Tour of the Gods: Five breweries, three trail towns, & three PCT “zero days”

This is a guest post by Bob Arkes, Pacific Crest Trail Association Mount Hood Chapter caretaker, sometimes hiker, often beer drinker. We’re pretty much ready to drop everything and head to the Gorge for some PCT and beer.

Thru-hiking, beer, and pizza is a great combination. I’m not a thru-hiker, but I’ve got beer and pizza nailed.

Heading north on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Eagle Creek Trail sends one into Cascade Locks, the only real town along the crest in Oregon and for most thru-hikers, day of hiking zero miles–a zero day.

The Thunder Island Brewing bar. The outside seating, with a view over the Gorge and out towards the Bridge of the Gods, is a perfect spot to kick your feet up.

The Thunder Island Brewing bar. The outside seating, with a view over the Gorge and out towards the Bridge of the Gods, is a perfect spot to kick your feet up.

While having a pint or two with Dana Hendricks, PCTA regional representative, during the Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College in April, she remarked on the number of microbreweries located within a few miles of the PCT on both sides of the Columbia River.  A great excuse for hikers to support small trail towns with their beer-buying dollars.

Humm, I thought.  Three real trail towns – Cascade Locks, Oregon, Stevenson, Washington, and Carson, Washington – real beer and real pizza. Maybe, just maybe, this is too good an opportunity for a zero day. Perhaps a triple-zero day. Let’s see.

Starting our quest for the perfect pint in Cascade Locks, I went to Thunder Island Brewing, co-founded by Dan Hynes and Dave Lipps, who share a love of beer, community and the outdoors. Sound familiar? Located in Marine Park on the Columbia River, if not the perfect pint, the perfect view. Sip a pint overlooking the tip of Thunder Island and the Bridge of the Gods. If you’re lucky and happen to hit town on the right night, you might even hear Jonathan Brooks, Trails Supervisor for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Paul Hendricks, husband of our own Dana, and Davy Ray play a few tunes.

Thunder Island Brewing's patio. Why even bother with the hiking?

Thunder Island Brewing’s patio. Why even bother with the hiking?

Cross the Bridge of the Gods and hang a right in Stevenson a few miles off trail but a cheap ride on the ‘WET’ bus. WET is an acronym for West End Transit, with numerous stops in the Gorge, including actual trailheads in addition to the towns of North Bonneville, Stevenson, and Carson, the ‘big three’ for thru-hikers.

Walking-Man-Chalkboard-Menu

Walking Man Brewing’s menu of the day. Check out their tap handles.

First up, visit Walking Man Brewery on SW 1st  St., a block off Highway 14, and literally a stones throw from the PCTA regional office at 77 Russell Ave.  This is all about beer, but depending on time of day and your mood, drop into Robbie’s coffee – right below the PCT sign – for a great cup of my second favorite beverage.

But back to beer, Walking Man Brewing is tucked below street level with an open patio adjoining the brewery and bar. I’ll not take sides and say Walking Man has better beer than other area breweries, but the name itself symbolizes hiking, and they have really great burgers.

This sign is pretty perfect.

This sign is pretty perfect.

Grab the WET bus, or use the famous thru-hiker’s thumb, to continue on to Carson, one of the few wide spots on the Wind River Highway. Carson is home to three breweries; more breweries per capita than any place I know.

Benton Bernard, Acadian Farm's Brew Master. A friendly face to all PCT hikers.

Benton Bernard, Acadian Farm’s Brew Master. A friendly face to all PCT hikers.

Start at Acadian Farms & Brewery, a short trek uphill from ‘downtown’ and where Nicole and Benton Bernard showcase their wares. The brewery is in a wooden shed, no bigger than some people’s potting sheds, built by Benton from locally milled lumber. Obviously he has carpentry skills in addition to a knack for brewing beer. Try the Wild Saison brewed with yeast cultivated on site. An added bonus to the beer and view is Benton’s offer of camping on the lawn surrounding the brewery.

The Acadian Farms Brewery. A brewery on a farm. 'nuf said.

The Acadian Farms Brewery. A brewery on a farm. ‘nuf said.

Carson stop two is a visit to Barnstormer Brewing and Terain Brice, owner and brew mistress. Barnstormer is located in a small red barn down a gravel drive off Hot Springs Avenue. When I asked Terain where the hot springs were in Carson, she pointed straight across the street from the brewery. A double bonus if so inclined, good beer followed by a soak in the hot springs, or I suppose a good soak followed by beer would be the better order.  At any rate linger a bit and visit with Terain, an avid pilot in addition to Barnstormer’s owner, brewer, and bartender.

Bob, beer with beer in hand, and Terain Brice, in front of Barnstormer Brewing. Beer, barns, farms, the PCT. Um, yes, thank you.

Bob, with beer in hand, and Terain Brice, in front of Barnstormer Brewing. Beer, barns, farms, the PCT. Um, yes, thank you.

The fantastic Terain Brice tending bar.

The fantastic Terain Brice tending bar.

Back downtown, I stop for a pint and pizza at Backwoods Brewing. Despite the name, Backwoods is the largest of the three Carson breweries, plus it has an extensive food menu. If you like pizza and hiking, what could be better than a Tree Hugger, Spar Tree, or perhaps the Hippy Delight? And there are 12 others to choose from.  When I asked Greta Hollis, one of the bartenders, why her shirt said ‘Real Women Drink Beer’, she gave me a smile and shrug. Well, thinking about it, I guess in Carson, real women brew and drink beer. Makes sense.

Greta Hollis, a friendly face at Backwoods Brewing, treats hikers really hard well.

Greta Hollis, a friendly face at Backwoods Brewing, treats hikers really darn well.

Full disclosure; as stated I’ve never thru-hiked the PCT, only sections with good breweries. If I were really a thru-hiker, I think I would do something like this: Drop into Cascade Locks, scrub up, pick up my box at the Post Office, sign the PCT registration book and hang at Thunder Island. A great zero day. Then I’d head across the Bridge of the Gods, ‘WET’ bus to Stevenson, have a cup at Robbie’s and harass Dana for trail information if she were in her office. Then I would head to Walking Man for a beer and burger, maybe do some kiteboarding, and stay another night.  Then catch the ‘ WET’ bus to Carson and visit Acadian and Barnstormer. I’d cross the road for a soak at the hot springs, then end my tour at Backwoods for final brew and pizza. Depending on time, mood and energy, I might just take Benton up on his offer to camp at Acadian.

Backwood's Brewing patio in Carson, Washington.

Backwood’s Brewing patio in Carson, Washington.

Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Specialist, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton