This Little-known Trio of Towns in the Pacific Northwest Is My New Favorite Girls Trip Destination — With a Gorgeous River, Mountains, and a Chic Schoolhouse Hotel

These three towns in Washington and Oregon, skirting the Columbia River Gorge, deserve a closer look.

There is something special about old friends — friends who you’ve known so long they feel like siblings. It’s the sort of friendship that’s impossible to create later in life when you’re too busy to put in the time and too jaded to be vulnerable.

Aerial landscape of Hood River, Oregon

Logan NobeGetty Images

That’s perhaps why I’ve held so tight to two ladies who have been in my life since childhood. Over the course of 25-plus years we’ve gone from giggling preteens to 30-something “adults.” We’ve helped each other through heartbreak, motherhood, and the death of one of our own. And that’s all in addition to the general highs and lows of any friendship, especially one that dates back to middle school.

So, it was perhaps extra fitting that this year we spent our annual get together hopping between three sibling towns on the Columbia River Gorge: White Salmon and Bingen on the Washington side of the river and Hood River over the water in Oregon. Each of the three communities have a distinct personality, yet are bound to the others by a shared location on the gorge. It’s not too different from the three of us. 

“For such a small town, there is a good mix of folks and lifestyles, which fosters interesting pockets of communities. Yet the river and mountains are our common thread tying us together,” said Andy Banas, the husband of one of my pals who has lived in White Salmon for eight years.

The Bingen Gap in Columbia Gorge between Washington and Oregon

Gary Quay/Getty Images

The three towns all sit along the edge of the Columbia River and are backed by the Cascade Range. It is an outdoor lover's paradise, with boating, floating, and windsurfing on the river, and hiking, biking, and skiing in the mountains. The landscape, which goes from rainforest to desert in a short span, provides the climate needed to grow cherries and apples while somehow still offering year-round skiing. It is, in short, an anomaly in the best possible way. 

What to Do

In the heat of summer, the action revolves around the Columbia River. Windsurfers come from all over the world to catch a ride on the winds that rip up the gorge, while paddleboarders and kayakers can enjoy a lazy paddle in the sun. 

Banas recommends hitting up the Gorge Paddling Center for a rental and launching from the Hood River Waterfront Park on the Oregon side or Spring Creek Hatchery State Park in Washington. He said to try one of the sunset kayak tours.

Jonathan Cohen, co-owner of The Society Hotel in Bingen and Portland, told T+L that his favorite water activity is rafting down the White Salmon River with Wet Planet Whitewater and feeling the cold White Salmon River meet the warm waters of the Columbia River.

Off water, there’s plenty of biking and hiking to be had, especially on Mount Hood. In the summer, Banas recommends driving up to the historic Cloud Cap Inn to escape the summer heat and “exploring the hiking trails along the east moraine of the Eliot Glacier.“ He added, "These trails offer big views after only a short approach and provide an alternate to the more common west side Mount Hood hikes.”

There’s also plenty of hiking at Mt. Hood Meadows, a ski area that evolves into a hiking mecca (with a scenic chairlift) when the weather warms. Further up the mountain is Timberline, the only year-round ski area in the U.S. and a great place to earn your turns no matter when you happen to be in town.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of big-name chain hotels spread along the riverfront in Hood River (the largest of the three towns), but you’d be remiss to overlook The Society Hotel in Bingen, which sits in an old schoolhouse and walks the tightrope between old and new perfectly. Guests can stay in renovated rooms within the old schoolhouse building or cozy up in one of the new, stand-alone cabins surrounding the spa and bathhouse, which has an indoor saltwater pool, an outdoor hot pool, a cold plunge, and a cedar sauna.

The Society's standout features include the old gym, which still has its original flooring and bleachers, and the dome-shaped “Sanctuary,” a calming hang space built into the hillside. 

The property acts as a perfect basecamp for the area, with Cohen noting that “Whatever you like doing outdoors, you can do it within a few miles of the hotel.”

Where to Eat

There’s no better place to start your morning than at the White Salmon Baking Co., where Banas recommends ordering "the daily breakfast special and a latte, and grab a sandwich and cookie” to fuel the day’s adventures.

On a mellow day, pickup a sub from the New York City Sub Shop in Hood River and head down to the waterfront. You can grab a four pack from pFriem Family Brewers and nosh on a riverfront bench or walk along the waterfront.

If you end your day on the Washington side of the river, swing by Everybody’s Brewing for beer and elevated pub fare or check out Henni's Kitchen & Bar for a cocktail and small plates. These spots are a favorite of Banas, who noted that Everybody’s often has live music. 

On the Hood River side of the water, Cohen recommended enjoying a “locally sourced meal at Celilo Restaurant & Bar.”

What to Drink

This is beer country, so you’ll never be far from a brewery — Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon and pFriem in Hood River are both good options — but when it comes to watering holes, the real standout is Chips Bar & Grill in Bingen. The quiet little dive bar is a favorite among locals. Their Bahama Mama is divine, and if you need a bite to eat, try the brisket salad (a Cohen suggestion). Over in White Salmon, Banas recommends a visit to the Soča Wine Shop & Bar, whether you're popping in for a glass of wine or picking up a bottle for later.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles