Over the River and Through the Woods: A Day Trip on Oregon’s Infinity Loop
There is no better place to start exploring our region’s natural wonders than Troutdale. The City is a terminus of two National Scenic Byways – Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway and Mount Hood Scenic Byway. One takes you along the river, providing sweeping views of the river, the Gorge and beyond. The other takes you through river valleys, a national forest, and up and around Oregon's iconic mountain. If you can’t decide between the two routes, you can combine them into one – the Infinity Loop.
It's the journey, not the destination
Begin your drive at the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Historic Downtown Troutdale. From there, follow the road east over the Sandy River, and take a right to make your way through the woods. The bridge marks the beginning of the Historic Columbia River Highway, America’s first scenic highway. This 75-mile stretch of road was built between 1913 and 1922 and takes you past country farms, astonishing viewpoints, and stunning waterfalls. There are plenty of places to stop and take in the scenery or get out and go for an extended hike. Some of the must-see spots include:
Vista House at Crown Point
An 1917 Art Noveau style building that sits on a promontory 700 feet above the Columbia River. It’s the perfect panoramic view of the western Gorge.
Some of the most spectacular waterfalls you will ever see are within viewing distance of the Historic Columbia River Highway. Whether your aim is to pull into a parking spot to take a quick photo or get out and hike the area, there is no shortage of opportunities.
The grandest of the Gorge’s waterfalls and the second highest year-round fall in the nation, Multnomah Falls features a 620’ plunge between its two tiers. It is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. One look and you’ll know why.
Bonneville Lock and Dam
Built in the 1930s, the dam is a National Historic Site and the first of a string of dams in the main channel of the Columbia River. The visitor's center features information on the cultural history of the area and even underwater windows that allow you to watch salmon migrate up the fish ladder. The state’s largest fish hatchery is located next to the dam.
This small town in the heart of the Gorge is home to native fish markets, craft breweries, and the crossing point over the Columbia River for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. The Bridge of the Gods is the only bridge across the Columbia between Portland and Hood River.
From here you can continue down Historic Columbia River Highway toward The Dalles to continue to enjoy the sweeping views as the scenery transitions from high cliffs to plateaus and savannahs. It’s also where you can take the second leg of the Infinity Loop – Mt. Hood Scenic Byway.
From Valley to Summit
Leaving Hood River behind, you’ll continue your journey on the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway. From lush farmland to places where you can have a snowball fight any time of year, this route runs just over 100 miles and takes about three to four hours to drive without stops. Of course, the stops are a big part of what makes this maginificent drive so worthwhile. As you begin your ascent to Oregon’s highest peak, you’ll want to check out these must-see spots.
The Fruit Loop
The first highlight of the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway is the famed Fruit Loop of the Hood River Valley. This area is known for the numerous farm stands, u-picks, cideries, lavender fields, orchards, and wineries.
Climbing out of the valley, the Mt. Hood National Forest opens up before you as and the loop around the mountain itself begins. You’ll take in incredible views of the summit and the basin below. After OR-35 merges with US-26, you'll hit a perfect spot for a quick detour. Take the Trillium Lake turnoff and continue down the road to the trailhead for the Trillium Lake loop hike. This easy 1.9 mile hike will provide postcard-perfect views of the lake and mountain. Afterward, head back to US-26 and turn onto Timberline Road to continue uo the moutain to to Timberline Lodge, a 1930s-era resort. The lodge is a destination in and of itself and is home to the longest skiing season in U.S. You will find plenty of dining options and year-round recreational opportunites. You may also recognize the resort as the as the exterior of the hotel from the film The Shining.
As you begin your descent from Timberline, you'll roll into the community of Government Camp. At 4,000 feet, this mountain town is the hub for activities any time of year. It serves as the gateway to the ski resorts, as well as plenty of outdoor recreational opportunites and cultural sites.
Villages of Mt. Hood
From Mt. Hood, you'll head downhill through the Sandy River Valley past the towns of Rhododendron, Zigzag, and Welches. You’ll pass resorts, restaurants, and hiking trails. Just past Welches is the Wildwood Recreation Site, 550 acres of beautiful, forested land next to the Salmon River, a protected National Wild and Scenic River.
As you exit Mt. Hood National Forest, you’ll reach the city of Sandy. Here you’ll find iconic views of Mt. Hood at Jonsrud Viewpoint, plenty of recreation opportunities for the entire family, and some great places to get some snacks before you start the home stretch to Troutdale.
Returning to Troutdale
After wrapping up your whirlwind tour of some of Oregon’s most spectacular sites, there’s nothing better than a meal at one of Troutdale’s fantastic restaurants. You can even extend your trip with a visit to McMenamins Edgefield where you can enjoy everything from fine dining and a dip in the soaking pool, to a feature film in their movie theater or a game of 8 ball in their pool hall.