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Pacific Northwest

Mt Rainier

Where?  Returning to the Pacific Northwest via Portland as our gateway city, we traversed north-central Oregon and south-central Washington to visit the states’ highest peaks and the Columbia River Gorge.

Highlights:  Mount Hood (OR), Multnomah Falls hiking trails (OR), Tamanawas Falls (OR), White Salmon River rafting (WA),  and Mount Rainier (WA).

When?  The terrain in this area of the Pacific Northwest is visually stunning making it a great place to visit any time of year.  Though the glacial peak of Mount Hood offers year round skiing/boarding, we’ll make a “duh” recommendation that you come during winter for true winter sports and late spring through mid fall for other activities.  We visited early summer, during a true heat-wave, but were blessed to have dry weather for no interruption to our vacation.

Who?  The Pacific Northwest offers something for everyone.  That being said, this trip was more adventurous (to be read dangerous) than most our trips and more appropriate for older children given the road trip nature and rigor of activities.

What?  While we made a few pit-stops along the way for shopping, food, and doughnuts, this review is largely about our outdoor adventures.


Below is a list of our must see recommendations:

  • Historic Columbia River Highway – Scenic Byway:  There are a lot of scenic drives, but this one pack more into ~40 miles than most.  From Portland, you’ll head east on I84 taking exit 22 toward the Vista House at Crown Point.  Here you start your journey with panoramic views of the Gorge and historical displays that put the coming drive in perspective.  Driving along Highway 30, the Historic Columbia River Highway offers glimpses of the Columbia River while winding through a canopy of trees and canyon walls.  During a stretch of about 9 miles there are 7 spectacular waterfalls, just off the road.  Each falls area has either designated or roadside parking enabling access to trails and in some cases the falls themselves.

Multnomah Falls is the most famous of the Gorge waterfalls.  It’s two step drop of 620 feet makes it the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the tallest in the nation.  At the base of the falls, beautiful Multnomah Falls Lodge is the perfect place for a pre or post falls hike pit-stop.  The Lodge has a full restaurant of fine food as well as drinks and snacks.  The Lodge area is well paved and wheel chair accessible at a viewing area at the base of the falls all the way to Benson Bridge that sits between the upper and lower falls.  From there, while still paved, the ~1.1 mile climb to the top of the falls is steep, roughly 600 vertical feet, requiring a relatively high level of physical fitness and endurance.  We stopped several times along the way to catch our breath.  Each time we Multnomah Falls - Columbia River Gorgeconsidered turning back, we were encouraged on our climb by seeing the number of little ones that were making their way down.  At the top, the views are stunning.  For those with time and energy, the climb further is a maintained Upper Multnomah Creek with a handful of falls that are beautiful in their own right.  The hike to the top won’t be for everyone, but we recommend a stop at Multnomah Falls if only for the view from the bottom.

  • Mount Hood:  Oregon’s highest peak, Mount Hood, stands at 11,249 and is one of the most climbed mountains in the world.  The mountain and foothills house a network of trails, creeks, and a few lakes.  We began our day at Trillium Lake.  After consider a hike around the lake or canoe/kayak rental, our oldest son asked when we were climbing the mountain.  Game on, we got in the car and drove to Timberline Lodge located mid-mountain.  There we stopped by the forestry service for a map of Mountaineer Trail.  The trail began as a nice series of switchbacks until we broke above the tree line.  From there, the trail simply went “up,” steeply up a 1,000 foot elevation gain.  We Trillium Lake + Mount Hoodstruggled at times to keep our footing on the dusty trail and had to stop frequently to catch our breath and get water.  Upon reaching the Silcox Hut at ~7,000, we were done.  Stick a fork in us done.  We took in the view then caught the last chair lift back to the lodge.  Aside from challenging hikes, and expeditions to the top, the mountain is home to 6 ski areas that offer year round glacier skiing.


