Local Flavours: The Complete Guide to Riding in Hood River, Oregon – Pinkbike

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Local Flavours


THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO RIDING IN

HOOD RIVER, OREGON

Words, photos, & video by Brice Shirbach

Presented by Visit Hood River

I don’t often sleep on planes, but for once I managed to drift off to dreamland on this flight. The nice thing about flying west is that you’re effectively working with the clock, so even though my flight left PHL at 6:00 am, made a stop in IAH for a few hours before completing its journey in PDX, it was still the morning by the time we touched down in Oregon. The 6:00 am departure meant that I needed to be up before 4:00 am for the flight, so while I wouldn’t say that I slept “well” during the flight, I was happy to take whatever I could get given the circumstances.

The plane jostled and I opened my eyes after my head bumped against the window. There was a moment of disorientation followed by embarrassment as I realized I might’ve been drooling ever so slightly, before I remembered where I was. I pulled open the shade and, once my eyes adjusted to the brilliant sunshine, saw that Mount Hood was eye level with me. The summit actually seemed to be slightly higher in elevation than the plane was, which explained the jostle as we were setting up for the landing in Portland just a few minutes. Hood didn’t seem to have as much snow on it as normal, but she was majestic all the same. While far from the highest of mountains in the Cascade range, there’s something about Mount Hood that makes it one of the most iconic. Its razor sharp profile and considerable loft allow it to stand out in a range full of towering volcanic peaks. I tried to peek across the aisle to catch a glimpse of some of the mountains to the north in Washington and managed to catch a brief glimpse of Mount Adams and St. Helens before the hustle and bustle of final preps before landing.

I have been spending more and more time in the Pacific Northwest over the last several years since my first trip on a bike for the old Oregon Enduro Series back in 2013, with no less than 2-3 visits per year more recently. Most of my time and energy in the Cascades has been centered around Oregon, specifically along the Coastal Range, but this trip marked my first visit to a place renowned throughout the global mountain bike community: Hood River. I have spent years admiring the iconic imagery that has come from places like Post Canyon and 44 Trails, many of which are the handiwork of friends and mentors, Colin Meagher and Nikki Rohan. My palms have gotten sweaty watching videos of north shore-style skinnies leading to massive drops and gaps in the middle of a lush and green Cascadian forest. It’s the kind of place that, on paper at least, seemed to represent everything I want in an adventure destination with its codependency between the mountains and the Columbia River. To be quite honest, I had been looking forward to this trip more than any other in recent memory, and somewhere in my head I had already begun to prepare myself for the letdown that comes from building up such reverence for a place that I had never set foot. As it would turn out, the week that would follow in Hood River would only serve to exceed even my loftiest of expectations.

Brice Shirbach // Local Flavours
Age: 39
Location: Wilmington, DE, USA
Industry affiliations: Pearl Izumi, Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Shimano, Stans NoTubes, Topeak, Lazer Helmets, Julbo
Instagram: @bricycles
Favorite Trail in Hood River: Dirt Surfer

A swirl of moody weather is always around the corner in the PNW.

A Bit About the Region

For thousands of years, the Chinook Indian Nation lived in what is now the area that stretches as far east as The Dalles and west to the Pacific coastline. Salmon was the foundation for much of the Chinook welfare, but they were also proficient hunters and gatherers as well, utilizing the plant resources provided by the fertile soil of the Cascades, and hunting elk, deer, bison, and other forms of wildlife for countless generations. The arrival of various European settlers and ships brought a number of diseases and epidemics to the Chinook, among other indigenous tribes, which had devastating effects on the communities. Despite the federal government’s refusal to acknowledge the Chinook Indian Nation, they do have a 70-year-old constitution that codifies who they are and identifies their five constituent tribes – the Clatsop and Cathlamet (Kathlamet) of present-day Oregon and the Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum (Waukikum) and Willapa (Weelappa) of what is now Washington State. You can help the Chinook Indian Nation in their efforts to gain federal recognition here. Federal recognition is important for several reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that federal authorities will protect their sovereign status, their lands and tribal property, and their rights as members of domestic dependent nations.

