The Mount Hood Scenic Loop just might be one of the most underrated scenic drives in the country. It’s a four-hour driving loop with nothing less than 100 stunning stops along the way! 

Of course, this loop can be done in a day or in a week, depending on how much time you have, but doing it quickly is better than not at all—Yeah, it’s THAT beautiful! 

While we hope you can complete everything along this scenic stretch of road, we’re giving you a quick low-down below so you can make the most of your time, with options to add stops depending on your time constraints.

Prepping for Your Trip on The Mount Hood Scenic Loop

Before we get too deep, here’s a map to help you understand the loop and where it takes you. We’ve made it start in Portland but if you happen to be elsewhere, the loop can be done the same.

MAP

mount-hood-scenic-loop-map

Here are some tips to help you out:

  • Starting Point: We think it’s better to start with The Gorge (the upper part of the loop) since it tends to be the busier road. So if you get this section done with earlier, you’ll be avoiding some extra traffic, both on the road and at the attractions.
  • Spring: This is one of the best time visit because the waterfalls are gushing, the wildflowers are out on full display, and not everyone and their mother is visiting quite yet. This is a good time to come.
  • Sustainable Travel Tip: These areas are home to delicate ecosystems. Practice Leave No Trace principles rigorously. Enjoying the environment respectfully ensures its beauty remains for generations to come.
  • Local Festivals: Check the local calendar for festivals and events. There usually something happening at the mountain or along The Gorge! Check here.
  • Pack Right: This area’s weather can change quick. Bring layers, be prepared for anything, and wear some comfy hikers while exploring.

Starting in PortlandDirectors Park Portland, Oregon

You might be wondering, uhm, there are SO many things to do in Portland, why the heck would I leave? And hey, you’re not wrong! But also, there’s a wondrous world just beyond the city limits of Portland, and it would be a crying shame to miss it. 

If you’re all about the city life, then stay, but if you want to feel like you’ve been transported to another dimension, there’s tons of waterfalls, scenic vistas, an insanely gorgeous gorge, a massive mountain (maybe you’ve seen it beyond Portland’s skyline?!) and some seriously cool hikes to discover… 

So, if you’re ready to change out of your jeans, ditch the city-slicker look, and strap on hiking boots instead, THIS is the trip to take! Here are the best stops on the Mount Hood Scenic Loop. 

1. Take in the Views From Vista Housevista-house-view

Perched precariously on top of a rocky outcrop, Vista House is perfectly positioned to offer 360 views of the Columbia River Gorge. 

The building is a century-old observatory and a must-stop on any visit to the gorge. This is just your intro, your sneak peek, if you will… It sits on top of Crown Point, which towers 733 feet above the Columbia River. Because of this lofty position, the building earned its name as the Jewel of the Columbia River Gorge. Crown Point

As well as impressive views, the building itself is a sight to behold, designed in German Art Nouveau style, with eight sides. Once inside, the unique architectural designs continue, and you can admire them while enjoying the views, the gift shop, and the espresso bar.

2. Cruise The Columbia River Highwaycolumbia-river-gorge-highway-besides-river

If you are short on time and just want a glimpse of The Gorge, drive on the scenic Columbia River Highway, stopping along the way for photos and picnics. After the Vista House, this is where the real stuff begins! First up, we can’t miss talking about the waterfalls. 

The Gorge is simply full of them, and impressive ones at that. A few of the most scenic falls include Bridal Veil Falls, Horsetail Falls, Latourell Falls, and the most famous thing to do in Oregon, Multnomah Falls, to name just a few. Bridal Veil Falls

All of them can be reached via scenic hikes, so take your pick! You would seriously need a few weeks to get through all the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, so don’t feel bad if you don’t have all the time in the world to see them all. Head to Multnomah and Horsetail as they are the easiest to see pretty much straight off the road.

14 Best Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

3. Pop into Hood River

Lavender farm in Hood River

Lavender farm in Hood River

Hood River is a small town on The Gorge and the last stop on this upper part of the loop before we head into the Mount Hood area. Here you can find cute produce markets, water sports like SUPing and kayaking out on The Hook, and a collection of nice breweries, wineries, restaurants, and cafes. 

