Get Some Forest in Your Boots: Hiking Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood River Valley

By Linda Ballou
NABBW’s Adventure Travel Associate
(Note: Linda offers a special thanks to Greg Vaughn, author of Photographing Oregon for for the photos of the Mt. Hood River Valley and Horse Tail Falls.)

Ballou_Linda at Multnomah FallsOld growth forest and broadleaf trees and shrubs cover Oregon’s Columbia River region in a thick verdure scented with life.

The massive river flows 1,200 miles from the Canadian Rockies and is the main artery of this watershed, but the forests are the skin sheathing the mountains and the lungs breathing cool, pure air.

Hiking the depth of these woods to discover its many sparkling cascades invigorated and refreshed this urban traveler.

My week spent with New England Hiking Holidays, whose theme is “Footpaths by Day! Country Inns by Night! proved to be a glorious affair. I joined twelve experienced hikers, most of whom had taken other trips with NEHH in other parts of the U.S. and abroad, on hikes in the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood region.

On the 2.8 mile shakedown loop to lovely Latourell Falls, I ranked about a five on the fitness scale of one to ten. Several of the hikers were older than me, but handled inclines better.

The beauty of having seasoned guides that are sensitive to your hiking abilities is that you save time and are taken to trails that leave you smiling. Each day we were given a more challenging option as well as an easy way out.

The iconic Eagle Creek trail is the most popular hike in the 292,000-acre Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area; home to forty waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and thirteen on the Washington side.Ballou_cu hikers crossing mtn stream

The moment you enter you are immersed in green with the chatter of the energetic creek for company.

Sword ferns fan in clusters while bunch berries and white blooms of the Miner’s Lettuce line the path. Around each bend is another stunning view of the flow carving an ever deepening ravine.

The drop off becomes more precipitous as you climb, and the trail narrows where it is carved into rock wall. Devil’s Punchbowl is the first of three dramatic falls along the way to High Bridge, our lunch destination.

When we arrived, I dangled tired dogs in the tingling water while our guides laid out a delicious, healthful spread.

Ballou_ lavender at Bonnieville HatcheryWe stopped at nearby Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery to visit Simon, a prehistoric sturgeon celebrating his 70th birthday.

The Columbia River—harnessed for energy by eleven dams—is a major corridor of transportation; not just for goods for humans, but for salmon and trout.

There are locks for barges carrying goods, rails on both sides of the busy river for trains bringing cargo from the interior to the coast, and fish ladders for our finny friends.

Ballou Lobby of the Skamania LodgeCrossing the Columbia on the Bridge of the Gods to the Washington side of the river bought us to Skamania Lodge, our digs for three nights.

Sumptuous meals included fresh salmon and risotto made with local mushrooms and desserts to die for.

The elegantly rustic lodge overlooking the Cascade Range boasts a zip-line, an 18-hole golf course, and miles of trails.

After a day of hiking, I couldn’t wait to slip into the outdoor spa and take a dip in the pool. Nights spent by a flickering fire chatting with new friends beneath starry skies ended beautiful outdoor days.

2370-0515The second leg of our journey took us to the bucolic Hood River Valley where Mt. Hood reigns over all with solemn dignity.

A sweet three-mile track around Lost Lake garnered mirrored views of the monarch in dark still waters and a bit of solitude.

The other hikers chose a more challenging hike leaving me to birding and blossom sniffing.

Our next stop, Trillium Lake, took us on boardwalks over flooded areas where beaver had been at work building mud tunnels and lodges. Karen, a sturdy Canadian, marched on like a metronome setting a workman-like pace.

Bright yellow blooms on lily pads blanketed the south shore of the lake. Sedges, tall grasses, and skunk weed filled the meadows. On we went, entering soft forest duff beneath the protective arms of our brothers the trees that have stood here for hundreds of years.

13100034-Ponytail-Falls (2)Amazingly we stayed warm and dry despite the drizzling rain. Nature’s bouquet of purple spiked lupine and foxglove, white plumes of bear grass, and pink clumps of rhododendron made this walk a special treat.

“You got the forest in your boots!” came from Janet, Karen’s traveling companion.

Energized from the scintillating air of the forest and a week of hiking in the water-rich world of Oregon, I hoped to bring some forest in my boots home to stay.

Linda Ballou says her mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as she can, before they are no more. “Travel tales relating my experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines. I had a great deal of fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people I have met in “naturally high places” for my newest book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales. For a complete bio as well as published on-line clips with photos go to my website www.LindaBallouAuthor.com. Your reward, aside from learning about me and my work, will be to discover the secret to youth! Follow my blog to keep up with my latest adventures.

Linda's mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as I can, before they are no more. Travel tales relating my experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines. I had a great deal of fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people I have met in “naturally high places” for my newest book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales.