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Grant's Getaways: Waterfalls and wildlife at White River

"You should see our view of Mt. Hood," said White River Wildlife Manager Josh Moulton. "It really shines from up here.”

PORTLAND, Ore. — The east side of Mt. Hood offers two hideaways for the price of one getaway and each feels a million miles away from city hubbub and noise.

It’s little more than a 90-minute drive from Portland to explore Oregon’s White River wildlife and waterfalls.

It’s a place where you too may discover that back-road adventures are the best when they let you enjoy a sneak peek at nature.

There are nearly 30,000 acres of refuge at the White River Wildlife Area and reach across more than 20 miles of terrain to provide an eastern point of view to Mt Hood.

Josh Moulton, wildlife area manager, noted: “We’re a bit off the beaten path for sure; tucked out here in the oaks and pines at about 2100 feet in elevation. You soon see, it’s a different sort of wildlife area.”

RELATED: Grant's Getaways | Cycling through Oregon history

The White River Wildlife Area was established in the 1950s to keep wintering deer and a growing elk herd up in the Cascade Mountain foothills rather than down on neighboring farmlands.

“A winter-feeding program continues to serve the wildlife; both deer and elk,” Moulton said. "We begin feeding in early December at designated stations throughout the refuge and the animals pretty much tell us by their behavior when to stop. That is usually about now. We planted an alfalfa field, and the deer love that. It’s giving visitors a bit more reliable opportunity for viewing the deer herds – which can reach several hundred strong in winter.”

Moulton added that the eastside view to Mt Hood is a surprise for visitors too.

“We’re less than 20 miles as the crow flies, and while many of my friends in the valley say, ‘You should see our view of Mt Hood.’ I chuckle because you really should see it from this side too. It really shines from up here.”

Above the nearby small burg of Tygh Valley, an overlook provides a peek to the namesake White River and marks a route that pioneers followed in the great migration across Oregon to reach the Willamette Valley.

There are several lakes and ponds but a short cast away, where boating and fishing can be enjoyed.

“Many folks have weekend or summer homes at Pine Hollow Reservoir and nearby Rock Creek Reservoir," said Moulton. “People come for the fishing – trout fishing. It’s easy access for the kids too– no steep banks.”

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From Tygh Valley, you may wish to strike out further east on a short four-mile drive along State Highway 216 to another secret hideaway where the White River plunges over a basalt shelf.

White River Falls State Park offers a sprawling greenway with scattered picnic tables at a day use site that opens each spring.

You’ll enjoy exploring the rugged quarter-mile trail that takes you riverside where you discover something more:

A complicated system of pipes and flumes diverted water from above the falls into a powerhouse, where electricity-producing turbines generated power for the region from 1910 to 1960.

The Dalles Dam construction and completion led to the White River project’s demise and it shut down in the 1960s.

For obvious safety reasons, Oregon State Parks does not want visitors inside the old powerhouse building that is falling in upon itself. “Keep Out” signs on the shuttered building make that message clear, so observe the signs as you explore the riverside scenery.

Do not forget a camera when you hike this path for the photo opps are numerous and stunning – of the river, the canyon and the powerful White River Falls where two plunge pool falls drop more than 90-feet in dramatic fashion at this time of year.

The park is a popular picnicking, hiking and fishing retreat for visitors who wish to dip their toes in this corner of the greater Deschutes River corridor.

RELATED: Grant's Getaways: Deschutes Canyon bighorns

White River Wildlife Area and White River Falls SP offer easy to reach high desert escapes – for scenery, history and relaxation.

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.