Travel: Winter at Mount Hood

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With year-round opportunities for snow sports (thank you, glaciers) and its reputation as a prime destination for mountain climbers, hikers, bikers and campers, the iconic volcano that is Oregon’s Mount Hood attracts a steady stream of visitors in every season. So you would think the nearby town of Government Camp would be a Whistler-like hub of spas, dining and commerce. 

It is not. And that’s what makes this funky little alpine village so appealing. The main drag is pretty much just a loop off U.S. Route 26, lined with ski shops and mom-and-pop pizza parlors often done up in quasi-chalet style. But what Government Camp lacks in polish it makes up for with a welcoming vibe. Winter activities for every skill level — and lodging and dining options for every budget — give it a truly egalitarian spirit.

If you plan to ski or snowboard, there are three major resorts — Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, Mt. Hood Skibowl and Timberline Lodge and ski area — plus smaller resorts Cooper Spur Mountain Resort and Summit Ski Area, as well as miles of free cross-country ski trails in the Mount Hood National Forest.

If you’re a snow novice or just on a tight budget, snow tubing is your sport. You won’t need any skills, coordination or pricey gear. That’s why it’s one of the most popular activities for families. There are even some hills gentle enough for toddlers. At public Sno-Parks throughout the national forest, tubing is free. But be sure to BYO tube or sled and pick up a Sno-Park parking permit at one of the stores in town. At the private resorts, you pay a tubing fee but also receive amenities such as one-, three- and four-person tubes, not to mention flush toilets, snack bars and tow ropes. Mt. Hood Skibowl even has an automatic tube lift and glow-happy nighttime “Cosmic Tubing.”

If that’s too much of a thrill ride, kick back in a horse-drawn sleigh. Provided by Mt. Hood Adventure, the 25- and 45-minute rides running through Government Camp and the surrounding forest are true Currier & Ives experiences. 

A few miles farther up the mountain is the winding, climbing road to Timberline Lodge. The 77-year-old, Works Progress Administration-built National Historic Landmark is a must-see ode to craftsmanship told through hand-hewn stone and woodwork. The grand lodge served as the exterior of the fictional Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining, greeting visitors with a stone arch entryway set between two large wings. Inside, it’s all heavy beams and warm wood finished with hand-carved details. Grab a casual (but resort-priced) lunch in the Ram’s Head Bar and enjoy the stunning view. Or stay for an upscale dinner by chef Jason Stoller Smith in the Cascade Dining Room.

Overnight guests at the lodge can use the heated outdoor pool and hot tub, which are open all year. The deluxe fireplace rooms are predictably pricey at $320 per night, but the Chalet bunkrooms are a screaming deal if you’re splitting the cost with friends. The extra-large room sleeps 10 and costs $215 a night. Group lodging is a common option on the mountain. Timberline Lodge also offers shareable condos down the hill in Government Camp through its offshoot property, The Lodge at Government Camp.

If you’re willing to be situated a short drive from the resorts, the nearby tiny towns of Welches and Rhododendron have dozens of quaint Forest Service cabins nestled in the trees among creeks and trails. They can be rented through Mt Hood Vacation Rentals and Vacation Rentals by Owner.

The Huckleberry Inn on U.S. Route 26 has some of the most affordable accommodations on the mountain, including a dorm room that sleeps 14 for $185 per night. It’s also everyone’s favorite place to fuel up on the way to or from the mountain. The inn’s throwback 24-hour diner has been serving burgers and shakes, omelets and huckleberry hotcakes to soggy skiers and hungry hikers for decades.

If you want craft beer and citified food, hit Mt. Hood Brewing Company’s Ice Axe Grille at 87304 E Government Camp Loop, where the bratwurst and charcuterie come from Olympic Provisions and the chowder is chock-full of steelhead. After a day playing hard in the snow, an icy pint from the seasonally rotating taps never tasted so good.