When Heidi Parr moved to Hood River thirteen years ago from Portland to teach skiing and work ski patrol at Mount Hood Meadows, she never imagined the town would inspire her to put down such deep roots. But for someone who loves to play outdoors, there’s nothing better than easy access to a glacier-draped dormant volcano, the wide and windswept Columbia River, and miles of twisting forested singletrack.
“I feel like I’m on vacation when I’m off work,” Parr says. “I love being somewhere where recreation is part of the lifestyle. There’s so much out our back door.”
Parr and her husband, Darin, both firefighters in Vancouver, Washington, commute 140 miles round trip in order to live in the small town, where they’re raising two young boys. The commute is worth it, Parr says, watching her toddlers learn to ride bikes and ski at nearby Mount Hood Meadows.
The town, which rests on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, has long drawn people itching to be outdoors. In the early 1900s, intrepid Portlanders would ride steamer ships up the river to vacation at the Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel, named for the waterfall that tumbles behind today’s Columbia Gorge Hotel.
As roads were built to better connect city denizens to the Gorge, including the historic Columbia River Highway (finished in 1922), Oregonians drove to Hood River during the spring to see thousands of acres of apple orchards blooming in the adjacent fertile valley, with the imposing Mount Hood in the background. When a devastating freeze killed most of the apple trees in 1919, farmers replanted the land with hardier pear trees, and today Hood River County leads the world in Anjou pear production.
Many of today’s visitors drive the county’s Fruit Loop, a cluster of thirty-two fruit stands and wineries selling everything from fresh lavender to pumpkins, depending on the time of year. Others come to experience what the Parrs covet: the great outdoors as a platform for fun. In the early 1980s, a crew of windsurfers from Seattle “discovered” Hood River as a ripping, high-winds playground and by 1986, a windsurfing race that finished in town awarded the winner $30,000.
Those were the days when a local radio program called “Bart’s Best Bet” gave locals daily wind forecasts each morning, says Katie Crafts, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association. “People would go to the coffee shop to listen to what Bart said,” Crafts recalls. “His words became gospel for the day’s activities.” A decade later, kiteboarders arrived on the scene, wearing baggy shorts over wetsuits. Today kiteboarders and windsurfers share the waters (and winds) with fishermen, kayakers, stand-up paddlers and barge pilots on the Columbia River.
On any given day in downtown Hood River, you can find locals and visitors mingling and swapping tales about the best fruit stand for berries or the perfect mountain trail for blooming wildflowers. The scene hasn’t changed much, even since Heidi Parr came to town. “Things in my life have changed drastically,” she says, “but the town feels the same without being stuck somewhere in time. I’m not sure I could ever go back to living in a city.”
Drive the Hood River Fruit Loop, stopping at farm stands for seasonal produce.
Go windsurfing or kiteboarding on the Columbia River.
Ride a mountain bike on the Post Canyon trail, five miles west of Hood River.
Enjoy music and art at the monthly Hood River Downtown First Friday Art Walk.