Hood River is a small but energetic community of just over 8,000 year-round residents. It’s the primary population center for Hood River County, which is home to just over 23,000 people according to the most recent census. Early settlers leaned heavily on apple growing, but after a deep freeze in 1919, pears replaced the bulk of apple production and have been a staple since. In fact, Hood River County is known as the pear capital of the United States. Outdoor recreation is a huge draw for the region as well. Mountain biking, climbing, hiking, and windsurfing are all abundant recreational pursuits, and with the proximity of Mount Hood and a number of backcountry touring zones, winter in Hood River is just as busy.

Interestingly, despite its location on the northeastern flank of Mount Hood, Hood River is relatively “dry” compared to communities just a few miles west of town. Rainfall decreases exponentially with each mile as you head east from the Pacific Crest. The disparity is noticeable even among the trail networks that surround Hood River, as evidenced between the green and lush Post Canyon and the dry, arid landscape of Syncline.

Getting to Hood River

Hood River is about 60 miles east of Portland International Airport, or PDX. Flying in and out of PDX is a breeze compared to larger international airports, and from there Hood River is easily accessible via Interstate 84. You can also grab a Lyft or Uber ride from the airport, though it’s worth noting that those rides are only available one way. Greyhound offers service to and from Hood River from Portland as well, but bikes aren’t allowed so unless you plan on renting while in town, it’s not an especially feasible option when planning a trip to ride bikes.

Driving to Hood River is simple enough with the convenience of I-84 running straight through town, with 3 exits for Hood River. Drive times to Hood River include: Seattle, WA – 4:00 hours, Eugene, OR – 2:30 hours, Boise, ID – 5:30 hours, Spokane, WA – 4:30 hours, and Reno, NV – 9:00 hours.

Once in town getting around is quite easy. Downtown to the riverfront is very walkable and bike friendly. There’s also the Hood River Pedicab, which offers up pedicab and EV transportation services throughout town and anywhere within a 60 mile radius. Getting to and from the trails is a breeze as well, though I’ll admit that the Hood River Bridge, while quite pretty to look at, is rather sketchy to drive on. The metal grooves are a bit squirmy under your tires, and there’s not much real estate available, a characteristic that is especially evident when passing an 18-wheeler headed in the opposite direction.

The Best Trails to Ride in Hood River

The actual town of Hood River is really only home to Post Canyon in a technical sense, but obviously if you’re planning a trip here you’re likely using Hood River as a home base, and within a close radius are 3 very distinct regions to ride and even more if you open the radius up just a little bit, with riding on the south and western aspects of Mount Hood as well as Gifford Pinchot within a couple of hours’ drive. That said, we’re going to focus on the 3 aforementioned regions as they each provide something very unique as far as the ride experience goes, and as such really showcase just how brilliant and diverse the opportunities are throughout the area.

Post Canyon
Post Canyon has been a part of mountain bike lore for 25 years. Over the years Post Canyon has filled pages of our favorite bicycle magazines, dropped jaws during video parts, and has generally sat somewhere near the top of the “must-ride” heap. I’ll admit to being a bit intimidated by the mystique of this place prior to getting to town. In my head all of the trails had 25 foot tall northshore style ladder drops, along with 50 foot gaps, and skinnies weaving in and out of the trees high overhead. In truth, those kinds of features do exist, but the network is far more vast than I could have imagined. It’s huge, with 3,000 vertical feet of relief from the top of the network, and dozens of miles of densely forested trails that work their way down toward the Columbia River. These are definitely shared use trails, and some of the best descents on a mountain bike are also some of the best climbs for a moto, so be wary of that before you ride.

Key trail – Dirt Surfer: This is my favorite trail at Post Canyon. It’s a 2 1/2 mile long descent from the top of the network, and save for the 90 second kick to the gut climb in the middle, is an absolutel rip from start to finish. The first half is where you’ll find a good amount of technical features, with loads of baby heads and roots, but there are plenty of lines and plenty of speed available over all of it. After the climb the flow picks up as does the speed. I’m a big fan of trails with easter eggs, meaning sneaky hits that you need to keep an eye out for, and Dirt Surfer is loaded with those throughout.

