If you’re a windsports addict, the Columbia River Gorge is either on your bucket list, or on your calendar. You come to the Gorge to push your windsurfing level, or to have it pushed on your behalf by the mighty Gorge winds. On a Gorge trip your body begs for a break, your gear needs repair, and your blistered hands find relief wrapped around an ice cold beverage. But, could there possibly be more to a Gorge trip than that? After many summers of visits, and now years of living, I can tell you the answer is a resounding yes. Don’t tick The Gorge off your bucket list unless you’ve ticked off the entire Gorge Bucket List.
This Gorge Bucket List is broken down based on addiction level. The "wind chasers" won’t take "no wind" for an answer. They will chase it. The folks who can’t sit still might accept "no wind", but will hunt adrenaline through other means. And then there comes a time for every Gorge visitor to put their feet up for a well deserved break.
For the wind chasers:
The Coast: The Pacific Coast, 100 miles west of Hood River, often blows when the Gorge isn’t firing. It’s a must visit for any experienced windsurfer willing to battle the Oregon Coast’s legendary breaks; Pistol River, Florence, and Oceanside to name a few. Some of the breaks are easy day trips from Hood River, while others may warrant overnight accommodation.The wind is often best late in the day, so no need to get there early. Pack a warm wetsuit because the water hovers around 55F, a camera for the scenic drives, and don’t forget to top off your day with Tillamook Ice Cream or artisan fudge.
East Wind: Don’t let a glassy morning with no wind forecast in Hood River fool you! There is probably good wind just 20 miles to the west at Stevenson. Making the most of these classic Gorge days starts the night before. If you see light swirly winds in the Hood River forecast, then look for consistent east breeze in the Stevenson forecast. The actual wind tends to outperform the predictions and wind meter. When hitting the water choose gear on the larger side as the wind and current coming from the same direction can sweep you away. Stay aware, spot the east wind in the forecast, and don’t miss out on these sneaker days.
Out East: Don’t confuse "Out East" with "East Wind". "Out East" means strong west wind in the eastern gorge. We’re talking places like Doug’s, The Wall and Arlington. These are not sneaker days. In fact these are the talk of the town, and you will hear rumors about a good day out east brewing. In fact, sometimes the rumor exists before the weather forecast. Either way you’ll want to be there. The most obvious sign that it’s good day out east are clouds that have pushed in past Hood River causing gusty winds. Doug’s Beach is the friendliest and closest "Out East" launch with wading depth water on either side of a narrow channel. The Wall and Arlington are both advanced launches, requiring short swims and advanced skills to navigate strong winds, currents, and large swells. No matter your destination, pack a small sail.
For the folks who can’t sit still
Bike: Whether it’s e-biking or pedaling to crush calories, you won’t have to travel far to tick this off your Gorge Bucket List. Hood River’s local bike shops are pumped about the local riding, offer rentals, and can steer you in the right direction for your biking expectations. A few routes closest to town include Post Canyon for mountain biking, the Twin Tunnels for a cruiser ride, and road rides in the Hood River Valley. If you want to step it up a notch look up "44 trails", "Syncline", "Sandy Ridge" or a shuttle ride from Timberline to Rhododenderon.
Ski and Timberline Lodge: Mid summer skiing is a blast! I ski all winter long, but the day I talk about the most is when I skied in boardshorts on the July 4th long weekend at Timberline. Cruise the groomers, hit the terrain park, or bump through the moguls. A one hour drive and you’re at the historic Timberline Lodge with mesmerizing, up close views of Mt. Hood. Oh and don’t worry if the wind comes up on the river, skiing and windsurfing the same day is a thing in The Gorge!
Surf: Similarly to a coast windsurfing trip, there are many surf breaks that are a reasonable day trip from Hood River. Check out Short Sands, Pacific City and Cannon Beach. Lessons and rentals abound! My favorite is to surf the glassy morning, have a big brunch while the wind comes up, and enjoy an afternoon of wave sailing.
White Water: There is an entire parallel universe of river paddlers among the windsports folks of the Gorge. The Hood River area is a top white water rafting destination. The Columbia River tributaries run dryer in the warmest months when most people plan a Gorge Trip, but there is plenty of adventure to be had. Link up with one of the many white water outfitters for guided trips. Waterfalls are optional.
Hike: Keep it active and simple with a hike. There are too many good hikes to list them all. Start with Tamanawas Falls, Wahclella Falls, and Rowena Crest before you progress to leg burners like Dog Mountain and Mount Defiance. When doing your research don’t forget to check both the distance and elevation gain to know what you're signing yourself up for.
For a true break
Maryhill Museum: A museum of art out in the desert, right next to an awesome windsurfing spot. Weird, but a visit will teach you why.. The Maryhill Museum Is known as one of the most fascinating cultural destinations in the Pacific North West, where 19th century art with ties to Queen Marie of Romania and Samuel Hill is displayed alongside sculptures by Auguste Rodin. Only minutes from the renowned windsurf launch "The Wall", and even closer to award winning wine tasting overlooking the Columbia River at the Maryhill Winery. An awesome field trip no matter the wind speeds.
Bonneville Dam and Herman the Sturgeon: If you took a hard pass on the coast trips previously listed because of fear of sharks, visiting the Bonneville Dam, just 20 miles to the West of Hood River, may keep you from reentering the fresh waters of the Columbia River. Seeing eye to eye with Herman the Sturgeon at 11 feet and 500lbs will make you think twice about falling on your next jibe.
Gorge Discovery Center: Just 15 miles east of Hood River you will find the official interpretive center of the Columbia River Gorge. A visit is a must to understand how the Columbia River that you windsurf on today, along with the surrounding views, were sculpted through ice ages and volcanic upheavals. A visit here gives the scenic drives to windsurf launches meaning and thought.
Music, Brews and Wines: Summer evenings in downtown Hood River are a must. Streets close and galleries open on the first Friday of every month. Quality live music can be heard nearly every summer night, and if daytime sipping is in the cards visit the wineries that offer spectacular Mt. Hood or Adams views.
For the real reason you’re there
Big Wednesday: And of course, the main bucket list item on any windsurfer’s Gorge Trip: BIG WEDNESDAY! These are the days that make the gorge, "The Gorge". Big Wednesday takes place at the Hatchery. It can happen on any day of the week. Wednesday just rolls off the tongue well, plus, if you’re busy chasing wind or ticking off other Gorge Trip bucket list items, you probably lost track of the days of the week anyways. You may rig up and hold on for dear life, or you might decide to watch pros trade loops off massive swells. Whether you rode on Big Wednesday, watched, or missed it, you’ll be talking about it. And your talking about it will move your windsurfing buddies Gorge Trip from the Bucket List, to the calendar.