GPS: 45°42N; 121°31W
The steady westerlies churning the mighty Columbia have been drawing windsurfers and kiteboarders to Hood River for years. But lately an almost equal number of mountain bikers, powderhounds, and whitewater paddlers have started arriving, as well. Judging by the signs above all the new restaurants, the recent arrivals are partial to sushi joints, wine bars, and bistros with hard-to-pronounce European names. But this recreational boomtown hasn’t abandoned its roots—the focus here is still centered squarely on the action outside.
Tucked between the looming basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge, an hour east of Portland, Hood River has a reliable supply of strong winds fit for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Most warm-weather evenings, hundreds of kites fill the sky over the river. It’s a gorgeous sight but, for the inexperienced, an intimidating one. If you’re new to the sport, head first to the quieter waters in nearby Stevenson, 15 minutes west, for a personalized lesson with Cascade Kiteboarding (lessons from $130 an hour; www.cascadekiteboarding.com) before taking on the traffic around Hood River. Or, if the winds are mellow, try a session of stand-up paddle-boarding ($25 for a two-hour board rental; www.bigwinds.com). Or just kick back and watch the action from the new waterfront park, which includes a swimming beach, a 10-foot (3-meter) climbing wall, solar-powered bathrooms, and, of course, windsurfing and kayaking launches (http://hoodriverwaterfront.org/). Rafters, meanwhile, navigate the gauntlet of Class IIIs and IVs on the aspen-flanked White Salmon with All Star Rafting (one-day guided trips from $70; www.asrk.com). Get your fat-tire fix at Post Canyon, where freeriders have been adding jumps, bridges, and seesaws (www.trails.mtbr.com). And an hour south of town, the lifts on Mount Hood’s Palmer Snowfield stay open straight on through summer, giving snowboarders and skiers access to 2,617 feet (798 meters) of vertical corn nearly year-round ($52 for a one-day lift ticket; timberlinelodge.com).
Hood River is known for its incredible harvest seasons; hit the “Fruit Loop” and drive around the picturesque valley below Mount Hood, stopping for a flat of huckleberries or another of Hood River’s specialties—a bottle of Pinot Noir (www.hoodriverfruitloop.com). In town, head to Brian’s Pourhouse on Oak Street, where the menu changes to match the local harvest seasons (www.brianspourhouse.com).
The Columbia Cliff Villas, just west of town are perched atop a 208-foot waterfall that plummets into the slow-moving Columbia and have unbeatable views of the gorge (doubles from $169; www.columbiacliffvillas.com). The Hood River Hotel, meanwhile, has a central location in the heart of downtown (doubles from $89; www.hoodriverhotel.com).