Despite having lived in Montana part-time for 3 years now and traveled to almost all 50 states, surprisingly Oregon was one of the last few states I hadn’t yet been to. (If inquiring minds want to know, the other untraveled-to states are Vermont, North Dakota, Hawaii, Delaware, and Nevada).
I made it a goal at the start of the summer that I would finally make a trek over there. I wasn’t sure yet where I would be going or what exactly I’d be doing, but I knew I was going to cross Oregon off the bucket list once and for all this summer.
Finally, towards the end of the summer, the opportunity presented itself: a birthday trip for my husband. And what better way to celebrate than to take my husband, a former professional windsurfer, on a trip to the windsurfing Mecca of the United States: Hood River, Oregon.
Here are 4 travel tips I learned from our short visit to the Hood.
1: Take advantage of local knowledge
The internet is a wonderful thing. At our fingertips we’ve got access to ginormous amounts of information and data that the world had only dreamed about only a short while ago.
That’s all well and good 90% of the time, but there is still a place in this world for local knowledge and, you know, actually talking to people.
Traveling to Hood River, you get a strong sense of community amongst the locals there. Sure, it’s a majestic tourist destination with swarms of people during the summer, but it’s still a small town full of fun-loving people who are into adventure as much as anyone.
That’s why it’s important to talk to them once you get there. Just browsing the top 10 lists on Trip Advisor isn’t going to get you the same information as talking to one of the local gear outfitters who knows the perfect spot to put in at based on what you want, what level of performance you’re at, and how far you’re willing to travel.
We rented gear from Big Winds. They have a rental site down at the main Event Site but also a more extensive retail and advanced gear rental outlet up on the main street in town.
Painted on the wall of their gear rental facility is a nifty map of the river with the various put-in sites for 20 miles in either direction. It was super convenient while we were there to inquire about where would be the best place to put in for my husband to do some windsurfing.
At their fingertips, they had wind and weather information for each of the different sites, which makes a difference as to what kind of gear you’ll need to use. That’s timely and localized information you won’t find on Trip Advisor, Yelp, or any other review site.
Likewise, just stopping in at a local watering hole is a great way to get information as well.
Most of the people who live there are involved in water sports in one way or another. They’re happy to drop some knowledge on you. If nothing else, usually another patron will be more than willing to share some of their experiences and give advice.
2: Scope out your site
Whether you take advantage of local knowledge or not, it’s a good idea to scope out your site in advance. This could mean doing it the day before when you arrive or just as you get there but before you lug all your gear down to the launch point.
I say this as I present the cautionary tale below about what happened to us.
We picked out 2 potential launch sites that were recommended by Big Wind sports.
We pulled into the first site, which happened to be located within a Washington State Park. As we pulled into the parking lot, there were numerous signs all over the place about a Day Use fee. There was a convenient pay box with envelopes or a phone number to call and pay by phone.
Being the law-abiding citizens that we are, I went ahead and called the number listed since we only had a few ones and twenty dollar bills, not the $10 required to put in the envelope.
I spoke to a real human, not an automated system, who took my credit card information and informed me there would be an extra $1.50 fee for a credit card over the phone. Fine. Whatever.
Just as I’m done paying that, my husband comes back up from scoping out the launch site. No good.
“What???”, I angrily intoned.
“It’s no good. Just a bunch of rocks with no real landing area. I wouldn’t feel safe if I had to come back in in a hurry.”
A real concern for my husband who hadn’t windsurfed in 6 years and had had elbow surgery last year.
“Fine”, I sighed. “Let’s go to the next site,” secretly fuming that I’d just paid $11 for nothing.
We drove just a few more miles down the road to the next site.
This one looked more promising. A nice little spot to rig up your gear. A little beach point that was easy to launch from. Plus the wind was pumping. Easily blowing 30-40 knots.
After several minutes, we were approached by a woman. Apparently, the launch site was privately owned and they collect a $6 parking/use fee. Sure, not a problem.
My husband got all rigged up and carried his gear down to the beach. He waded out into the water in his wetsuit and away he went.
I was taking some video of his first ride in 6 years. But I noticed right away something wasn’t right. He made one pass, turned around, and came back to the beach. Good thing we were at this launch point and not the other one!
He was suffering some gear problem. The boom wasn’t rigged quite right and he had to fix it. Five minutes later and he’s ready to go again. I get my phone back out and start recording. Again, something wasn’t right.
He rides back in. Makes some adjustments and tries one more time. After another failed pass he finally rides back in. His harness was too short and he couldn’t hook in. This meant he was holding his sail up with just his arms, an extremely difficult and exerting task in 30+ knots of wind.
Not only that, but his elbow was tingling and had gone partially numb.
Sadly, he was forced to abandon his efforts. We trudged back up to the top of the hill where there were numerous other windsurfers rigging up. Being a supportive community rather than an uber-competitive one like some other water sports, they were all sympathetic and even made attempts to ask around to see if anyone had the appropriate length harness he needed.
Unfortunately, nobody did and so after a grand total of only 35 minutes on-site and $6 dollars later, we left to go back to Big Winds to see about getting a different length harness.