Key trail – FMX: Gary Paasch built this trail when he was 14(!) alongside his friend Jake right at the time the trails at Post were transitioning from rogue to legal, and despite the massive freeride nature of this trail, it was allowed to remain and effectively ushered in a unique workflow that makes Post Canyon so special. FMX itself is fairly short, but it’s sandwiched between several trails that are loaded with features, just none quite to the scale as this. It has massive jumps that are trickable, and should absolutely be scouted first before ridden.

Key trail – Bad Motor Scooter: This trail has been around for a while now, and continues to be one of the most fun and playful in all of Post Canyon. It’s a half mile long rip that starts in the open before diving into the trees, and is chock full of medium sized tables and doubles, and some brilliantly built berms.

Key trail – Kleeway: Named after the late Matt Klee, HRATS first board president, Kleeway is a riot of a trail with high speeds, several tables, a few doubles, and loads of smiles, most of which is built on a clear cut canyon wall making for a little bit of exposure throughout most of the ride down.

Syncline
Just across the Columbia River from town is where you’ll find Syncline. Syncline features several miles of trail along a south-facing aspect with about 1,500 vertical feet of relief from top to bottom. It’s a fairly dry area, with loads of loose dirt and rock to navigate, and stunning views of the Columbia River with a Cascadian backdrop from just about every inch of trail. The climb up is easy enough and there are a number of routes down, with some diving in and out of forests while others stay out in the open. During the warmer months, there are a few things to keep an eye out for at Syncline: rattlesnakes, ticks, and poison oak. The south-facing aspect keeps a lot of sun on the trails and as such they are rideable throughout the year. The trails are bordered to the west by the Coyote Wall, a cliff that drops over 1,500 feet to the valley floor below, so please exercise caution when riding near it as it has claimed some lives over the years.

Key trail – Little Moab: This is my favorite trail at Syncline. It’s built along the edge of an absolutely massive cliff, the Coyote Wall, and is loaded with technical rock riding and features from start to finish. There are line choices aplenty, a few opportunities to send small to medium sized drops, and a handful of steep and chunky rock chutes to weave down.

Key trail – Hidden Canyon: A 2 mile long descent dropping 1,100 feet, Hidden Canyon is narrow, fast, and rocky with several steep and rocky pitches to navigate throughout. It does dive in and out of some forested sections, so this is a trail where poison oak can be prevalent.

Key trail – Crybaby: Starting above Little Moab and following the edge of the Coyote Wall from start to finish, Crybaby is the highest trail at Syncline and one of the favorites of just about everyone who has ridden here. It’s blisteringly fast and has plenty of opportunities to pop around off of natural features, as well as some really well built corners. You’ll enjoy some of the best views at Syncline as well.

44 Trails
The 44 Trails network of multi-use trails is the largest single network of singletrack trails near Hood River, Oregon. There are a number of access points to these trails, with the Oak Ridge trailhead being about 10 miles south of Hood River, while the Bennett Pass lot is closer to 30 miles from town. That should give you a sense of just how vast tis region is. Riding here feels very different compared to Post or Syncline, with much more of a backcountry element playing heavily into the dynamic at 44 Trails. Many of the trails are also higher up in elevation, so the weather at 44 Trails is going to be a little different than those lower down and closer to the Columbia River. Mount Hood is prominently visible in many part of this region as well, which only helps to make just about every trail here the right call when deciding where you’re going to ride. Cell service is scarce, and you really are in the backcountry out here, so prepare for your ride with that in mind.

Key trail – Dog River: Dog River is a 6 mile descent with a few small climbs at various points, that drops riders roughly 2,500 vertical feet to the Mount Hood Highway. It’s a popular shuttle trail, but it can also be ridden as an out and back (up and down), or connected to other 44 Trails for a pretty epic loop. The dirt is generally pretty good, and its loaded with some technical features throughout.

