PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Columbia Gorge

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  • A stunningly scenic stretch of the Columbia River
  • Stretches from Portland to Hood River
  • Dozens of dramatic waterfalls
  • Home to Oregon’s most famous waterfall: Multnomah Falls

When To Visit: March-October

Climate: Warm and sunny in the summer and fall. Cool with lots of rain in the winter, milder weather in spring.

Location: Northwestern Oregon – 30 minutes east of Portland

Visitors to Portland seeking nearby nature can’t miss this gorgeous area just 30 minutes east of the city. The 60 mile portion of the Columbia River east of Portland skirts the border between Oregon and Washington and has epic waterfalls, river panoramas, and quiet green areas to explore.

Photo: Columbia River from Beacon Rock State Park, Washington

What To See & Do in the Columbia Gorge

You can see many of the area’s most stunning sights by driving on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which parallels Interstate 84 and provides access to most of the area’s most jaw-dropping sights.

Columbia Gorge Driving Tour

Beginning from Portland, drive east on I-84. 30 minutes from Downtown, exit on Corbett Hill Road and then make a left on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which will take you to the first destination: Vista House.

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Shepperd’s Dell Falls
  1. Vista House

    • A free museum that commemorates Oregon’s pioneers
    • Incredible views of the Columbia River
    • Ornate, dome-shaped architecture
  2. Latourell Falls
    • An easy 2.4 mile round trip hike – see Hikes below
  3. Shepperd’s Dell Falls
    • A very short, easy paved walk takes to a great view of this 220 foot, two-part waterfall
    • In case you’re wondering, “dell” refers to the small wooden valley in which the falls live
  4. Bridal Veil Falls
    • An easy 0.6 mile round-trip hike with hardly any elevation gain takes you to these two-level falls surrounded by bright green forest and neighboring a beautiful arch bridge
    • The parking area also connects to a short, easy walk to the Bridal Veil Falls Scenic Viewpoint – which provides an excellent panoramic view of the Columbia River
  5. Wahkeena Falls
    • An easy 1.4 mile round trip hike takes you to the top of these falls – see Hikes below
    • If you’re not up to the hike, an easy 0.4 mile round trip walk takes you to a bridge with a great overlook of Wahkeena Falls
    • This unusual waterfall is very wide and surrounded by moss
  6. Multnomah Falls
    • Oregon’s highest and most famous waterfall and one of the most visited tourist destinations in the state
    • A year-round waterfall due to frequent precipitation and spring water
    • At the bottom of the falls, there’s a lodge with a restaurant, gift shop, groceries, and accommodations
    • A 5 minute walk takes you to a grand view of this 600 foot waterfall, the tallest in the Columbia Gorge
    • Walk 5 minutes further to Benson Bridge and you’ll get a closer-up view and stand up the lowest portion of the falls
    • A very strenuous, mile-long walk takes you to the top of the falls – see Hikes below
  7. Oneonta Tunnel
    • Stop to appreciate this ornately constructed wooden tunnel built in 1914
    • The Historic Highway passes right through the tunnel and there is parking just east of it
  8. Horsetail Falls & Ponytail Falls
    • The highway provides excellent views of Horsetail Falls
    • To reach Ponytail Falls, take an easy 0.8 mile round trip walk up the trail
    • Ponytail Falls is a very skinny waterfall that jets out into a tranquil water hole in a small valley
    • Just over a mile past Horsetail Falls, the Historic Highway ends and you should merge onto I-84 East
  9. Elowah Falls & Upper McCord Creek Falls
    • An easy 2.2 mile round trip hike takes you to both of these scenic waterfalls – see Hikes below
  10. Bonneville Fish Hatchery
    • Watch salmon climb up a large dam
    • See a 10-foot-long sturgeon fish
    • 1 million people visit this hatchery every year!
  11. Bridge of the Gods
    • A dramatic steel truss bridge built in 1926 in the town of Cascade Locks
    • Connects Oregon and Washingotn over the Columbia River
    • The terminus of the main character’s journey in the book and film Wild
    • You can cross Bridge of the Gods and return to Portland on the Washington side along Highway 14 (a 1-hour drive) or continue another half-hour along I-84 East to the adorable town of Hood River
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Bridge of the Gods

Columbia Gorge Hikes

I’ve listed the area’s hikes in order from west to east.

  1. Latourell Falls

    • 2.4 miles round trip, out & back, 30 minutes-1 hour, 520 foot elevation gain, easy
    • Get an up-close view of the closest waterfall to Portland
    • Latourell Falls is surrounded by striking bright green moss-covered rock
  2. Wahkeena Falls
    • 1.4 miles round trip, out & back, 30 minutes, 850 foot elevation gain, moderately strenuous
    • You’ll get to stand right under this remarkable, very wide waterfall that’s surrounded by moss
  3. Multnomah Falls
    • 2.4 miles round trip, out & back, 1.5-3 hours, 870 foot elevation gain, strenuous
    • You’ll reach the top of Oregon’s tallest waterfall and get epic views down onto the falls and over to the Columbia River
  4. Elowah Falls & Upper McCord Creek Falls
    • 2.2 miles round trip, out & back, 1-2 hours, 400 foot elevation gain, easy to moderately strenuous
    • Elowah Fall is a 1.4 mile round trip hike and you should continue on to Upper McCord Creek Falls, a beautiful horizontally split waterfall
    • You’ll get to walk along a tranquil creek near the end of the trail
  5. Munra Point
    • 6 miles round trip, out & back, 3-5 hours, 2,270 foot elevation gain, very strenuous
    • One of the best views in the Columbia Gorge – you can see the river, mountains, forest, and often wildflowers
    • The last portion of the hike requires boulder scrambling, but if you aren’t up to the challenge, you can stop there and still see a delightful view
  6. Punchbowl Falls
    • 3.4 miles round trip, out & back, 1.5-3 hours, 580 foot elevation gain, moderately strenuous
    • Lush forest and a pleasant walk along Eagle Creek for almost the entire journey
    • Punchbowl Falls is located one of the greenest areas imaginable, with stunning moss and basalt cliffs
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Wahkeena Falls

Where To Stay & Eat in the Columbia Gorge

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Multnomah Falls

There are countless lodging and food options in the city of Portland just 30 minutes away. There are also hotels, restaurants, and groceries available in the towns of Cascade Locks and Hood River on the eastern side of the gorge.

The only services available in the center of the gorge are at historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, which has a restaurant, gift shop, groceries, and accommodations. Rooms get booked far in advance so plan ahead.

There are 2 campgrounds within the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area – Wyeth and Eagle Creek (the oldest Forest Service campground in the country!) which are almost fully reservable with just a few first-come, first-serve spots. There’s more campgrounds on the eastern side of the gorge and across the river in Washington. To find and reserve a campsite, click here and search for Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

Nearby Side Trips from the Columbia Gorge

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South Falls at Silver Falls State Park

Portland: Known as the hipster capital of America, this city just 30 minutes west is perched on the junction of the mighty Columbia & Willamette Rivers with a panoramic view of Mt. Hood to the East. Stroll through one of its many famous gardens or venture out to see nearby forests & waterfalls. Read more.

Silver Falls State Park: A hike through this park 1.5 hours south will take you alongside (and sometimes even underneath) ten waterfalls. Read more.

Oregon Coast: There are no large cities on Oregon’s coastline (2 hours west), only cute beach towns and incredible ocean views. Read more.

 

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