Nineteenth-century settlers traveling the Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley had a dilemma: Head through the Columbia River Gorge on...

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Nineteenth-century settlers traveling the Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley had a dilemma: Head through the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon Trail or pass the south side of Mount Hood along the Barlow Road?

Today visitors ponder a similar question: Play on Mount Hood or explore the Gorge?

The answer: Do both.

The region’s attractions are obvious: world-class windsurfing, stunning views, plunging waterfalls and snow, snow, snow.

The area’s proximity to Portland is a big draw, too. Get your cosmopolitan fix in Portland, then experience the postcard-perfect nature escape to the east.

“It’s a way to feel like you’ve gotten away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life, but you’ve only driven less than an hour to do so,” says Marcus Hibdon, spokesman for Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory, a tourism group.

The Mount Hood experience begins with Mount Hood National Forest, which has about 200,000 acres of designated wilderness amid its 1 million acres. Awaiting visitors are Trillium Lake, Lost Lake, Timothy Lake and some 1,000 miles of hiking and riding trails and cross-country ski routes.

And then there’s the ski resorts that ring Mount Hood.

Late flurries and a strong base pushed a record number of skiers and boarders to Hood’s snowy slopes this past season. The major resorts of Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline (with its historic lodge) and Mt. Hood Skibowl had more than 1 million visits by skiers and snowboarders.

And climbers? An estimated 10,000 attempt to scale the 11,239-foot Mount Hood each year.

In the Columbia Gorge, Multnomah Falls and Eagle Creek Trail are some of the top destinations. The Gorge, with its numerous waterfalls and nearly 300,000 acres, is protected by an 85-mile national scenic-area designation, established by Congress in 1986.

For the adventurous, what better location to take in views of river and mountain than smack-dab in the middle of the Columbia River?

Katie Crafts, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association, describes the river conditions as “epic.” Centered in the small town of Hood River, the expanding windsurfing community flocks to the water with a cultlike following.

Never been? A two-hour lesson shouldn’t cost you more than $75. “It’s just a great feeling,” Crafts says. “And the Gorge is a great place to learn it.”