The BEST places to visit in the Columbia River Gorge
An Experience of a Lifetime
Whether you have a few hours or an entire week to explore, the Columbia River Gorge will not disappoint. Just 20 minutes east of Portland is where your adventure begins! This is a national scenic area that consists of the area surrounding a canyon that extends 80 miles along the mighty Columbia River spanning the boundary of Oregon and Washington State.
Located in the Pacific Northwest within the Cascade Mountains, you will have the opportunity to see beautiful waterfalls, scenic views, old-growth forests, and national historic landmarks. In addition, the Gorge offers world-class hiking, camping, windsurfing, and whitewater rafting.
How to prepare for your trip?
1. Plan your visit ahead of time by checking out the best places to see according to what you’re interested in, build an itinerary and be sure to make reservations
2. Aim to get on the road early to avoid crowds and enjoy the scenery without having to worry about other people
3. Bring a picnic lunch or dinner so you can enjoy a view while you eat
4. Pack plenty of water. Check out 5 Best Water Filtering and Purifying Bottles. And bring snacks, especially if you’re going to be hiking
5. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes – If you plan to hike, pack a daypack and carry the 10 Essentials
What are the best places to visit in the Columbia River Gorge?
Troutdale- Gateway to the Gorge
If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an adrenaline-filled adventure, Troutdale is the perfect spot to start your journey. The old town’s main street is lined with quaint shops, coffee roasters, and cafes- all with historic western charm.
Just past the old town, the Sandy River flows through Troutdale just before its confluence with the Columbia River here.
There are plenty of trails to explore along its banks at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Site. And, of course, no trip to Troutdale would be complete without a drive along the historic Columbia River Highway.
This old road winds parallel to the Columbia River river, offering breathtaking views of the gorge. Troutdale is the gateway to some of the most stunning scenery in the Pacific Northwest.
Historic Columbia River Highway: Access to the Waterfall Corridor
The entire 74-mile stretch of this historic highway is a marvel, with its picturesque waterfalls and scenic vistas. Before the interstate highway was built, this was the main access point linking the eastern gorge to Portland.
These days the scenic Columbia River Highway is used as an access point to the hundreds of miles of hiking trails, the waterfall corridor, and parks.
Pro Tip: A permit (link here) is required for the waterfall corridor portion of the highway during high season.
Crown Point Vista House
While driving along the scenic highway, make sure to visit Crown Point and the Vista House. This historic building offers stunning views of the river and the surrounding mountain from its perch at 693 ft above the Columbia River.
Originally built as a glamorous rest area and viewpoint along the winding highway. This makes for a great stop to stretch your legs, take some panoramic photos and use the facilities.
Multnomah Falls is one of the most famous landmarks in Oregon, often called “The Crown Jewel of the Pacific Northwest.” This 620-foot waterfall draws millions from around America and abroad to see its stunning views.
There are several ways you can access this breathtaking waterfall. The most beautiful views of the falls can be seen at the base viewing area, easily accessed by paved pathways bordered with ample benches.
For those more physically inclined, there is an option for a 2.6-mile out-and-back hike which is a series of switchbacks along a mostly paved trail to an observation deck. Here you are at the top of the falls with views of the gorge.
For a closer look but a much shorter hike, only a few minutes from the main entrance at 150 feet is the Benson Footbridge between the two cascades of the falls. A visitor center is located within the historic lodge, along with a restaurant, gift shop, and restrooms. Timed use permits (link here).
Wahkeena Falls: The 242-foot tiered waterfall is easily accessed from the historic highway for all highway side viewing and photos. Here you will also have access to a network of trails for a day hike. The day-use area has ample parking, a covered picnic shelter with tables, fire rings, and restrooms with flush toilets.
Horsetail Falls: This waterfall is named for its characteristic shape and is the perfect spot for a quick nature fix or a day hike from the Horsetail Fall Trailhead. These falls are visible from the road.
Latourell Falls: This beautiful waterfall is best known for its 249 ft straight drop down from an overhanging cliff. The lower falls are visible from the road, but to see the main falls, visitors will need to hike a 2.1-mile loop trail to enjoy its full beauty.
Pro Tip: If you are limited on time and only have time to visit Multnomah Falls. Use exit 31 from off I-84. There is a parking area with access to the Multnomah Falls lodge, viewing areas, and hiking trails around the site.
There’s no doubt about it; Hood River is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Situated in the heart of Oregon’s scenic Columbia River Gorge, Hood River is known as the windsurfing capital of the world and a mecca for adventure seekers.
