. Normally, this is a fairly quiet place to visit, but not today. We have to jockey for a parking spot a fair distance down the road and the lake is packed with picnickers, campers and even a few brave swimmers.
According to Steph, on a still day, the reflection of Mount Hood is a perfect inversion of itself on the surface of Trillium Lake’s deep blue water. The water is choppy today, but the view of the mountain itself is unobstructed with the exception of a single wispy cloud.
The easy two-mile loop around the lake offers no shortage of natural beauty. The trail winds through old-growth pines draped in bright green Spanish moss, past campsites tucked into the shade of the tall canopy, and along fields of tall grasses blowing freely in the wind.
We stop for lunch midway at a small lakeside amphitheater where I find two trapped salamanders in a child’s plastic sand bucket. Because I can’t help myself (and because no one is around to stop me), I take the opportunity to liberate them. Moments later, two grown-ass women come over to inspect the bucket. Somehow, they know I’m responsible for their loss and spend the next few minutes passive-aggressively shaming me. “Oh no, they’re GONE! The boys will be so DISAPPOINTED,” they faux-wail.
Their kids will live and so will the salamanders. I am not sorry.
We finish up our sandwiches, complete the loop hike, hop back into the truck and continue onto our next stop: the historic Timberline Lodge near the town of Government Camp.You may be interested to know its exterior was featured in Steven King’s The Shinning. What I find even more interesting are the skiers and snowboarders cruising down the open run directly behind it. The south face of Hood is the only ski resort in the country that stays open 12 months a year, thanks to massive snowfall that pummels the area all winter long.
Luke wants his picture taken in the snowfield, so we hike up to the base of the run and walk out into the snow – it’s the kind that makes great snowballs. The novelty of the situation instantly transforms us into wild children. We run, we jump, we throw snowballs, we slip, we slide and we have the time of our lives.
The thirst of four thirty-somethings who have been horsing around like crazy people for an hour can only be quenched by good beer, so we race each other down to the Timberline Lodge. Its interior is rustic, elegant, and inviting. A large fireplace occupies the center of the room and rises to the full height of the hotel. I find a small writing desk tucked into a dark corner of the second floor. I saw this same type of desk at the St. Mary Lodge in Glacier National Park. It makes me wish for a postcard and fountain pen.
We head downstairs to the Blue Ox Bar. I have to duck my head to walk through the tiny door leading into a cozy room furnished with heavy wooden tables and chairs. One side of the room is a stained glass mural of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox. It’s a small piece of home on the west coast.
Our next destination is the Columbia River Gorge and the picturesque town of Hood River. We pass through the valley’s “Fruit Loop” where pear, cherry and apple trees grow in abundance alongside hilltop lavender fields, vineyards and alpaca ranches. We stop at a lookout point that gives us a breathtaking aerial view of the checkerboard of green stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see.
Hood River is adorable in a modern Main Street way. Outdoor outfitters, boutiques and artisan soap shops line both sides of the street crawling with tourists and shoppers. We get lucky and snag a parking spot near our first stop – the Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom. I sample some of their delicious goods, admire their elaborate chalk art and seriously contemplate buying a dress with a hop screen printed onto it – a sure sign that it’s time to move on.
We make our way to our second stop, pFriem Brewery, and put our names in for a table. With about an hour to kill, we head over to the beach along the Columbia River Gorge and watch the kite surfers and wind sailors play in the straight-line winds. My Dad’s been talking about trying wind sailing for years and would love seeing these guys pull of some of their impressive tricks.
The sun is sinking fast by the time we finish dinner, but we’re not done with our day of adventure quite yet. Mike and Steph drive us through the Gorge, which is like the Mississippi River Valley on a much grander scale. The sun dips below the horizon as we pull onto the Historic Columbia River Highway (US Route 30) and stop at Horsetail Falls.
Steph lets us have our moment, then hustles us back into the car. Since it’s nearly dark, the parking lot to the famed Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural attraction in Oregon, is nearly empty. Steph and I dart up the path to Benson Bridge – a delicate span that hovers between the upper and lower portions of the falls. Mike and Luke catch up with us on the bridge and we spend a few minutes absorbing its magic.
The sun is down and light is escaping from the sky quickly. We dash back to the car so we can see just one more waterfall. Only a sliver of light remains when we pull up to Latourell Falls, so Steph and I sprint straight to its base. We hop the low stone fence and dance around in the mist. We yell for Luke to take our photo, but the light is gone. All that’s left are two old friends with wet behinds hugging each other manically, surrounded by their laughter echoing off the rock around them.