A runner’s weekend in Hood River: the White Salmon Backyard Half, the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automotive Museum, and more

Part of the Backyard Half course - I took this photo when I ran it in 2011.

You'll have to wait nearly a full year for the next the White Salmon Backyard Half - a challenging, scenic half marathon (and four-miler) run in White Salmon, Wash. I have run the half a few times, and this year my husband took his turn. We decided to spend the whole weekend in Hood River with our two kids (age 4 and 1), and booked a room at the Hood River Inn (Best Western). So, whether you wait that long for the 2017 race or sign up for another Gorge race this summer/fall, here are some family-friendly recommendations for those of you making the trip:

My kiddos on the path between the Hood River Inn and the Columbia.

The Hood River Inn is a great hotel for families. It doesn’t always have availability, because it’s a popular place for weddings, so book as early as you can to ensure you have a room. Be sure to request a river-facing room if they have one, so you get the best views. And bring your suit! Their outdoor pool area is enclosed with glass walls, so you don’t get the strong Gorge winds as you splash in the pool or relax in the hot tub. There is also a paved path that runs between the hotel and the Columbia River that goes all the way over to the Event Site and the Hook. You can get in a nice flat run, or take a stroller and avoid the big hills.

Where to eat and drink:

Hood River is one of my favorite towns to visit. I lived there for a few months when I interned for the now-defunct Gorge Games, and was happy to see restaurants like Brian’s Pourhouse are still thriving. That place and the 6th Street Bistro are still some of my favorites, especially if you’re looking for a nice place for a date (what’s that again?).

You can find a restaurant for nearly any taste by looking online at Gorge in the Gorge, and most will let you order to-go if your little ones aren’t down for an hour at a sit-down place. Another must-visit place to eat is Mike’s Ice Cream. If you have kids with you, even better, because you can order extra and pretend it’s for them. If you’re sans kiddos, the Full Sail Brewery is also a nice place to tour and get food … and delicious beer! I also recommend a trip back over the toll bridge to Everybody’s Brewing on the main street in White Salmon.

What to do:

The stairs are a must-do for those whose legs aren’t too tired after the race. Officially known as “Gil’s Stairs” (but everyone just calls them the Hood River Stairs), they are 413 steps of quad-burning vertical awesome. I make all visitors do the stairs with me on their first trip to Hood River. To find them, go to the Big Horse Brew Pub on State and walk up, up, up to Montello Ave. Use caution at road crossings. If your legs are too shaky, you can walk back down on Serpentine Drive, watching for cars, of course.

My 4-year-old in a phone booth with a rotary phone, the awesome submarine kids can climb on and in, and a car that I took a picture of just to entice someone to visit me in Oregon.

For people who like cars, history, or have kids that like things with wheels, the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automotive Museum (WAAAM) is really, really nice. It’s not something I would have normally had an interest in, but as the weather wasn’t great right after the race and the fact both our kids love cars, we checked it out. Everything there is in amazing condition: from the antique planes to the Indian motorcycle and the CARS! We saw Model T’s, military vehicles, and souped-up muscle cars. I loved seeing all the cars from the 1930’s and 1940’s and realizing that those were the cars my grandparents would have been familiar with in their youth. The second Saturday of every month they have their “fly-in,” when you can see some of their artifacts in motion! The Museum is manned by fun volunteers who are full of information about the vehicles in the museum, including one that can do an impressive Donald Duck impression.

The best part of WAAAM for our family was definitely the kid’s room. It includes electric trains kids can turn on, a control tower they can climb into, a kid-sized helicopter, car, and airplane, a coloring area (where you can find antique phones and a phone booth containing a 1979 phone book!), and other fun activities. The absolute best structure, though, was the submarine. Made by a number of cleaned-out farm-style propane tanks, painted black, and finished with a dock, tower and periscope, the submarine is a kid magnet. The inside is kitted out too; so many buttons to push, windows to look through, and even a pretend bunk area with a tiny kitchen. It was big enough for my family of four to play in and even the 1-year-old was able to play there safely.

There is a giant wooden play structure at the Children’s Park at Eugene and 9th in Hood River, where little ones can burn off a lot of energy. Jackson Park at 13th and May has a nice play structure as well and plenty of shaded room to tire themselves out. Parking near both is easy and both offer places to have a family picnic.

The entire downtown area is full of great local shops: I love Doug’s Sports for clothes, but you can walk up and down and stop in anywhere that catches your eye. The stores are known for stocking items made locally, especially local artwork and jewelry.

My 1-year-old playing in the river at the sand bar. Before long, he was practically naked. Kids, man.

If it’s hot enough and you have the energy, sign up for windsurfing lessons or stand-up paddleboarding rental. For windsurfing, you need no prior experience and they teach you in “the Hook,” a sheltered cove off the Columbia that is incredibly safe. I’m not sure of the age and weight requirements but I think kids as young as 12 would enjoy it, as long as they are able to swim. You do wear a life vest at the lesson. I’ve always gone through Big Winds and had a great time.

If you’d rather not get fully submerged, the sand bar is quite nice. Look for the Visitor’s Center and follow the paved path (the same one that runs behind the hotel) to the beach area. The sand bar area near the shore is quite safe; you can see the bottom and even little children can splash around happily. Just don’t let them eat the sand. This is a great area for dogs to fetch sticks and play in the water as well.

During the Backyard Half:

The Backyard Half Marathon is run around Father’s Day each June. Watch for updates from the Columbia Gorge Running Club. All proceeds from the race support the high school XC team, and registration is donation-only (we suggest at least $20).

If you are in our situation at the Backyard Half or another White Salmon area race – one parent running and the other watching kiddos – there is a playground at the City Park where the race starts and ends. There is also an elementary school across the street. The Park’s playground has baby swings and a structure to climb on, plus ample room to run around. The School’s playground has a nice climbing wall, a great slide, bars to monkey on, and swings. If it’s been rainy, bring rain boots to stomp around in and also bring at least one change of clothes.

During the race, while my husband was climbing thousands of feet of elevation, my kids and I strolled downhill to the North Shore Coffee Shop. They have a variety of juices, coffees and other drinks; plus pastries and hot breakfast options. Knowing my little carnivores, I simply requested a few orders of bacon and an oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie. Between the snacks, kid’s books, and toddler-friendly toys at the cafe, we were able to kill about 45 minutes with another runner’s husband and little girl.

About Kelly Barten (1152 Articles)
I started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because I felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. I also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support LOCAL race organizers. I'm a Creighton Bluejay (undergrad) and an Oregon Duck (Sports Marketing MBA), and I live in Tigard with my husband and two kids. My "real job" is working for an incredibly awesome math textbook company doing marketing and production.
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