Come early fall, when the air carries spice and the orchard trees of Oregon’s Hood River Valley bow with fruit, nothing tempts quite like an heirloom apple. (Or a bushel of ’em.) From Arkansas Black to Northern Spy and Winter Banana, October is when these tawny-skinned beauties come into their own, wind-tousled and plumping in the year’s last warm sun. While the season grows uncertain—and increasingly nippy—you can still soothe the soul with a day spent handling and harvesting the good things that grow so close to home.
Fall mornings become magic with a drive east from Portland on Interstate 84. A warm thermos at your side, marvel as you enter the Gorge’s ferny canyons: soaring waterfalls, river-skimming herons, mist-shrouded cliffs. With such a gateway, it’s no wonder that a trip to apple country is an Oregonian rite of passage. The drive to Hood River lasts just an hour, so hold out for lefse and trout hash at Broder Øst. Next, head south on Highway 281 and stretch your legs at nearby Punchbowl Falls Park—open to the public since summer 2016. (Here, where the Hood River’s forks converge, coho and winter steelhead spawn in swift-flowing meltwater.) Continue on 281 through tiny Parkdale to Kiyokawa Family Orchards—one of the most apple-tastic farmstands of the valley’s vaunted Fruit Loop.
Snowcapped Mount Hood looms like a protective uncle over bins brimming with more than 100 varieties of rare apples and pears, from nutty Ashmead’s Kernel to the pink-fleshed Mountain Rose. Worked up a thirst? Head north on Highway 35 for a tasting flight at Fox-Tail Cider, a young hard cidery run by fifth-generation orchardists. Now that you’re refreshed, get hands-on by joining in the U-pick harvesting tradition at Draper Girls’ Country Farm, located a few miles south of Fox-Tail on 35. With such bounty in your trunk, you’ll be canning and preserving till All Hallows’ Eve. But for now, relax—you’ve done enough work for the day. Mosey back to I-84 and turn right toward Mosier. Eight miles farther up the Gorge, Rack & Cloth’s shabby-chic tasting room awaits with height-of-season bites, snifters of dry, vinous cider, and a view perfect for toasting a sweet day’s haul.
On clear days, a short hike up to Sherrard Point—east of Corbett on forested East Larch Mountain Road—offers unmatched views of five major Cascadian volcanoes.
40 miles east of Portland, meet a celebrity at Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Herman the Sturgeon is 10 feet long, weighs nearly 500 pounds,and has survived more trauma than many human sexagenarians, including kidnapping, stabbings, and the Oregon State Fair.
You’ve gone full farmstand. Now get posh at Skamania Lodge. The sprawling grand mansion, located 23 miles west of Hood River on a Washington ridgeline, is famed for bounteous brunches and manicured putting greens. This fall, there’s a new feature: two “treehouse” cabins set back among the Doug firs.
For decades, Oregon has been rebuilding the 73-mile, Gorge-hugging Historic Columbia River Highway Trail. Several stretches are car-free, perfect for bikers, hikers, and runners. Explore the five-mile Twin Tunnels stretch between Mosier and Hood River, or head eight miles west of Hood River to Viento State Park, where a new section of Mitchell Point (overlooking falls at Cabin Creek and Hole-in-the-Wall) opened September 2016.