Key trail – Surveyor’s Ridge: 13 miles long from end to end, Surveyor’s Ridge is quite an adventure on its own, or it can be used as a singletrack thruway to connect the northern and southern ends of the 44 Trails region. The trail undulates over rocky and rooty terrain, offering up amazing views of Mount Hood to the west, and losing 2,500 feet of elevation when ridden south to north with about 1,600 feet of climbing in that same direction of travel.

Key trail – Bottle Prairie: Bottle Prairie is a 4 mile long trail that can be included as a part of any number of loops or can be shuttled on its own. The trail drops 1,600 feet from start to finish, with a few short punches to round out the experience. The forest is dense and beautiful, and the trail has a rough hewn feel to it, with some really fun natural features to bounce around on as well as some beautiful corners to lean the bike over in.

Weather:

Hood River is squarely in the transition zone between the wet temperate rain forest of the western slopes of the Cascades, and the dry deserts that occupy eastern Oregon. It receives a little over 30 inches of rain per year, with the wettest period occurring between November and the end of January. It can get a few snow storms as well, but the snow doesn’t seem to linger this close to sea level. As you might imagine, the “windsurfing capital of the world” can get a bit breezy at times, particularly during the summer months, which is also the driest time of the year in these parts. Daytime highs rarely exceed the low 80’s during the summer, and are typically in the low 40’s during the winter, so riding here can be done year-round. If you’re visiting during the shoulder season, pack for both ends of that spectrum.

Bike Advice:

I traveled to Hood River with my Pivot Trail429, and I was pretty happy with that decision. I’m also a big proponent for riding shorter travel bikes as if they’re DH sleds, but I realize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. In truth, Hood River is a good place for almost every stripe of mountain bike. Post Canyon is shuttleable, and as such you can certainly come ready for some freeride fun. Of course if you’re keen to explore that network from top to bottom via pedal power, then you’ll likely want something a bit more efficient and aside from the massive features on trails like X Chorus and FMX, there’s nothing that will feel overwhelming for most modern trail bikes. 44 Trails and Syncline have more natural tech available, but I felt super comfy on the 140/120 T429.

Local Clubs and Advocates:

I believe that mountain bike advocacy is the most important but least discussed theme within our sport/community, which is why I cannot stress enough how vital it is to showcase and humanize efforts of groups like HRATS and 44 Trails. I think it’s a reasonable expectation to show some financial support for any organization that is responsible for the stewardship and maintenance of the trails we are visiting, and that can be done by simply becoming a member of that respective group, or by sharing some Trail Karma.

The Hood River Area Trail Stewards, or HRATS, was officially formed in 2012. Prior to their formation, Post Canyon was a well loved but often scrutinized collection of trails that experienced issues typical of rogue trail building. Founding HRATS board President Matt Klee, along with a bevy of other volunteers, saw the opportunity to grow into an effective advocacy and trail building group and expand the existing trail network in the Post Canyon area into much more of a community resource that would help to grow the local riding contingent. Today HRATS, a chapter of IMBA, is cultivating relationships with partners in both Oregon and Washington, and oversees much of the continued trail building and development in Post Canyon, as well as trails at Syncline, and Golden Eagle Park and Pump Track.

44 Trails is a non-profit 501(c)3 community service corporation dedicated to providing access to trails in “rural” areas along the eastern flanks of Mount Hood, much of it within the National Forest. They’re comprised entirely of volunteers and rely on fundraising from events and activities in addition to donations. They work closely with Federal, State and local government agencies as well as numerous other volunteer organizations including Northwest Trails Alliance (NWTA), and Hood River Area Trail Stewards (HRATS) among others.

Cascadia’s beauty is unmatched.

Accommodations and Food:

I spent my week in town at the Hood River Hotel, an historic hotel located right in downtown. It’s perfectly placed in downtown Hood River, and the second you step inside it’s clear that you’re in a place that has taken great care to preserve and honor its past while very much embracing a modern aesthetic. My room was spacious, comfortable, and really helped to set the tone for an amazing trip. Plus they have really good coffee, a pretty sweet schwag selection, and free pears in the lobby!

