Autumn must have been created with children in mind. What kid doesn’t love to catch falling leaves, pick apples and paint pumpkins? And we know just the place to celebrate the harvest with your family this fall: Hood River, Oregon.
The charming town of Hood River, located on the Columbia River Gorge about 60 miles east of Portland, gets its name from the river that flows towards the town with mineral-rich meltwater from glaciers on Mount Hood. Here lies a fertile valley where Oregon's crispest Anjou pears and brightest orange pumpkins are grown. Locals also raise alpacas, make fine wine and grow towering sunflowers. This is a place you might imagine leaving the big city for to telecommute from a hammock in your new pear orchard.
Next page: Tour the Fruit Loop
What to Do
Tour the “Fruit Loop.” Just a stone’s throw from downtown starts a scenic 35-mile drive known as the “Hood River Fruit Loop.” The easy drive through picturesque farmland in the valley between the Columbia River and Mt. Hood includes over 30 possible stops to taste cider, feed alpacas, u-pick sunflowers or buy boxes of fruit at astonishingly cheap prices for your home canning hobby. Begin the fruit loop drive on Hwy. 35 on the east end of downtown Hood River. (The whole route with suggested stops is available as a printable map online.)
Most of the farms are small and family-run, but their output is big: About half of the nation’s winter pear crop comes from this valley. The tour makes for a wonderful family outing to take in the scenery and learn about where our food comes from.
For kids, every stop on the fruit loop map is a treasure but there are a few that really stand out. Make the Gorge White House one of your first stops to burn off some morning energy — kids can run to their heart's content through vibrant fields of u-pick flowers (expect late-season dahlias and sunflowers in autumn) and rows of pear trees. Pick up a box of freshly picked red and green pears for holiday jam and desserts. Inside, adults can taste wines from a variety of Columbia Gorge wineries.
Next page: Draper Girls Country Farm
Another kid favorite is Draper Girls Country Farm in the middle of the valley. Visitors u-pick here in season or buy fresh from the farm stand where they can also stock up on apple cider made on site, jams, jellies and premium cuts of lamb. Photo ops abound — pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and unique markings adorn the base of tree trunks and old farming equipment around the farm. A cherished wooden swing hangs from the branch of a giant tree. And to top it all off, they have a petting zoo! If you want to immerse yourself in real life on the farm, check out their vacation rental house — a genuine farm stay.
Ever fed an alpaca? You can at Cascade Alpacas Foothills Yarn & Fiber. Pet and feed the variety of baby and adult alpacas raised here for their wool, then browse the yarn shop for your next knitting project.
Next page: Mt. Hood Railroad
Ride on the Mt. Hood Railroad. There’s a century-old railroad depot in Hood River, and from there you depart on a round-trip tour of fruit country on the “Fruit Blossom Special” train ride. Departs at 10 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in September (no Thursday train in October). $15 per person.
Hike to a waterfall. When the mighty Columbia River cut a deep canyon through the Cascades, it left a plethora of cascading waterfalls, and no visit to the Gorge is complete without a hike to one. Multnomah Falls is the highest, a 620-foot plunge and just a quarter-mile hike from the parking lot (I-84, exit 31). The Eagle Creek Trail (I-84 east to exit 41) has so many waterfalls along the way that most any turnaround point will satisfy. The popular Punchbowl Falls are two miles in. This hike is best done with small kids in a backpack carrier because there are steep dropoffs in places; utilize the handrails.
Next page: Where to stay and eat
Hood River Hotel, 102 Oak Street. This refurbished historic hotel is right downtown, welcomes children and pets and has suites with fully equipped kitchens.
Draper Girls Country Cottage, 6200 Hwy 35 in Parkdale. This four-bedroom cottage sleeps eight and is set on a 40-acre working farm, one of the most popular stops on the Hood River Fruit Loop.
Hood River Bagel Company, 13 Oak Street. Kettle-boiled bagels are the star attraction here, whether served with cream cheese or in the form of a delicious bagel sandwich.
Doppio Coffee and Lounge, 310 Oak Street. Very popular with families and providing plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, Doppio has a menu that will please everyone, from granola and chai to panini and a microbrew.
Next page: Harvest festivals
Usher in an aromatic autumn with a visit to the Hood River Hops Fest on September 29. Along with great beer, Hood River Hops Fest has all the usual fun of a Northwest festival, from wood-fired pizza and craft vendors to live music and kids’ activities.
Come to Hood River’s Harvest Festival October 19–21 and tour craft and artisan booths, enjoy live entertainment, and buy locally grown produce. A special “Kids Zone” will feature pumpkin and face painting, a petting zoo, and more.
Lauren Braden is a Northwest writer with a focus on recreation and local travel; she was formerly the communications director for Washington Trails Association, where she wrote about local hiking for nine years. She blogs at nwtripfinder.com. All photos by Lauren Braden.