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ADVENTURE // Down by the River

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Hood River, Oregon has it all, plus some

Story by Lucy Burningham

Photograph by Mariva England

Hood River, Oregon, has a problem. There’s too much world-class recreating within a few minutes of downtown. Expand the radius just a bit more—to say, a 30-minute drive from town—and the options are delightfully overwhelming.

Mountain bike through dense, mossy rainforest on smooth singletrack. Rip across the choppy waters of the Columbia River on a kiteboard. Tromp up a glacier on the flanks of the majestic Mount Hood. Fish for trout, steelhead, or spring Chinook on the Hood River. Maneuver a kayak through mile after mile of churning whitewater.

Those of us who don’t live in Hood River may suffer the most when we arrive. How to choose what to do in this vast outdoor playground? Take a cue from locals, who play according to the weather.

“Just look out, turn your head 360 degrees and figure out what kind of weather you want and what you want to do,” says Erica Gerald, who runs the 2nd Wind Sports shop with her husband Pepi. “When it’s pouring and gray, I drive east and find some sunshine near the Deschutes River. Or I run across the river to the Syncline Trail out of White Salmon.”

For a while, Gerald structured her life around the wind, as many here do. Hood River has been a windsurfing destination since the early 1980s, when some windsurfers from Seattle “discovered” Hood River as an unparalleled destination with high winds ripping across the wide expanse of the Columbia River.

By 1986, the town was hosting a windsurfing race that awarded the winner $30,000. Those were the days when a local radio program called “Bart’s Best Bet” gave locals daily wind predictions each morning. A decade later, kiteboarders arrived on the scene, and today they vastly outnumber windsurfers with their billowing sails.

Hood River is an ideal place to try kiteboarding for the first time, but be sure to sign up for multiple lessons if you’re a novice. “The first couple of days are the hardest,” Gerald says, “but once you figure it out it’s much easier than windsurfing.”

If the learning curve seems too steep, you can appreciate the sport from dry land. Grab some beers and head to the grass in the marina or a spot known as “the sandbar,” the primary kiteboarding launch spot in town. It’s easy to see boarders careening across the water from both locations.

Look closely and you’ll see the Slider Project, a set of three anchored floating features that make up the only public kiteboarding terrain park in the world. Like a snowboard park on water, the Slider Project allows kiteboarders of all stripes to hit rails, ramps, and a flat box called “the dance floor.”

Naturally, after any good kiting session, riders will want to drink beer. If they didn’t plan ahead and pack cans or bottles in a cooler, they might head to one of three brewpubs in town, where they’ll run into mountain bikers, climbers, skiers, paddleboarders, kayakers, and hikers with a similar thirst.

Hood River’s first craft brewery—Full Sail Brewing—opened in 1987, around the same time the windsurfers descended. Full Sail started making beer in an abandoned fruit cannery, and ever since, the craft brewing pioneer has become widely known for its bottled beers. (Most recently the adorably squat Session lager series.)

Today you can visit Full Sail’s tasting room and pub in the same location where it all began, perched on a bluff in town overlooking the river. Visiting presents the chance to sample a range of seasonal one-offs that can be hard to find elsewhere, including barrel-aged beers from the Brewmaster Reserve series.

Full Sail shared the brewing scene with Big Horse Brewpub, which opened as a restaurant in 1988 and added a brewery seven years later. In 2007, Double Mountain Brewery opened a brewery and taproom about a block from Full Sail. “A lot of people said, ‘You want to put a brewery next to Full Sail?’” says brewer/owner Matt Swihart. “But we were clear from the start that we were different.”

Swihart describes Double Mountain’s unfiltered beers as a blend of Belgian styles and Northwest IPAs. Belgium is represented in the house yeast strain; the Northwest shines through in a prominent array of hops.

Last July, Double Mountain expanded its brew space and taproom, which translates to more beer, a bottling line, a second bar, a stage for live music, and even more places to sit and eat a blistered crust New Haven-style pizza while quaffing a hoppy pint.

Swihart says he hopes Hood River will become a beer destination. If the past year is any indication, his wish may have already been granted. Solera Brewery opened in nearby Parkdale, joining the existing Everybody’s Brewing across the river in White Salmon, Washington, and Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales, which doesn’t have a tasting room but operates on a farm just outside Hood River.

In the summer of 2012, pFriem Family Brewers became the newest brewery to join the party. Located in Hood River, across the street from a riverfront park with a beach and climbing wall, the brewery occupies a spacious platinum LEED-certified building. Inside, reclaimed barn wood tables, handmade tap handles, and funky spherical light fixtures add warmth and style to the space shared with a gleaming brewhouse and stainless steel fermenters.

Brewmaster and co-owner Josh Pfriem, formerly of Chuckanut Brewery and the Utah Brewers Cooperative, makes an impressive range of Belgian-influenced beers, most of which are filtered to match the clarity of nearby mountain streams, from the spicy Belgian Strong Blonde to a refreshing Wit. A formative trip to Belgium with his wife, Annie, helped inspire Pfriem’s brewery, which he hopes to pass along to his three-year-old son one day.

“Every beer we brew here is a pain in the ass, from hand grinding coriander to filling the hop back,” says Pfriem, who is able to control the brewing process from his iPhone, even in the middle of the night if needed.

It’s this kind of obsessive dedication to quality beer that makes Hood River more than just a simple refueling stop between adventures. So next time you’re in town, looking at the weather forecast and trying to decide what to do outdoors, think about taking a some time to just sit and enjoy a beer. Then see where the day takes you.

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Brews & Bikes

If you’re thirsty for more Oregon beer and want to swap war stories from the road or the trail, head to Dirty Fingers Bike Shop, which serves three beers on tap (most frequently Boneyard Beer RPM IPA). As if that’s not enough, the shop’s attached to 10 that also serves—wait for it—beer. facebook.com/DirtyFingersBicycles

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Hikes & Pints

This Portland-based company takes groups on organized hikes that end with beers at craft breweries. Two trips include pints in Hood River. One takes you to McCall Point, with its stunning views of the Gorge. The other, on the lower portion of the Deschutes River, follows trails through a stunning arid landscape. hikesandpints.com

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10 Adventures Near Hood River

You could spend a lifetime exploring the mountains, rivers, lakes, and snowfields around this town. Or just hit the highlights.

Mountain bike the Post Canyon trails, where a variety of wooden freeride features make for big jumps and drops, plus there’s good downhill singletrack. Located five miles west of Hood River.

Whitewater raft the 14-foot Husum Falls, one of the most popular attractions on the White Salmon River. A serious adrenaline rush.

Freestyle kiteboard on the Slider Project on the Columbia River, which is accessible from “the sandbar.” It’s the only public kiteboarding park in the world.

HIke the Tamanawas Falls trail, a 3.8-mile roundtrip hike on the east side of Mount Hood that offers multiple views of the falls. Forest Service Pass required.

Climb Pete’s Pile, a large basalt wall with more than 30 routes on the east side of Mount Hood.

Stand up paddleboard on the Columbia River during any weather conditions, from choppy to calm. Some locals paddle out with dogs and small kids on their boards.

Ski the Snow Dome, a classic summertime backcountry ski destination on the north face of Mount Hood.

Snowboard at Mount Hood Meadows, a ski resort on the south side of the mountain. Yeah, it’s an hour’s drive from Hood River, but on a good snow day it’s worth the car time.

Kayak some flat water on the Columbia River, especially at sunset or during a full moon.

Fish the pristine Deschutes River, which winds through the desert landscape before meeting the Columbia River.

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