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City Sunday: Two of Portland’s Best Drives

1 February, 2009

Around the Mountain: First on the list is a drive that takes you out of the city and back, circling Mt. Hood in the process. You can stay in the car and ooh and ahh out the windows and knock this drive out in a day, or you can make any of a number of stops along the way for shopping, hiking, winter sports, fruit-picking, picnicking, or fish-watching and make an overnight trip or weekend of it.

Phase 1: East through the gorge. If you’re in a hurry, take I-84. Highway 30 is the scenic route and includes opportunities to stop at several waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls. There’s also the Bonneville Dam and a handful of fish hatcheries along the way. My son loves fishwatching, so we always make a stop at the Dam so he can check out the fish ladders there.

However you do it, keep driving east until you reach Hood River. You might stop in Hood River to shop or watch the windsurfers if they’re out. A picnic down by the river is also a lovely way to spend some time.  If you’re in Hood River on a Saturday morning, hit the market. If beer’s your thing, there’s the Full Sail Brewery, maker’s of my favorite stubby beer: Session Lager.

Also along the ways are several great places to eat: McMennamin’s Edgelfield, where you would be forgiven for just stopping and staying the night. The Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant has a very nice lunch by the waterfall. On the Washington side (take SR-14 or cross the Bridge of the Gods just past the dam), the Skamania Lodge has an outstanding Sunday brunch that would set make a fantastic centerpiece to a 3-day weekend jaunt. And of course there are plenty of restaurants in every little town along the way. Most promising among these would be Hood River.

Phase 2: Head South on Highway 35. This is going to put you right at the base of Mt. Hood. Once you get past the few towns south of Hood River, there’s not much stopping, aside from some state park picnic and activity areas, until you get to Government Camp. From Government camp, you can detour up the mountain to Timberline Lodge for some skiing, hot cocoa and geeking out over The Shining, or you can continue on back to Portland.

Phase 3: Back to Portland. Take 26 west to Portland. You’ll make your way through the varyingly cute Oregon towns of Sandy, ZigZag and Boring. Any of these worth a quick stop for a bite to eat or a leg-stretch. Sadly, the very last part of the drive is the least picturesque, taking you through some of Portland’s less than exciting eastern suburbs and down Powell Blvd, the least pretty of Portland’s close-in Southeast thoroughfares. Continuing on all the way to the river, though, will reward you with a trip over the Ross Island Bridge, which is a fine old bridge that will dump you downtown.

Over The Fremont Bridge and Under the City: Although it has a much longer name, this drive is far shorter than the one described above. There’s no stopping for good lunches or shopping as the whole thing takes about five minutes on a light-traffic day.

Phase 1: Find an excuse to be in Northeast or North Portland. Maybe you live there. Maybe you student teach at a school over there. Maybe you’re eating at The Tin Shed or catching a movie at The Kennedy School. Whatever. Hop on I-5 southbound via any exit north of Alberta Street and take the 405 Exit. Do this at night for something really great. This bridge has the best view of the West Hills and a pretty great one of downtown and the Pearl District as well.

Phase 2: Stay in the left-hand lanes to continue on 405 southbound. This will take you under the city…not a tunnel, more of an urban ravine with the city up around you on all sides. Again, this works best at night. It loses a fair amount of its magic in the daylight.

Phase 3: Find an excuse to drive towards the western suburbs. Maybe you’re going to the Oregon Zoo or the beach. Whatever. Take the 26 west exit and go up through the tunnel. Note how the taillights reflect on the white tile. Then BOOM! You emerge from the tunnel to find yourself in the woods. The abrupt and awesome urban/wilderness boundary here is stark and amazing. I’ve lived here for 14 years and I’m still taken aback a little by each trip I make through the Vista Ridge Tunnel (in both directions…26 eastbound affords another great view of the city).

What are the best drives around your city?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 February, 2009 16:11

    The Around The Mountain is nice. What a way to spend a day. And then take some Session Lager home and just chill.

  2. 1 February, 2009 21:53

    So nice. The best drive in Omaha? The one on the way out. HA! It’s not that bad, but there aren’t an assload of pretty drives unless you’re outside – in the Bluffs, whatnot.

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