By Steve Roti
For those who like flying amidst alpine scenery, the Cascade mountains are where it's at in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascades get a lot of moisture dropped on them during the winter and spring, but during the summer and fall they offer plenty of flying opportunities. In general, the mountain valleys and peaks in Washington are more open and accessible than in Oregon.
An exception to the generalization in the previous paragraph is Bald Butte. Its bare top is large enough to lay out at least a dozen paragliders although the road up is 4WD only. On light and variable days paraglider pilots can enjoy views of Mt. Hood while flying over the Hood River valley.
Speaking of Mt. Hood, it is possible to launch from Oregon's biggest mountain, but paraglider pilots don't fly there very often. The typical flight is a big sledder from above the top of the Palmer lift down to the White River Canyon.
Moving north into Washington, Silver Star is a spectacular peak in the Gifford Pinchot national forest with views of the Cascade foothills and the Columbia River. Silver Star is generally only flown when it's soarable and top-landable because the landing zones in the valley are small and uninviting.
Snaggletooth is another foothill flying site not far from Silver Star. The launch area is in a clearcut, but once airborne the pilot gets views into the Columbia River Gorge and west to Portland. (Note: the road to launch is blocked about a mile back, and the site is now overgrown.)
The north fork Toutle River Valley flying site is our gift from Mount St. Helens. When the mountain blew, the valley walls were scraped clean of trees and the valley floor was filled up with mud and ash. Now we launch in the treeless areas and find thermals over the dry mudflats. We're not allowed to fly inside the national monument, so our launch areas are all west of the monument boundary.
Other Flying Sites in the Cascades