Why you should visit...

Columbia River Gorge

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How to spend a day in the Columbia River Gorge & grab as many experiences as possible: hiking, relaxing, eating, drinking & taking it all in.

Why We Love It:

My Day in the Columbia River Gorge

In 2014, I had the opportunity to run the Eugene Marathon in Eugene, Oregon. Since I was going to be a long way from home, I decided to make it worth my while & spend eight days, starting in San Francisco & making my way along the Pacific Coast Highway to Portland. While the Marathon & everything else I saw on the trip was very memorable, the unexpected highlight was the day I spent hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. Before that day, I was vaguely aware that the Columbia River Gorge existed but had never thought much of it. Boy, was I missing out! This natural marvel, painted with waterfalls, trails, and panoramic views, left an indelible mark on me. It was a day of solitude and splendor, spent hiking & sitting & thinking & watching & a place I will spend the rest of my life suggesting to anybody who will listen.

The Columbia River Gorge’s Legacy

The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular display of nature’s formidable might. Monumental floods sculpted the Columbia River Gorge during the last Ice Age. The resulting landscape is a mesmerizing blend of raw, rugged beauty and tranquil majesty. In 1986, recognizing its significance, the Columbia River Gorge was designated a National Scenic Area. This protection preserves its stunning vistas and safeguards the rich biodiversity thriving within.

Portland to the Gorge

The gateway to the Columbia River Gorge lies just a half-hour’s drive (30 miles) from Portland’s lively streets. If you have time to spare, stroll through Troutdale’s quaint avenues on your way out of Portland or pull over for a quick snack & take in the views from Chanticleer Point.

The first genuinely required stop in the Columbia River Gorge, though, is the Crown Point Vista House. Completed in 1918, the Crown Point Vista House was intended as a memorial to Oregon pioneers & as a place of rest and refreshment for travelers on the Historic Columbia River Highway, the first scenic highway in the United States. The views from here are stunning & well worth budgeting time for.

The view from Crown Point Vista House

Columbia River Gorge Trails

To say the Columbia River Gorge is a true understatement. I am only going to list the trails I hiked at least a portion of, but I am assuming I could spend the rest of my life & not hit them all.

Start with Angel’s Rest Trail if you want a moderate hike with great views. As you ascend, the trail offers breathtaking views of the Columbia River Gorge, with opportunities to see various waterfalls, rock formations, and sights extending to Mount Hood on clear days. For a shorter, family-friendly walk, try Bridal Veil Falls Trail. The trail takes hikers through roughly half a mile through lush forested areas, leading to the stunning Bridal Veil Falls, roughly 120 feet in height.

Wahkeena to Multnomah: Worth Every Step

The unquestioned highlight of the day was the hike from Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls. This pretty challenging hike is around 6 miles long & climbs 1600 feet in total, taking you past Fairy, Weisendanger, and Ecola Falls & up to the top of Multnomah Falls. I was on exhausted legs from the Eugene Marathon & took lots of rest stops, but the extra effort meant I spent a lot of time with the forest to myself & appreciated every moment of the hike.

As a very sweet aside, after the descent from the top of Multnomah Falls, I indulged in a giant hunk of fudge from a vendor in the parking lot. It wasn’t just fudge but the best fudge I’ve ever had. At least in that moment & on that day! I can’t promise they will be there the day you visit, but indulge yourself if you can!

A Day of Must-See Roadside Viewpoints

Even if you, for some reason, never get out of your car, don’t rush through the Columbia River Gorge. Make time for the must-see roadside stops like the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint and the historic Bonneville Dam. There is a reason this 75-mile stretch of highway from Troutdale to The Dalles has been designated the Historic Columbia River Highway. Savor it!

Hood River’s Charms

The town of Hood River is at the end of the Historic Columbia River Highway. Much like the Gorge, I had no idea this place existed, but by the end of my overnight stay, I was ready to start looking at real estate! The town is full of local coffee shops, vegan cafes, art studios & just the sorts of places you’d expect to find in a funky little town in the middle of such an idyllic natural landscape.

Don’t miss a stop by Hood River Waterfront Park. This picturesque spot offers more than just stunning river views; it’s also a hub for parasailing enthusiasts. Hood River’s unique geographical location makes it a hotspot for this exhilarating sport. The strong, steady winds coming through the Columbia River Gorge create ideal conditions for parasailing. The temperature differences between the ocean and the inland areas influence the wind patterns, leading to consistent winds that are perfect for catching air. There were literally hundreds of sails in the air the day I was there, with just as many folks lying along the shores, either resting from their last run or just taking it all in.

Why the Columbia River Gorge is a Must-Visit

If you’re still wondering whether the Columbia River Gorge should be on your must-visit list, let me put it simply: it’s an understated treasure that offers something for everyone. You can start your morning with a pleasant drive from Portland & a challenging hike, eat lunch soaking in panoramic views, and end your day with great food & ample recovery in Hood River.

The Columbia River Gorge is basically a sampler of the most stunning landscapes the Pacific Northwest offers.

Region: North America
Days Needed: 1
Highlights: Nature, Hiking, Photgraphy, Wildlife, Waterfalls
Primary Language: English
Cost ($-$$$$): $

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