If you’re an adrenaline junkie hooked on big water, big waves and big wind, then you’ll want to think about visiting these two hotspots: Stevenson, Washington, and Hood River, Oregon.
The mighty Columbia River and about 23 miles of road separates these two communities, but they share the same eco-system. Massive river flow combined with strong upriver winds make for large, reliable standing waves that are perfect for kitesurfers, paddlers — particularly outrigger paddlers — windsurfers and more.
Known as The Gorge, the area is an epic adventure destination, with great mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor opportunities.
The place names themselves are amazing! Bridge of the Gods (made famous in the the movie “Wild”), Starvation Creek, Home Valley, White Salmon and Dog Mountain, for example.
For those of us who love watersports, though, the river is the main attraction. The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, flowing some 2,000 kilometres from British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains and making its way to sea at Astoria, Oregon.
The Columbia’s drainage basin is roughly the size of France, spanning seven U.S. states and, of course, Oregon and Washington State. The river has been a major transportation and food source for thousands of years.
It’s a wild and woolly waterway, but its unique characteristics in the Columbia Gorge make it particularly attractive to kitesurfers.
The smaller Hood River flows into the Columbia at this community, and the main river has a massive sandbar because of it. This sandbar provides for shallow water and an excellent place to launch.
It’s one of the most popular places to kitesurf in the Pacific Northwest (if not the most popular), and with winds blowing as strong as 35 miles per hour or more, the opportunities for aerial acrobatics are amazing.
Blisteringly fast gusts on most days (there is an occasional windless day), the temperatures can hit as high as 90F in the area during the summer.
It’s also a great place to visit for many other reasons. Area highways feature multiple state parks, waterfalls and lush forests and streams.
Mount Hood itself is spectacular, with its towering snow-covered crags. There are wineries, trails and waterfalls to see, with Horsetail Falls and its unique viewing area in a cavern behind the falls being a popular destination.
For paddlers of all sorts, but especially outrigger paddlers, Stevenson offers some of the best waves and wind anywhere in North America.
Each year, hundreds of athletes travel to Stevenson for its outrigger canoe races (although the races are cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis). With towering waves, warm summer water, strong wind and often clear summer skies, this destination is perfect for those who love the water.
The Columbia is a huge transportation corridor, and those who love ships and shipping will be interested to see cargo vessels plying their trade on the river.
There are lots of attractions and activities in the area, including the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Cape Horn Lookout, Lava Canyon, hiking on Hamilton Mountain, Wind Mountain or Dog Mountain, and more.
Although there is mountain biking in the Columbia Gorge, we found road biking to be difficult due to a lack of paved shoulders and relatively high traffic.
Bridge of the Gods:
No trip to the area would be complete without crossing the Bridge of the Gods. Made somewhat famous in the movie Wild featuring Reese Witherspoon, the bridge is at the village of Cascade Locks, Oregon, where author and trekker Cheryl Strayed completed her inspirational 1,100 mile solo journey on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995.
As you would expect from a place called “Locks” you can see shipping locks beneath the bridge, and the span makes for spectacular views up and down the Columbia River. It’s also famous for its Bridge Trolls, a collection of dolls at the bridge’s toll booth.
Stevenson is about a 200-mile drive from Seattle, 45 miles from Portland and 560 kilometres from Vancouver, B.C.
Non-essential Canada-U.S. border travel was banned at the time this article was posted and both Washington and Oregon were asking its citizens to not engage in non-essential travel. Check Oregon State’s travel advisories, Washington State’s COVID-19 website and and the Canadian government’s website when planning your future trips.)