The area is home to Mt. Hood National Forest, a playground for hikers, mountain bikers, and climbers. And with windsurfing, kiteboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayaking all on offer, there’s no shortage of ways to get out on the water.
So whether you’re looking for an adrenaline-fuelled adventure or a peaceful nature retreat, Hood River is the perfect destination. And, of course, no visit to Hood River would be complete without sampling the local wines. The Hood River Valley is home to dozens of wineries, and visitors can participate in wine tastings and tours.
The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Gorge, offering stunning views of waterfalls and native vegetation. The trailhead is located just off Highway 84, about an hour east of Portland and beyond the waterfall corridor.
The trail itself is relatively easy to follow and well-marked. It winds its way along Eagle Creek for roughly 3 miles before reaching High Bridge, a spectacular rock span that provides excellent views of the gorge below.
From there, the trail continues climbing steadily through a dense forest until it reaches Tunnel Falls, a waterfall you can walk behind and a good turnaround spot for day hikers at the 7-mile mark.
This area was heavily impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire that began on September 2, 2017, and burned for over three months. The fire destroyed over 50,000 acres of forest and impacted hiking trails and campgrounds throughout the area.
While the Eagle Creek Fire was a tragedy, it also created an opportunity to see the power of nature firsthand. The eagle creek fire visited destruction upon the landscape, but it also opened up new vistas and created forest renewal with new growth
Caution: There are sections of this hike where the trail skirts along sheer cliffs with no handholds. For this reason, this hike is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights, dogs, or young children.
There’s something special about Beacon Rock. Nestled in the Columbia River Gorge, this massive basalt column is a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers. The rock is an imposing sight, and the views from the top are simply breathtaking.
Hike the mile-long paved trail to the top of the 848-foot rock to enjoy some eagle-eye views or enjoy the number of hiking, equestrian, and mountain biking trails.
The recreational area includes a boat launch and moorage for those looking to get out on the water or fish. Beacon Rock State Park is open year-round for day use and camping, with limited camping in the winter months.
Fees are charged for camping and day use. A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to the park.
One of the most popular attractions in Cascade Locks is the Sternwheeler, a paddle boat that takes visitors on a journey through the Columbia River Gorge. The Sternwheeler replicates the paddle boats once used to transport goods and people up and down the river.
Today, the Sternwheeler is powered by electricity, but it still gives visitors a sense of what life was like on the river in the early days of Cascade Locks.
The Sternwheeler takes visitors on a three-hour tour of the Columbia River Gorge, starting at Cascade Locks and ending at Bonneville Dam. Along the way, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the river and its surroundings. The Sternwheeler is an enjoyable and educational experience for all ages.
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting on the weekend, book the brunch trip and reserve a window seat. Trips run from May- October and reservations are required. Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler.
Cascade Locks is a small town located in the Columbia River Gorge, and it’s a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through Cascade Locks, a popular spot for fishing, hiking, and camping.
There’s also a fish hatchery where you can see sockeye salmon spawning. And if you’re looking for a bit of history, check out the Bridge of the Gods. It’s an iconic structure that spans the Columbia River along the Cascade Range and connects the Pacific Crest Trail between Oregon and Washington.
Today, Cascade Locks is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and experience some of Oregon’s natural beauty.
Don’t Miss: Be sure to stop at the Brigham Fish Market, an American Indian Family owned business. Everything is freshly caught, delicious, and truly top-notch. Stay for lunch or grab some freshly smoked salmon for the trail.
If you’re looking for a beautiful and serene place to stay in the Gorge, look no further than Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington. This luxurious lodge is situated on the banks of the Columbia River and offers a stunning view of the Columbia River.
Whether you’re looking to relax or explore all that the Gorge has to offer, Skamania Lodge is the perfect place to stay! Skamania Lodge offers a variety of accommodations to suit your needs, from cozy rooms in the main lodge to spacious suites with fireplaces and even private tree houses.
No matter where you stay, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the river, forest, or mountains. There’s something for everyone at Skamania, from golfing, zip lining, hiking, swimming, or just relaxing after a long day with a spa treatment or soaking in the hot tub.
Rooster Rock State Park
Rooster Rock State Park is a great spot to stop for a picnic or spend the day. The park features a columnar basalt outcropping, the namesake of this popular local landmark. Located on the Columbia River, the park offers stunning views of the Gorge.
There is plenty of space for picnics, an off-leash dog park, a disc golf course, and a lovely sandy beach with a clothing-optional section for those inclined. It’s the perfect place to spend a few hours exploring, hiking, swimming, and relaxing. There’s plenty of room to find a private spot along the 3 miles of beach along the river! Day-use parking permit required.