There are numerous other hotel options as well, from chain hotels like Hampton Inn and Suites, and Best Western, to luxury resorts on the edge of town. Airbnb yields over 250 results on either side of the Columbia River as well. Camping here is a great decision as well, and there are several places to park your camper to van life it with hookups throughout the region. Camping in Mount Hood National Forest ranges from “first come, first serve” primitive sites to more developed campgrounds as well. You can check out your options here.

The food in and around town is awesome, and I’ll admit I was quite surprised by both the diversity and the quality of the dining options in such a small town.

Breakfast:
River Daze Cafe has really good coffee and serves up delicious breakfast and lunch, using only locally sourced and organic ingredients.

I’m a “smoothie for breakfast type”, and I spent almost every morning walking across the street to grab a smoothie and juice from Freshies Bagels and Juice.

Lunch:
Broder East offers breakfast and lunch and is conveniently located in downtown. The menu is clean, tasty, and Swedish.

Ground Espresso Bar and Cafe has tasty sandwiches and paninis, along with that ever important midday coffee…or mimosa.

Dinner:
I ate more meals at Kickstand Coffee and Kitchen than anywhere else during my visit to Hood River. Kim Hardin, who takes us on board for a Grand Prix lap in the embedded video above, runs this place and she’s crushing it. The food and drink selection are delicious, and of course bikes are in the DNA of the business, so it’s wins all around.

Ferment Brewing offers food, beer, cocktails and mocktails available for dine-in or for carry-out by ordering online. Outdoor seating is available and its right on the waterfront.

I love sushi, I love burgers, and I love bowls of food. Wicked Sushi Burgers and Bowls has all of that.

Local Bike Shops:

Hood River isn’t an especially large town but you wouldn’t know it judging by the number of bike shops who call it home. Bikes are a part of the fabric of the community in Hood River, so it certainly stands to reason that you have several options when it comes to bicycle retail and repair. The cool thing about this place is that despite the large number of shops in a small town like this, everyone of them has a place and there’s enough available business to support them all. Plus many of them have worked together at some point, so there’s a great deal of mutual respect between each shop.

Discover Bicycles: Discover offers up rentals and shuttle service, and is a full service retail shop located on State Street in downtown.
Mountain View Cycles: Featuring the fastest turnaround in all of the Gorge, Mountain View is staffed by incredibly friendly, stoked, and passionate people who are also entrenched in the cycling community.
Fat Tire Farm is a full service and retail operation located on 4th St, and they offer a very popular shuttle service to boot.
Bear Grass Bicycles: This is where many of Hood River’s master mechanics got their start and its still home to perhaps the most revered wrench in town.
Dirty Fingers Bicycle Repair: Dirty Fingers keeps it simple: they fix bikes and they do so with quick turnaround and good prices. They also offer rentals and tours of the area.

Other tips:

1. I know I’m in the minority here, but pears are my favorite fruit. While not all pears are created equally, the good ones are pretty great. Pears are actually Oregon’s official state fruit and are its number 1 tree crop. The rich volcanic soil is ideal for these fruits of the gods, and they’re so abundant that many businesses have baskets where you can help yourself to a delicious pear or two. Be sure to visit any number of fruit stands in and around Hood River and treat yourself.
2. Gary Paasch is the owner and coach behind The School of Send, a coaching service looking “to create a community of like-minded riders that build mountain biking skills in a progressive, comfortable, and positive environment.” You can sign up for summer or fall camps, and they also offer small group and private clinics.
3. Hood River is known is the windsurfing capital of the world, particularly from June through September, as the persistent westerly winds and swells make it irresistible for advanced freestyle surfers. Beginners have it good here as well, with a protected cove right on the Hood River waterfront.
Syncline mountain biking trailsPost Canyon mountain biking trails44 Trails mountain biking trails


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