Hood River fruit picking

We’d been talking lately about taking some day trips during the summer, nothing stressful or too much driving (since we did all the driving we want just last month) but a nice getaway for a day. Sort-of spontaneous. Since we had a nice trip to Hood River last October (chronicled here) to pick apples, we figured, why not Hood River again?

Right now the fruits in season in Hood River—it’s actually near the end of the current seasonals—are cherries, blueberries, and raspberries. So, once again consulting the Hood River Fruit Loop, we picked out some likely places to visit and set off. We had to drop the dog off at the kennel, and we were on the road by roughly 8:30.

Bend, Oregon to Hood River, Oregon (two routes)Last time, we drove up Highways 97 and 197 to The Dalles, and then followed Interstate 84 into Hood River. Going that route takes just about three hours—perhaps a bit under—but just for grins, we set the GPS to show us both the "fastest" and "shortest" routes. Turns out, coming from Bend—according to the GPS—taking Highway 26 through Warm Springs and then turning off onto Highway 35 at Mt. Hood is both the shortest and fastest route.

What’s amusing, though, is even after we were well on our way up the Highway 97 route, the GPS was adamant about directing us back to Highway 26—apparently even detouring back is shorter up to a certain point. That’s technology for you.

I like the 97/197 drive up through the middle of Oregon. Lots of rolling hills, dry Eastern Oregon, and wheat fields, a nice change from driving through the mountains or the Willamette Valley. Probably the most interesting town on the route—one of the only ones between Madras and The Dalles—is Maupin.

This tiny little town (population: 408) is nestled down against the lower Deschutes River, in the river canyon carved out by the Deschutes. It’s sole purpose seems to be to provide a tourist base for river recreation; it’s a major destination for rafters and kayakers and that seems to be the trade of half the businesses in town.

Of course, you don’t just pass on by, you have to drive through the town. What that means is you descend the river canyon, cross the old stone bridge over the river, and ascend the other side: lots hard corners and a few 15MP hairpin switchback turns. To get an idea, Google Maps actually has Street View running the route through town.

We pulled in to Hood River right about 11:30, just in time for lunch: at Double Mountain Brewery, which also opened at 11:30. We parked right in front and were the first customers of the day.

(As a side note, Hood River downtown streets all have parking meters. Seems odd to me for a town of only 6500 or so to have parking meters—but then, Bend as a city of 80,000 has none, so that’s what I’m used to.)

After a nice lunch and a taster tray of good beer later (I’ll review Double Mountain in more detail over on The Brew Site), we were off in search of fruit. Our first stop was Wilinda Blueberry Patch: an acre or so of blueberry picking (only several rows of which were ripe for picking—the different varieties apparently ripen at different times). The day was already hot, but we managed to pick something like three pounds of berries.

Our next stop (after picking up ice and Gatorade) was a winery (actually, we visited two): Hood River Vineyards, followed by Marchesi Vineyards. Hood River produces some fantastic and delicious ports and dessert wines—both with grapes and other seasonal fruits—and Marchesi specializes in Italian varietals.

The hostesses at both tasting rooms were very friendly and knowledgeable, and we left with a couple of bottles of wine from each.

Our next stop was Lavender Valley Lavender Farm. Most types of lavender products you can images, and immense fields of "U-cut" lavender that we were interested in. Like the fruit, different varieties of lavender bloom and can be cut at different times; we were directed to specific rows and cut ourselves three nice bunches of lavender. The kids stayed back, out of the field directly: too many honey bees (no kidding, there were hundreds) were making them nervous.

Lavender Valley Lavender Farm, Hood River, Oregon

After cutting lavender, we had an ice cream break before visiting Alice’s Orchard. We visited this orchard last October with good results, and had good luck again this time around. Cherries were available here for picking, and were practically falling off the trees. In no time at all we had filled two small buckets for about 12 pounds worth of cherries. We could have easily doubled that amount with little effort.

I have to say, as someone raised in Central Oregon on the edge of a desert, I’m always amazed at the sheer amount of fruit these orchards and berry patches produce. It’s almost appalling, really, and it’s really easy to get greedy: I could have kept right on picking and filling buckets just because there’s so much fruit.

After a couple more stops, we found ourselves on the road to Parkdale, heading more-or-less for home (along the Highway 35 Mt. Hood route), and stopping at the Draper Girls Country Farm, only because they advertised U-pick raspberries—the other berry we were keeping an eye out for that nobody else seemed to have.

It’s the very tail end of raspberry season, though, so we only managed to pick a pint of raspberries. The Farm itself is also a fruit stand, and they offered a number of other seasonal produce: apricots, cucumbers, more cherries, beans, and I think I saw an eggplant or two. There are also a number of antiques and rustic knick-knacks for sale, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Thus ended our fruit picking excursion to Hood River, except for a quick stop at the Mt. Hood Country Store in Parkdale. I wouldn’t even mention this except for the fact that they have an amazingly well-stocked cooler full of craft beer—many of which you won’t find in Bend—and had six beers on tap—also well-chosen craft beer that you won’t likely find in Bend. Literally, a country store and deli where you’d expect to find a jar full of pickled eggs and a cooler full of Bud and Coors Light and maybe an ancient six-pack of Lucky Lager, instead is a damn impressive beer oasis. That’s Oregon for you.

Final tally from the trip: three pounds of blueberries, 12 pounds of cherries, three nice bundles of fresh lavender, four bottles of wine, and a pint of raspberries.

We pulled back into the garage around 7:45 in the evening, and I do indeed think the Mt. Hood route along Highway 35 is a bit quicker.