Trip Tip: Government Camp
Sara Kinnamon Fritsch—president of the Portland-based lighting and lifestyle brand Schoolhouse, which was recently acquired by Food 52—and her family have been making the short trek (an hour and some change, via US 26) to Government Camp on Mount Hood every weekend for almost two decades. “It is the crown jewel of Mount Hood,” Fritsch says. She says that she, her husband, and her two children, 12 and 13, are “committed to the mountains in a big way. It's a major part of our life.” In many ways, it’s their home away from home.
Fritsch’s longtime love of Government Camp has even inspired an Instagram account dedicated to her travels to and from Oregon’s mountain town called @govylovy. “I think I was just flooding my regular Instagram account with just too much love for Government Camp, which was quite a bit overwhelming,” Fritsch says with a laugh. “So I started a separate account. It’s just the most sweetest, photogenic little town.”
Fritsch’s ongoing love affair with Government Camp and her many, many weekends spent exploring there make her a perfect candidate to kick off our recurring monthly feature: Trip Tip, where we ask local personalities, experts, and travel enthusiasts to let us in on their top vacation picks. This month: Government Camp.
There & Back
Barring hellish ski traffic on 26 (Fritsch recommends following @the_govy500 for comedic takes on the mountain travel situation), a trip to Government Camp from Portland should take you just over an hour, but don’t let that stone’s-throw distance fool you into thinking the drive will always be easy, especially during the winter months. “It's only an hour away from Portland, but it's a world away in terms of what the weather can be like,” Fritsch says. For a winter drive, make sure you carry chains and know how to put them on (or use studded tires when they're allowed, Nov 1–March 31), and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is ideal , she says. It’s also worth peeping ODOT’s TripCheck for travel alerts, closures, and road conditions.
About 25 miles into your drive, in Sandy just off 26, make a pit stop at Joe’s Donut Shop, which has been serving up doughy delights since 1974, from the old-fashioned to Danishes to bear claws.
If you’re leaving a little later in the day and are jonesing for something a little more savory, the Zig Zag Inn “has the best pizza,” according to Fritsch. Not in the mood for pizza? (Who hurt you?) The restaurant also serves up fresh salads, sandwiches, burgers, Italian food, and classic dinner specials like a house-made meatloaf and fish and chips.
Where to Stay
“The best pool, hand down, is at Thunderhead Lodge,” Fritsch says. “It's geothermal heat. It's the size of a full pool but the temperature of a hot tub, and it’s year-round, so it's pretty magical.” The lodge was built in 1941 and sports a rustic, modern look. While not lounging in the heated pool during your stay at the lodge, cozy up next to your fireplace with a book or play foosball in the rec room.
Other nearby options include Timberline Lodge, which has fun bunk rooms; the Timberline-managed Silcox Hut, a private cave-like bed-and-breakfast for groups to rent out; The Cloudliner Condo; the Black Squirrel Cabin; the Bow Roof Cabin; or the Cascade Ski Club. “It’s one of America’s oldest ski clubs,” Fritsch says of Cascade. “It’s like a ski hostel, with beautiful history in a great location—members only, but you can try it as a guest and then become a member.”
Looking to stock your room or rental for the weekend for the weekend? Hit up Govy General for anything you need.
Out & About
Food & Drink
For “quintessential Government Camp” a must-stop is the Huckleberry Inn, a family-owned diner with stellar milkshakes. “My husband grew up going [to Huckleberry Inn] during summers at a ski camp, and my kids now go to the camps and go there. The thing to get there are the shakes, specifically the huckleberry shake, but any of the milkshakes are great,” Fritsch says. “It's like going back in time.... After skiing, before skiing, instead of skiing. I mean, it’s just great, and it's been there forever.” (The Huckleberry Inn is actually a real inn, too, with modest rates on cozy rooms.)
Fritsch recommends capping off a day of skiing and snowboarding on the mountain at Charlie’s Mountain View. “It’s almost like a dive bar in the best way,” she says.
You’d be remiss not to explore the hiking in the area, particularly around Trillium Lake, which gives you astonishing views of the mountain year-round. Fritsch and her family often hop on the Glade Trail, a six-mile, out-and-back that takes you from Government Camp to Timberline Lodge. She says to aim for a night hike on a full moon to catch magical views of the surrounding area. “You can hike up as the sun is starting to go down and if you turn around, you can watch a beautiful sunset and you can also see all the lights at Skibowl, which is where they have the country's most extensive night skiing,” she says. “It's a really beautiful, beautiful scene.”
For kids and families looking to level up on their skiing and snowboarding skills Wy’East Mountain Academy and Mount Hood Academy offer schooling and training programs for everyday Oregonians to Olympic athletes. “Both of them are training world-class athletes. In the recent Olympics, there were athletes from both of those programs representing not just the United States but Government Camp in the Olympics, which is amazing,” Fritsch says. “It's not just ski bums up there. There are some kids that are really training and really making it on the world stage that are have grown up training year round on our glacier.”
Yes, Government Camp is a mountain town with tons of snow sports and small-town charm, but there’s also a lot of history there, a lot of which you can explore at the Mt Hood Cultural Center and Museum. Fritsch recommends first-timers take a quick tour of the museum to learn about the history of the region, but also to learn about Henry Steiner's iconic cabins. The German-born craftsman built many of the storybook cabins around Mount Hood, many of which are still standing today. “When you're walking around Government Camp after having been to the exhibit you recognize [places] around town, like, ‘Oh my gosh, that's a Steiner cabin.’ You can tell by the hardware on the door and [other] interesting indicators.... So I think that’s a fun little bit of history for Government Camp.”