Hood River Oregon SUP paddling
Photo: Jennifer Gulizia

Best Paddling Towns: Hood River, Oregon

North America's Best Paddling Towns

Photo: Jennifer Gulizia

On opposite banks of the mighty Columbia River, Hood River (pop. 7,400) and White Salmon, Wash. (pop. 2,300), are the Hollywood of whitewater boating—a river-laced wonderland where on any given day you could find yourself in an eddy with a pro boater. Creekboat-capped Subarus wrapped in sponsor logos sit like Easter eggs in Hood River's Safeway parking lot, their owners refueling between laps on the Northwest's benchmark creek, the Little White Salmon.

But don't be intimidated. It's not all gnarly hucksters in the Gorge. Beginner and intermediate boating abounds within a half-hour drive: Hood River, the Klickitat, and the White Salmon's Husum section all top out at Class III. The White Salmon's lower canyon is a walled- in stretch of consistent Class II-III whitewater unveiled in 2011 with the dramatic removal of the Condit Dam. A few hours farther afield are Wild and Scenic multi-day runs on the Deschutes, John Day and Grande Ronde. Plus there's more here than whitewater.

The Columbia Gorge's legendary winds attract all levels of kiteboarders and windsurfers, and paddlers as well. Surfski and standup paddlers put in at Viento State Park for downwinders, surfing up the big river on fat, rolling waves. When the wind settles—it does, honest—sea kayakers and standup paddleboarders knife across the gorge's morning glass.

Everything goes year-round, thanks to the generous glaciers of Mount Adams and Mount Hood. In fact, it's not a stretch to spend the morning skiing at Mount Hood's Meadows Resort (45 minutes away), catch an afternoon lap on the river, and then decompress with a sunset back at Hood River's new waterfront park, or a growler of craft grog from the nearby breweries. — David Hanson

See more: NORTH AMERICA’S BEST PADDLING TOWNS.

This story will appear in the June 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.