If you feel like you deserve a half-way-done beer, then head to pFriem Family Brewers! That’s a personal favorite. Go ahead and fill up the tank too since the next gas station is about 40 miles away.

8 Great Wineries in Hood River

4. Discover Tamanawas Fallstamanawas-falls-mount-hood-hikes

Cascading over a 110-foot-high lava cliff, Tamanawas Falls is pretty impressive. Getting to this spectacular waterfall is relatively easy and can be completed no matter the season. 

To get to the waterfall from the trailhead, you will only have to climb 560 feet and walk just under 4 miles round trip. Due to its accessibility, it can be very crowded during peak months. Tamanawas Falls

You can’t get any better than a hike through thick forests, along a bubbling stream, and ending with one of the most stunning waterfalls in Oregon! If you have the time for a nice leg stretcher, it’s a great scenic stop.

5. Head Up to Mount Hoodview-of-mount-hood-from-portland

Take a slight detour and head up to the main mountain that dominates the skyline from Portland on this road trip! Winters are perfect for fun in the snow, and summers mean the paths are clear for hiking. 

There are a few more waterfalls up here, events galore, adventure parks, and more. There’s no bad season to visit, that’s for sure.

Timberline Lodge

Timberline Lodge

If you’re too mesmerized and don’t want to move, you can stay at the Timberline Lodge up on the mountain. Just don’t get creeped out when you find out it was in the movie The Shining!

6. Get the Best Views of Mount Hood at Trillium Laketrillium-lake

When looking for THAT view of Mount Hood, chances are you will find it at Trillium Lake. Sometimes the best views of a mountain are from down below rather than up top! 

The lake provides postcard-worthy views of this mighty mountain, and the endless recreational activities are just a bonus. This is also your best option if you’re low on time since it’s an easy scenic stop without much of a detour. 

For keen anglers, it is a great spot to try your luck catching a trout or two; the water is chilly, but if you are brave enough, take a plunge into the icy water to cool off. If you want to get into the water but would rather stay dry, canoes and kayaks are excellent options for some lake fun. 

You could also stretch your legs on the Trillium Lake Loop – a leisurely stroll with impressive sights along the way.

This is technically the last stop if you did the clockwise route from Portland we suggested. We think as long as you made it here for sunset, you will be golden. You’ll be driving the last hour back in the city, so just take care and take it slow. You saw all the best things to do on this scenic loop!

Go Camping!camping-nottingham-mount-hood-hikes

Sad to leave? Don’t want it to end? Want to take the Mount Hood Scenic Loop a bit slower? We LOVE camping in this area! Although the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood areas are an easy day trip from Portland, there are loads of great places to camp if you want to make a weekend of it. 

Most of these are at the Portland end of The Gorge if you’re hitting up the waterfalls. In this case, Ainsworth State Park is the closest to the city and it’s our favorite spot! Around Mount Hood, you can camp at Trillium Lake (they fill up quickly!) or Nottingham Campgrounds around Tamanawas Falls.

How Long Do You Need for The Loop?

You only need a little over 3 hours to complete the loop, but that’s without stopping. Here are a few options but you’ll need to take into consideration how early you’re starting, traffic, stopping for food etc.

  • 1 Day: You’ll probably only have time to do Vista House, Multnomah Falls, and Trillium Lake.
  • 2 Days: You can do all the stops mentioned in the article, but you’ll probably need to be pretty quick and start early.
  • 3 Days: You’ll be able to leisurely do everything I mentioned above, including heading up Mount Hood and wandering around and maybe tackling a few more of the easy waterfall hikes along the Gorge.

 

Tour Option:

With The Columbia River Gorge right on the doorstep of Portland, you have to explore it while in the area. If you don’t have a car to head there yourself, make use of a prearranged tour so you get to see all the highlights without the stress. 

Head along The Gorge and chase some waterfalls on a fun-filled day before topping it off at Timberline Lodge on the top of Mount Hood! It won’t be as relaxed and it might be a long day, but it’s the best way to see this area on a tight timeframe without renting a car!

Guest Author: Nina and Garrett are two PNW-obsessed travelers who love hanging out in the outdoors. You can catch them exploring the PNW in their trusty 1974 VW Bus named Lucy and helping fellow travelers explore the West Coast.

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