The Best River Towns in America: Hood River, Oregon

This tiny town in the Columbia River Gorge is world-class for two sports and merely excellent for the rest

Paddling the gorge.

Paddling the gorge.     Photo: Tyler Roemer

The Stats

Hood River, Oregon
Population: 7,100
Median Age: 36
Median Annual Salary: $50,362
Median Home Price: $252,000
Unemployment Rate: 7.7 percent
Votes Received: 13 percent

This tiny town in the Columbia River Gorge is world-class for two sports: kiteboarding and whitewater kayaking. For others it’s merely excellent. “Winds blow spring to fall right on the town waterfront,” says real estate broker Maui Meyer. “It’s the most consistent kiting in the United States.” As for whitewater, Heather Herbeck points out that maybe half of America’s sponsored whitewater kayakers, including herself, now live in the gorge. “There is year-round paddling, Class II–V on classics like the Wind, Little White Salmon, and White Salmon, rivers” she says. Add in hundreds of miles of mountain-bike trails, two towering glacier-topped volcanoes—Mount Adams and Mount Hood—internationally celebrated steelhead fishing, and nearly year-round chairlift operations on Mount Hood, and you get a remarkable variety of recreational opportunities, no matter the season. The gorge also hosts a thriving locally sourced food scene: “We bought and smoked 18 Columbia River salmon this year in order to trade other people for produce they pick,” explains green-business consultant Becky Brun. Like a lot of resort towns, jobs can be hard to come by. The timber industry served as the city’s lifeline for years, but these days locals build careers with Full Sail Brewing, sporting-goods companies like Dakine and Slingshot, and a cluster of aerospace-engineering and electronics firms. The one big drawback is the sometimes dismal winter weather. “There’s often a 1,500-foot cloud ceiling, and horrible icy winds rip through town,” says Temira Wagonfeld, creator of TheGorgeIsMyGym.com. Still, a 40-minute drive up to Mount Hood Meadows ski area will put you beneath sunny skies. “Hood River,” according to Shelley Toon Hight, “is the definition of perfection.”

BEST LADIES' NIGHT: Every Tuesday evening during ski season, women can snag a $17 lift ticket at Skibowl on Mount Hood, a 45-minute drive from Hood River, arguably the nation’s steepest night-skiing terrain.

ON THE TOWN: Wednesday is Kill the Keg Night at Mosier’s Thirsty Woman Pub—$2.50 pints till said keg is kicked. “Ride your bike,” says Kristin Dahl, owner of voluntourism outfit Restoration Expeditions. “It’s only seven miles from downtown, four of which are on the closed-to-cars Historic Columbia State Highway Trail.”

WHAT YOU GET FOR $15: A night at the 75-year-old Tilly Jane A-Frame on the north side of Mount Hood, which is stocked with wood, cookware, and the occasional bottle of whiskey.

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