It's a common misconception that if you don't ski or snowboard, there isn't a lot to do on Mt. Hood. In fact, there are a number of places to go where you can rent inner tubes on Mt. Hood and have a fantastic experience in the snow.
This year we decided to give three of the major Mt. Hood inner tube options a try and see which one is best. The most well known innertubing on Mt. Hood is Mt. Hood Skibowl . Skibowl sells passes for two hour sessions which start on the hour. This can be a royal pain if you arrive on the half hour, as you either have to wait thirty minutes to hit the mountain or lose a full quarter of your time.
Consequently, pricing for Ski Bowl is the most expensive, with adults paying $20 for two hours and kids over 3 (but under 48 inches) paying $15. For our family of 5 we payed a whopping $95 for two hours of tubing (which actually ended up being an hour and forty-five minutes since we didn't get there on the hour).
What you get at Skibowl over the other options is a rope tow which helps get you and your tube up the hill, a full staff of at least two people on each run, and some of the best equipment on the mountain. This year Ski Bowl added double inner tubes to their line-up which worked perfectly for our younger children to use on the runs. The only problem was that these double tubes were in painfully short supply and we only managed to snag one at the very end of our session.
Skibowl has two runs, the main one with the rope tow to get you back to the top of the run, and a steeper challenge run which requires you to hike up to the top of the run. The challenge run was significantly more advanced than the main run and some of the rides down the run included jumps. Both of the runs are very enjoyable in their own right and for part of our session we split up so our youngest could ride the main run while our older kids did the challenge one.
If Skibowl would at least start their sessions on the half hour or give deeper discounts for kids, I think they'd be the one to beat. As it stands, they still have the best gear, best staff and some of the better runs on the mountain.
Further up Mt. Hood is the Summit Ski Area. Summit is the oldest ski area on Mt. Hood and one of the smallest. With one chair lift and a connected run, Summit is a pretty tiny place. Even though they aren't big, they have devoted a nice area for inner tubing. Rather than selling passes in two hour shifts, they sell half day passes good from 10am – 4pm for $20 for adults and $10 for 5 and under. You're getting more bang for your buck here. What really makes it worthwhile is that you can use your pass both at Summit Ski Area and Snow Bunny (which is just 2 miles up the road from Summit Ski Area).
A smaller scale than Mt. Hood Skibowl, the inner tubing runs at Summit Ski Area are slightly shorter. Instead of a main tubing area and a more advanced one, Summit opts for a main one and a 'bunny' tube area. This is a nice option for much younger kids as Summit requires you to ride along with anyone under the age of 5 (which can be a little difficult to maneuver). While we liked the tubing runs at Summit, they couldn't compare to the ones at Mt. Hood Skibowl. The end of the runs at Summit were rock hard and that resulted in a few rough landings which were quite unpleasant.
If you didn't know that Snow Bunny Snow Play Area existed, you'd probably miss it. At Summit, I had to ask about using the Summit passes at Snow Bunny (which you can) as there were no real signs. Snow Bunny is located 2 miles up Hwy 26 from Summit Ski Area. If it weren't for the mile marker signs on the road we probably would have missed it. Snow Bunny seems like it's even smaller than Summit. There is no lodge, no real facilites, and if you buy your passes there you need to pay cash (credit card payments are an option at Summit).
Instead of the fancy cloth-covered inner tubes with tow ropes, Snow Bunny uses good old fashioned tire tubes. The upside of this is that they are extremely light and easy to carry up the hill. The downside is that they are much more difficult for younger kids to ride. After spending a few runs at the hill at the entrance of Snow Bunny, we were told we could head up the path for more runs. Between the old fashioned tubes and the windy, snowy path, Snow Bunny has a terrific 'out in the woods', wintery play vibe.
When we arrived at the first of two larger Snow Bunny runs, we were absolutely blown away. Considerably longer than either Mt. Hood Ski Bowl or Summit, and with much better powdery snow than either Summit or Ski Bowl, the Snow Bunny runs are by far the best inner tubing runs on the mountain.
Even though we were at Snow Bunny at peak times (1-4pm), there was never really a crowd. The Snow Bunny Snow Play Park seems to be one of Mt. Hood's best kept secrets. The flip side of that is that the runs aren't staffed, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the upside, it's nice to tube at your own pace and not have to wait to be told when to go. This gives the tubing a more free and unstructured feeling to it. The downside is that some people do amazingly dumb and dangerous things on these courses (including walking right back up a run while someone else is going down it).
Since Snow Bunny doesn't have its own website, get pricing and directions for it from the Summit Ski Area Site. We recommend stopping at Summit to buy tickets for Snow Bunny, which also gives you a chance to get a warm drink and use the facilities before heading out to Snow Bunny.
No matter which option you chose, there is a lot of fun to be had up on Mt. Hood even if you don't snowboard or ski. For us, tubing will be an annual thing with stops at both Ski Bowl and Snow Bunny.