Having spent a long overdue “girls” week hiking and eating along the spectacular Columbia Gorge in Oregon, I’m putting a repeat junket at the top of my travel bucket list. The next time, though, I’ll be in search of the farmers and artisan food makers who are preserving the farming and food heritage of the Hood River Valley.

Set between Northern Oregon’s watery border (the Columbia River) and the looming Mount Hood, the Hood River Valley is renowned for orchards that produce some of the best-tasting and largest variety of apples in the country. The Hood River Fruit Loop covers a scant 35 miles of rolling countryside in the shadow of Mount Hood.

With a national reputation dating back to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1900, Hood River local growers won 16 blue ribbons and the Chicago Tribune stated, “Everybody in the world knows about Hood River apples.”

With fall rains starting to arrive, I’m already yearning for that region’s ideal mix of warm sunny days and crisp cool nights, conditions ripe for producing the 225,000 tons of apples, pears and cherries every year on more than 15,000 acres of rich volcanic soil. The famous Hood River Fruit Loop will take me through high-mountain orchards, transitioning from bucolic to boutique, from rustic to recreational.

Although known for producing apples, the superior growing conditions and bountiful harvests have made Hood River County the largest producer of pears in the United States. Over 12,000 acres are dedicated to the production of Green and Red d’Anjou, Bartlett, Comice, Bosc, Forelle, and Seckel pears.

On my return trip, I’m determined to find the famous “4 lb. apple pies”, the Draper Girls outpost, and a few winery tasting rooms to give some local love.

How about you? Have a favorite food loop planned for this fall? I’d love to hear about it in comments!