I had not yet been to Oregon despite living in Montana part-time for three years now and visiting almost all 50 states. (For inquiring minds, the other states that have not been visited are Vermont, North Dakota, Hawaii, Delaware, and Nevada).
Starting this summer, it was my goal to go there finally. While I wasn't sure where I would go or what I would do, I knew I would be crossing Oregon off my bucket list once and for all this summer.
At the end of the summer, the opportunity finally presented itself: a birthday trip for my husband. To celebrate, I took my husband, a former professional windsurfer, on a trip to Hood River, Oregon, the windsurfing Mecca of the United States.
From our short trip to the Hood, I learned four travel tips.
Internet access is a beautiful thing. In just a few short years, the world had only dreamed of having such a great deal of information at our fingertips.
While that's all well and good 90% of the time, there is still a place for local knowledge and, you know, actually conversing with people.
In Hood River, you feel a strong sense of community among the locals. During the summer, it's a majestic tourist attraction, but it's still a small town full of fun-loving people who love adventure just as much as anyone else.
Once you get there, it's crucial to speak with them. A trip to the top 10 lists on Trip Advisor won't give you the same information as talking to a local gear outfitter, who knows the perfect place to put in based on what you want, your level of performance, and how far you're willing to travel.
Big Winds provided us with gear to rent. Additionally, a retail outlet and advanced gear rental outlet are located on the main street in town.
Their gear rental facility has a nifty map of the river with put-in sites for 20 miles painted on the wall. It was easy to ask where would be the best place to put in for my husband to do some windsurfing when we were there.
They had wind and weather information at their fingertips for each site, which influenced what gear to use. This information is timely and localized, which isn't found on TripAdvisor, Yelp, or any other review site.
Additionally, stopping by a local watering hole is a great way to learn more.
Water sports are a major part of the lives of the residents, and you can learn a lot from them. At the very least, another patron will usually be more than willing to share some of their experiences and advice.
Whether you take advantage of local knowledge or not, it's a good idea to scope out your site beforehand. Whether you do it the day before or just as you arrive, do it before you lug all your gear down to the launch point.
Below is a cautionary tale of what happened to us.
Big Wind Sports recommended two potential launch sites.
As we approached the first site, we discovered it was within a Washington State Park. Our car was surrounded by signs about a Day Use fee as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. Alternatively, there was an envelope pay box or a phone number to call and pay over the phone.
We called the number listed in the spirit of being law-abiding citizens since we only had a few one and twenty dollar bills, not the $10 required to put in the envelope.
An actual person, not an automated system, took my credit card information and informed me there would be an additional $1.50 charge for a credit card over the phone. Okay. Whatever.
Then my husband returns from scouting out the launch site after I finish paying. No good.
"What???, I growled.
"This isn't good.". It just rocks without any actual landing area. I wouldn't feel safe if I had to come back in a hurry."
My husband hadn't windsurfed in six years and had undergone elbow surgery last year, so it was a genuine concern.
"Fine," I replied. I secretly fumed that I had just spent $11 on nothing as we moved on to the following site.
The next stop was just a few miles down the road.
This one seemed more promising. You can rig up your gear here. There was a small beach where you could launch. There was also a lot of wind and around 30-40 knots.
A woman approached us after several minutes. A $6 parking/use fee is collected at the launch site, which is privately owned. That's fine.
After getting all rigged up, my husband hauled all his gear down to the beach. With his wetsuit on, he waded into the water.
I filmed his first ride in six years. Immediately I noticed something was amiss. After making one pass, he turned around and returned to the beach. We were lucky to be at this launch point and not the other one!
A gear problem was causing him problems. He had to fix the boom because it wasn't rigged correctly. In five minutes, he was back on the water. I grabbed my phone and began recording, and it didn't seem right.
He rides back into the house. He adjusts and tries again, and this time he succeeds. Unfortunately, his harness was too short. In winds of over 30 knots, he was forced to hold his sail with just his hands, which was extremely difficult and exhausting.
In addition, his elbow tingled and was partially numb.
Sadly, he had to abandon his efforts. We climbed back to the top of the hill, where numerous other windsurfers were rigging up. It is more of a supportive community than a highly competitive one, so everyone was sympathetic and tried to find him the appropriate harness length.
However, nobody did, so after only 35 minutes on-site and a total of $6, we left to go back to Big Winds and see about getting another harness.
