We spent last week on Mount Hood, just outside Sandy Oregon (if you are from Chicago and frustrated with the constant slaughtering of Illinois, I looked it up… it is officially pronounced “aura-gun”). I need to state right here in the intro something very very important. According to locals, my review of our experience will be highly inaccurate. Apparently, I can’t even stamp my Portland Passport because it was 80 and sunny during the day and 55 with a perfect breeze every evening. Absolutely zero rain. Inaccurate as it is, I’m plowing forward because Oregon won us over. We all loved this trip (and part of me worries a little that one of my kids loved it a bit too much… Oregon is a LONG way from Chicago).
The trip started out well because I found this unbelievably awesome little VRBO on the Sandy River. It made us excited to go “home” after day-trips adventuring. It was far enough away that we didn’t see a single neighbor (unless you count 3 roosters) but close enough to civilization that we could run out to grab a pizza. The home was clean and minimalist and perfectly stocked (and although no cell service, the WiFi was solid). I sat by the river for hours and hours while reading and listening to it calmly running by.
We all loved Mt Hood. He pops up around every corner and looks like the happiest mountain you’ve ever seen. By the end of the trip, we were calling him Mr. Hood and he had his own voice and personality (kinda sounded like a cross between Snuffleupagus and Treebeard).
We stayed on Mt Hood but only did one hike. We decided on Ramona Falls. 7 miles round trip, 1000′ elevation, with a trail almost entirely on sand. The hike itself was pretty manageable for people in good physical health. We took the recommended loop and it took us about 3 1/2 hours with an athletic 17 year old (who runs a 4:43 mile) pushing the pace. I’m glad I had read about it first because I was prepared for most of what to expect on the trail as well as a few tips from hikers within the last few days. We had to cross a rapidly moving river on fallen trees because the bridge had washed out but most of the path is well marked (we did accidentally wander the desert for a little while because we didn’t understand the rock arrows letting us know we were going the wrong way– but a very minor and beautiful detour).
The falls were AMAZING. We hike a lot and we have hiked to a lot of waterfalls. This was really something. It felt like it was so beautiful that it couldn’t be natural. This is the sort waterfall I assumed was only in Rivendell or Disney and there it was right in front of us. All 4 of us felt like the hike was 100% worth it. The way down was shadier as you followed the waters from Ramona down the mountain as it softly babbled away. I hiked the whole thing in my Birks and it was actually fine. Since it is so sandy, it is a tough call on comfortable loose saddles or shoes and socks. I’m not sure if there is perfect footwear for this type of hike.
(We decided against the traditional Columbia River Gorge falls because from what I read, once you drive there and park and take the shuttle, it is 6 hours for looking at the falls for 15 minutes. Historically there were some hikes over there but during our visit, they were still closed from the fire).
We stayed about 15 minutes outside of Sandy Oregon, which seems to be the largest little city before heading up Mount Hood from Portland. It was actually quite perfect, especially for a place that I randomly picked. Nice little Safeway, farmer’s market on Fridays, a couple of good little locally owned restaurants, and a fantastic little park.
Hubs and I took a date night at the Theater in the Woods. There were about 100 of the nicest very white people ever sitting on bleachers on a hill and listening to the beautiful harmonization of a string duet (Honeydew Drops). All summer there are little concerts and movies in Sandy. It is worth checking out if you are in the area. It was a relaxing and fun evening. You can bring in wine and snacks but there aren’t any vendors. There were a bunch of retirees and a few families with little kids but honestly, our kids would have probably been a little bored (at any age– not just as teens). They aren’t huge on live music they can’t sing along to in the first place but it is also really really chill. Perfect for adults who are looking to decompress but the intended audience is not necessarily the energetic youth.
Portland is adorable (and so weird)! and I mean that in the best way possible. The downtown area is great! We started our Portland day with the free “Secrets of Portlandia” tour run by Eric (it has nothing to do with the show Portlandia). Eric was funny and endearing and we got to know the city a bit before going off on our own. The tour literally is free and no need to reserve a spot. It is run at 11a every day (May -Sept) starting at the
Public trans was cheap ($5 adult / $2.50 students –unlimited all day ). Not only was the public trans cheap, but it was so easy. There were purchasing kiosks all over. The light-rail was clean and a smooth ride. The routes were clearly mapped and easy to follow and the drivers were so kind. Every single time we got on or off the bus, the driver greeted us and told us to have a nice day. It felt really vastly different than the Chicago / NYC / London public trans experience… almost eerie.
It is worth it to make Saturday one of your days in Portland. The Saturday Market is really delightful and has all handmade items by people who love their art. It only takes an hour two to wander around the tents but it is a really nice way to spend an afternoon.
There were so many places to eat!!! Food trucks are the thing but it was hot and we love all love a good Indian buffet so opted for a break in a climate controlled room. The other thing important to note about Oregon is rules about minors in bars. In Chicagoland– we can pretty much have a playroom in any tavern. A kid can’t belly up to the bar, but otherwise, pretty much fair game. NOT SO IN OREGON. So many
And people— we skipped Voodoo donuts (gasp if you like). The line was insane and in the sun and I couldn’t imagine it was worth it. We also skipped the rose and Japanese gardens. I really wanted to go but at this point, we had quite a day and all 4 of us just wanted to be back at our cozy VRBO with Oregon Red, Doritos, Tillamook, and cherries (or at least that was what I wanted).
We planned for one whole day at the beach because I need to feel saltwater a few times a year in order to stay balanced. From Sandy to the beach is about 2 1/2 hours. Mt Hood was 85 and sunny with a light breeze. Seaside was 50 and 100% cloudy with gusting winds. Our day at the beach was not quite what I had imagined. It must have been nicer the day before because the sand was shockingly warm. We walked along the water for a bit and then went into the little town. There were a few cute shops and a couple of rather over-priced places to eat.
We did go into the adorable little aquarium ($29 for a family of 4). It is TINY but there are some interesting fish and more live interaction than at bigger places. I also got to feed the seals which was AWESOME. They would tap their little chest when they felt like it was their turn and as long as I didn’t look at the fish I was tossing them, it was so fun. My vegetarian daughter really couldn’t look at the dead fish that were chopped in half and my 17 year old son didn’t care to touch them either.
We ended up cutting the day pretty short and heading back quickly. So it was 5 hours of driving for about 2 hours in Seaside. My advice on this is to check the weather and trust it (I checked it but assumed it HAD to be wrong! It was SO WARM where we were). There is so much to do in Oregon that we could have used this day on something different.
Miscellaneous Planning Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:
- Oregon has no sales tax?! So if you are buying something, wait until vaca!
- Gas is full-service (like NJ). It doesn’t seem like you tip, just pull up, hand them your card & relax!
- State parks require a parking pass that is purchased well outside the parks. Plan ahead.
- The weather is all over the board from the mountain to the city to the ocean. Keep checking and pick days that fit well with each location.
- PDX was great. Easy to navigate and had really reasonable food prices.
- Plan to eat out at least one meal a day. There were so many local options that we all wanted to try.
- I could have stayed longer but with the teens, 6 days was a perfect amount.
- We loved staying at our place on Mr. Hood. It felt like a real vacation and it was easy day-trips to everything we wanted to see.
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