By Herb Sparrow
The Hood River Valley, which extends south from the Columbia River Gorge to Mount Hood, is a rich agricultural area that not only provides groups opportunities to experience the growing and producing of food, but also many chances to sample the end product.
The area is especially famous for its abundant fruit orchards. “The Hood River Valley grows the largest number of pears in the world for export and has cherries, peaches and apples,” said Kerry Cobb, executive director of the Hood River Chamber of Commerce.
“At one point, the Hood River Valley had more than one-third of the nation’s cherries,” said Paula Fairclo, marketing manager of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles. “There is a huge cherry harvest around here.”
And the area has become a rapidly growing and varied grape-growing region, with more than 40 wineries in the area, many with tasting rooms.
“One of the unique things about the gorge with wine is because we have a temperate zone that changes all the way through, we can grown pretty much everything here,” said Cobb. “You can try almost any kind of wine in the area.”
A great way to see and sample the valley’s abundance is on the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile drive from Hood River through the valley’s orchards, forests, farmlands and small towns that provides many chances to stop at country markets, u-pick farms, wineries and local fruit and farm stands that sell berries, cherries, peaches, apples and fresh-baked goods.
“It’s really neat in the summer and fall to stop for food and snacks,” said Lila Martin, regional media relations coordinator for Travel Portland.
“They have everything from artisans to little country stores, wineries, alpaca farms and lavender fields,” said Marcia Chiaudano, director of the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce’s visitors center.
Another good way to see the valley is aboard the Mount Hood Railroad, which also departs from Hood River.
“It’s a different way to see the agricultural area,” said Cobb. “You can take the train to Parkdale, which is right at Mount Hood. You go the back way and see woods and scenery. It runs most of the week, and they have mystery trains and a Western shootout.”
Also be sure to stop at the historic stone-and-timber Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood, a national historic landmark that turns 75 this year, for a meal of citrus-grilled salmon, a breakfast of hot Belgian waffles covered with fresh strawberries or just a cup of its famous hot cocoa.
On Labor Day, Sept. 3, the lodge, built during the Depression by the Works Progress Administration, will host a free concert and heritage fair to mark its anniversary, which will also include a tribute to Woody Guthrie to mark his 100th birthday.