After having driven around to various launch sites in the morning, big Winds was more than happy to trade hubby's gear out.
But since we'd already spent the morning driving, this time, we decided to head over to the leading Event Site where most kiters and boarders launch from.
After he finished, I could rent some SUP gear and go for a paddle.
I get the hubby all set up after paying the $8 parking fee and getting to the event site. The launch site is a lovely open bay that's well protected with plenty of beachfront, so he makes his way down there.
With kiteboarders and windsurfers all navigating the crowded waters around each other, he launches as far upwind as possible.
He looks over and shakes his head at me as he rides back to shore two more times. I guess today's not the day.
It was far lighter wind at the Event Site, perhaps 15-20 knots, and now the more lightweight board that had been going to carry him through the powerful winds at the other sites was too small for the lighter winds of the Event Site.
In addition, his elbow was buggy for the day, and it wasn't worth trying again to exchange his gear.
Parking fees totaled $27.50
The total time spent on the water was Less than 15 minutes.
The moral of the story: Know your site and your gear in advance. Many of the launch points charge some fee. Avoid making the same mistakes we did! Prepare an attack plan in advance and save yourself time and money by not being unprepared.
There are plenty of shopping and eating establishments in the cute downtown area of Hood River, Oregon. There is also something happening across the bridge in White Salmon, Washington.
We stayed in an Airbnb camper van in White Salmon at a fraction of the cost of many other hotels and Airbnb rooms and cabins in other parts of the Hood River area.
There are fewer hustlers and bustlers here than in Hood River, but many dining and shopping options are still available. For fun and recreation, you can head over to Hood River for only $1 if you want to cross the bridge.
However, that bridge is narrow. If you drive a big camper van or pull a trailer, you might need to put on your Big Girl pants to cross the narrow 2-lane bridge. A collision between two big vehicles with only inches (not feet) to spare is not for the faint-hearted!
As a result, if you don't want to go to Hood River, you don't have to. The White Salmon side of the Columbia River offers a variety of places to stay, eat, and play. My first two launch sites, which I mentioned above, were in Washington.
Especially if you're an experienced windsurfer or kiteboarder, this is a great way to get away from the crowds at the popular sites at Hood River.
Spend the day in White Salmon if you want to escape the crowds for a day or even your whole trip. It will be worth it.
Watersports are popular in Hood River. The leading launch site in town is always crowded with at least two dozen kiters and boarders.
The weekend we left, there was even a SUP race, and outrigger kayakers even got in on the action.
Hood River has a variety of activities for people who are simply going to Hood River against their will, or even when they are going to Hood River voluntarily, if they are not much of a water sports fan, if their significant other is playing on the water, or if they want to take a break from the sports.
It is possible to find numerous wineries in the area that offer fantastic tours and tastings of Oregon's famous wines if you bypass the main street into downtown and head straight up the mountain.
After arriving late in the afternoon, we had too late to get on the water. Instead, we took a scenic drive just a short distance up the mountain, where there were at least three wineries to choose from.
Our first stop was the Wy'East Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery. You can sit outside and enjoy a sampler of their flagship wines or a full glass of any of their wines.
A flight of five wines costs $10. Not bad at all!
You can also enjoy scenic hikes nearby if wineries aren't your cup of tea. About 30 minutes later, we drove west on the Columbia Scenic Byway towards Portland.
On that road, you find many pull-offs where you can explore the area's myriad waterfalls.
Horsetail Falls is visible from the byway, so we took a detour there. The 90-minute hike took us up and around three waterfalls, stopping along the way for photo ops.
The more famous Multnomah Falls were on our way out. The parking lots were already overflowing with adventurers, tour buses, and even bicycle groups at midday.
Be sure to arrive early if you end up going there. Otherwise, the lots will be crowded, but they close the exits from the interstate, so you can't even get off of it to enter the parks.
Although we only spent two days in Hood River, we made the most of it. It is on our summer to-do list to visit Hood River every year.
As a bonus, I got to cross another state off my bucket list, and a pretty good one!
This region of Oregon offered some of the unique landscapes and scenery I've seen in the U.S., resembling a high desert with its barren hillsides, except for a vast river meandering through the valley.
This part of Oregon didn't disappoint us with its lush evergreens, crystal waters, and mountainous backdrops. A true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
The coast of Oregon is next! We'll update you when that happens.