Randy Kiyokawa proudly pulls an apple the size of a cantaloupe off a tree at his u-pick orchard in Oregon’s Hood River Valley. "This is a Hanner’s Jumbo," he says. "The biggest one ever grown weighed in at 3.4 pounds."
Ten years ago Kiyokawa was strictly a commercial grower, selling his fruit through a co-op packinghouse. But he couldn’t compete with inexpensive foreign imports, so today he’s in the agritourism business. He uses his John Deere tractor to pull a wagon filled with visitors around his orchard and runs a fruit stand that features 65 different kinds of apples: Rome Beauty, Newtown Pippin, Winter Banana, Pink Pearl, and Honey Crisp, to name a few.
He’s not the only farmer who is branching out. The Hood River Valley, long known for its apples, pears, and cherries, has evolved into one of the West’s best agritourism areas. There are pumpkin patches, alpaca farms, lavender fields, harvest festivals, corn mazes, and all the fruit shakes, fresh pies, and sticky candy apples you can eat.What’s more, gorgeous scenery rolls out in every direction with verdant stretches of orchard, meadow, and forest flanked by Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. In the fall, golden cottonwoods and maples add to the show.
You can take in all the fun on the Hood River County Fruit Loop, a 35-mile driving route dotted with 31 stops along Highways 35 and 281. The tour begins and ends in the town of Hood River, a great weekend base camp where you can sip amber ale in a former fruit-packing plant (now the Full Sail Brewing Company); enjoy a musical at the new Columbia Center for the Arts; and browse for designer jeans, European-crafted toys, and local wines at shops along Oak Street.
Hood River County produces more pears than any other county in the United States, and the Fruit Company on Highway 35 is the perfect place to learn the difference between a sweet Anjou, a crisp Asian, and a velvety Comice. Farmers Scott and Addison Webster offer guided walks through their packing facility and $5 orchard tours aboard a tram. You’ll also find a small museum devoted to local agricultural history.
Two miles down the road at Rasmussen Farms, kids can pick pumpkins, sit on an antique tractor, crunch on caramel apples, and run through a corn maze. In the fruit stand, bins are piled high with Cinderella pumpkins, swan gourds, Spanish onions, tomatillos, and dozens of different pear and apple varieties.
Young ones will also love Cascade Alpaca Ranch, where former Portlanders Thomas and Connie Betts raise the llama’s distant cousins, animals so gentle that kids can hand-feed them. "We wanted to leave the city and move to the country," Connie says. "Our friends thought we were crazy. Now we’ve got 20 alpacas and a shop selling yarns in hundreds of colors." Neighboring Hood River Lavender Farms grows more than 60 types of the fragrant plant and you can drop by to pick a bouquet.
Highway 35 meets Highway 281 in Parkdale, a small farming community with a brewpub, general store, ice cream shop, and the Hutson Museum, known for its unusual collection of rocks that resemble food. Here, you can take the turnoff to Kiyokawa Family Orchards and then drive the loop’s return leg, popping in at the Apple Valley Country Store for a warm apple turnover or a huckleberry milk shake. Across the way at Pheasant Valley Winery, you can try the pear wine that’s a perfect accompaniment for a picnic.
Make a last stop at the Country Girl Fruit Farm. In a tiny red shed, Peggy Kinsey sells delectable homemade confections, such as dried apples dusted with cinnamon and chocolate-dipped dried pears and cherries. She makes them all from scratch in small batches and invites visitors to join her in the kitchen as she cooks up pear butter in a 12-quart steam kettle. "At our growers’ meetings, we were urged to get creative," Kinsey says. "That’s just what I did."
The farms close by 6 p.m.—time to start thinking about dinner. Hood River’s downtown is full of restaurants where chefs cook with fresh local ingredients: salad greens from Zion Farms at Brian’s Pourhouse; pears and apples in the chutney at Jean’s@110; and locally foraged mushrooms at Celilo. Each is a tasty way to end a delicious day.
Photography by Peter Marbach
This article was first published in November 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up AAA’s Oregon & Washington TourBook guide and map. For more information, call the Hood River Chamber of Commerce at (800) 366-3530 or visit www.hoodriver.org. For information and a map of the Fruit Loop, call (541) 386-7697 or visit www.hoodriverfruitloop.com. Area code is 541 unless noted.
Brian's Pourhouse Global cuisine. 606 Oak St., 387-4344. Celilo Hood River’s newest and most sophisticated restaurant. 16 Oak St., 386-5710. Jean’s@110 Try the pozole or the creamy polenta topped with roasted vegetables. 110 Fifth St., 386-8755. Three Rivers Grill Casual fare served on an expansive deck with river views. 601 Oak St., 386-8883.
Columbia Gorge Hotel From $199. Mediterranean-style villa overlooking the Columbia River. 4000 Westcliff Dr., (800) 345-1921. Hood River Hotel $69– $169. Restored 1913 National Historic Landmark right in downtown. 102 Oak St., (800) 386-1859. Mt. Hood Organic Farms $135. Guest cottage and carriage house on a 210-acre farm with front-row views of Mount Hood and a fruit stand selling pesticide-free apples. 7130 Smullin Rd., 352-7492.