Big Winds was more than happy to trade out hubby’s gear, but seeing as how we’d already spent the morning driving around to various launch sites, this time we thought we’d just head over to the main Event Site where the bulk of kiters and boarders go to launch and try from there.
That way, I’d be able to rent some SUP gear and go for a paddle as well once he was finished.
We get to the Event Site, pay the $8 parking fee, and get the hubby all set up. He makes his way down to the launch site, a nice open bay that’s well protected with plenty of beach front.
He launches as far upwind as possible amidst a maze of other kiteboarders and windsurfers all navigating the crowded waters around each other.
Another two passes and he rides back to shore, looking over and shaking his head at me. Just not gonna happen today.
There was far less wind at the Event Site, perhaps 15-20 knots, and now the lighter board that was going to carry him through the powerful wind at the other sites is too small against the lighter winds of the Event Site.
Not only that, but his elbow was buggered for the day and it wasn’t worth trying yet again to exchange his gear.
Total spent in parking fees: $27.50
Total amount of time on the water: < 15 minutes
Moral of the story: Know your site and your gear in advance. While there are plenty of launch points, many of them require some sort of user fee. Don’t make the same mistakes we did! Make your plan of attack in advance and save yourself the time and money of not being properly prepared.
3: Don’t forget about Washington!
Hood River, Oregon is the main destination with the cute downtown area full of shopping and eating establishments. But there’s a bit going on across the bridge in White Salmon, Washington as well.
As it stands, we ended up staying in an Airbnb camper van over in White Salmon at a fraction of the cost of many of the other hotels and Airbnb rooms and cabins offered in other parts of the Hood River area.
It’s quieter than the hustle and bustle of Hood River but still offers many convenient eating and shopping opportunities. It’s only $1 to get across the bridge each way so it’s no huge expense to get over to Hood River if you want to head over for some fun and recreation.
A note about that bridge, however: It’s narrow. If you’re in a big camper van or pulling a trailer at all, be prepared to put your Big Girl panties on as you traverse the narrow 2-lane bridge. Two big vehicles crossing each other with only inches (not feet) to spare is not for the faint of heart!
That being said, you don’t have to go to Hood River at all if you don’t want to. You can stay, eat, and play all over on the White Salmon side of the Columbia River. In fact, the first two launch sites that I mentioned above were both in Washington.
It’s a great way to get somewhat off the beaten path and avoid some of the large crowds at the popular sites at Hood River, especially if you’re an experienced windsurfer or kiteboarder.
If you want to get away from the crowds for a day, or even your whole trip, take a little jaunt over to White Salmon and spend the day there. You won’t be disappointed.
4: There’s more than just water sports in Hood River
Yes, Hood River is a watersports Mecca. You’ll see no fewer than two dozen kiters or boarders at any given time at the main launch site in town.
Indeed, there was even a SUP race that was going to be taking place the weekend we left. I even saw a few people in outrigger kayaks getting in on the action.
But rest assured, if you’re being forced to go to Hood River against your will, or even willingly despite not being much into water sports, there are plenty of other area activities that will keep you busy either while your significant other is out playing on the water or during a break from the water sports.
If you bypass the main street into downtown and just keep heading straight up the mountain, there are numerous wineries in the area that all offer tours and tastings of Oregon’s famous, fantastic wines.
We arrived later in the afternoon when it was too late to bother trying to get on the water. We instead took a scenic drive just a short distance up the mountain where there were at least 3 wineries to choose from for a tasting.
We stopped in at the Wy’East Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery. They have a lovely outdoor sitting area where you can enjoy a sampler of their flagship wines or a full glass of any of their wines.
For $10 a flight, you get to try 5 of their different wines. Not bad!
If wineries aren’t your thing, there are a number of scenic hikes not too far away either. We drove about 30 minutes west towards Portland and took the Columbia Scenic Byway.
There, you come across a whole road that’s full of pull offs where you can stop and explore the area’s myriad waterfalls.
We stopped in at Horsetail Falls, which is visible off the byway. We did a leisurely 90-minute hike up and around, stopping to admire no fewer than 3 waterfalls along the way.
On our way out, we passed by the more famous Multnomah Falls. By midmorning, the parking lots were already full not only with everyday adventurers but tour buses and even bicycle groups touring the area.
If you end up trying to go there, be sure to arrive early. Not only will the lots be full otherwise, but they actually go so far as to close the exits from the interstate so you can’t even try to edge your way into a park.
Go forth, fellow traveler!
We only spent a short 2 days in Hood River, but really maximized our time there. We plan on making an annual pilgrimage out there every summer.
Not only that, but I’m pretty stoked I got to knock another state off of my bucket list, and a pretty fantastic one at that!
Eastern Oregon offered some of the most unique landscapes and scenery I’ve ever come across in the U.S., almost resembling high desert with its barren hillsides — except for the wide river winding its way through the valley.
Central Oregon didn’t disappoint with its lush evergreens, crystal waters, and mountainous backdrops. A true outdoor lover’s paradise.
Next stop: the Oregon coast! Stay tuned for a blog about that whenever that happens.