  • Tamanawas Falls:  Though we’d seen and hiked along several waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area, our most enjoyable hike was the Tamanawas Falls Trail at the east base of Mount Hood about 15 minutes from Parkdale accessible from Highway 35.  The trail follows the rushing Cold Spring Creek through mature evergreens until reaching the 100 foot falls.  At the end of the trail, those willing to brave the cold can climb down to the creek below the falls.  As Oregon states “Sure footed hikers can climb the talus to the right of the falls to reach the amphitheater behind the falls.”  Halfway Tamanawas Falls - inside outalong the maze of rocks and boulders I questioned the safety of the climb.  But, since I was following my boys, there was no going back.  Looking through the back side of the falls as the thundering sound echoed all around, I thanked God for my wild at heart boys who led me to a bucket-list experience I’d not thought about before.


  • White Salmon River:  Having trekked Mount Hood in Oregon, we turned out eye north of the Columbia River toward Mount Adams.  Rather than another mountain climb, we opted for a whitewater trip down the White Salmon River, a tributary of the Columbia River that originates on the frozen slopes of Mount Adams.  The trip was a welcome break for our tired feet and a great way to cool off on a hot summer day.  While the river has tons of exciting rapids, for rafters, it is perhaps most famous for Husum White Salmon River - Husum FallsFalls.  The falls are well marked allowing the faint of heart, and smaller/younger rafters, to bypass the falls and rejoin their party below.  The drop of 10 to 14 feet depending on water levels makes Husum the tallest commercially raftable drop on the country.  That said, Husum may be one of the safest Class V rapid you’ll have an opportunity to run since the entry and exit are fairly free of hazards. Dad and oldest son took the wild ride, catching air on the entry and disappearing into the hole before popping out, all intact.


  • Mount Rainier:  Washington’s highest peak, Mount Rainier, is an icon of the Washington horizon. Rising to a height of 14,410 feet Mount Rainier is also the highest peak within the Cascade Range.  There are two primary areas to visit on Mount Rainier, for those of us not climbing to the top, Paradise and Sunrise.  The Paradise area on the southwestern side is the closest main entrance to the Portland area, though still a long drive at ~3 hours.  Sunrise is on the northeast side of Rainier, roughly 1.5 hours from Paradise via winding roads.  While many peaks’ beauty is from afar, Mount Rainier’s Paradise and Sunrise trails are visually stunning on mountain.  We Mt Rainier - Paradise Skyline Trailspent the bulk of our time on Paradise’s Skyline trail.  From the parking area, our initial ascent seemed impossibly steep despite the nicely paved path.  At one point as we stopped to catch our breath, a little old lady who identified herself as a park volunteer offered us encouragement to stay the course, that the effort was worth it; such wise counsel from one who seemed to have more energy than all in our family.  Sure enough, once off the paved path, the grade less difficult and the view incredibly beautiful.  From the blooming meadows to massive Nisqually Glacier, Skyline has a little bit of everything for nature lovers and hikers.




Accommodations:  Like many national parks and forests, there are few accommodations within the forests.  The surrounding towns offer plenty of rental properties, but if you don’t know the area it may be hard to find a place that meets your expectations.

One option we considered was to stay in Portland and make daytrips, but we determined that would result in far too much time in the car at the sacrifice of QT on the trail or at the expense of eating at reasonable times and places.  Another option is to stay in the city of Hood River, much closer to key natural attractions at 30 minutes from Mount Hood, Gorge waterfalls, and Mount Adams’ White Salmon River, as well as home to world class windsurfing and kitesurfing.

After some extra research, we came across a Parkdale property on VRBO (Mt. Hood-Parkdale Getaway, VRBO property 708405) that became the base of our Oregon adventures.  This wonderful home has a postcard quality and unobstructed view of Mount Hood (see picture from backyard below).  We later stayed in Portland from which we made the trek to Mt. Rainier.

C&K in the Hood




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  1. Hi what is the name and number of the Parkdale property on VRBO that you stayed! Blessings, trish Koser

    • Hi Trish – My apology for not having the link active in the original post. It is updated now.

      The property is the Mt Hood – Parkdale Getaway property number 708405.


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