What do you get when you mix waterfalls, hiking trails, forests, and rain all in one place?
The Columbia River Gorge, of course!
You can’t get more “Pacific Northwest” than this incredible 80-mile stretch of the scenic area, between both Oregon and Washington.
Berty and I have had the pleasure of visiting here several times, but most recently in May of 2022 when we got the perfect mix of rain and sunshine.
In this post, we’re here to share the coolest things to do in the Columbia River Gorge, INCLUDING a brand new 2022 permit system Oregon is putting in place for visitors. You’ll definitely want to stick around to learn about that!
- What is the Columbia River Gorge?
- Columbia River Gorge History
- Columbia River Gorge Facts
- Essential Tips For Visiting The Columbia River Gorge
- Places To Stay In The Columbia River Gorge
- 20 Adventurous Things To Do In The Columbia River Gorge
- 1. Drive The Historic Columbia River Highway
- 2. Visit Crown Point and The Vista House
- 3. See The Tallest Waterfall in Oregon – Multnomah Falls
- 4. Discover Even More Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
- 5. Explore Oneonta Gorge Trail
- 6. Bonneville Hatchery
- 7. Get Out On The Water
- 8. Drive The Hood River Fruit Loop
- 9. Try Local Beer in the Columbia River Gorge
- 10. Enjoy Native Plants of the Columbia River Gorge
- 11. Spot Unique Wildlife in the Columbia River Gorge
- 12. Explore Incredible Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge
- 13. Play & Stay in Hood River
- 14. Go For a Tasting at Columbia River Gorge Wineries
- 15. No Car? No Problem! Book a Columbia River Gorge Tour
- 16. Explore Interesting Museums in the Columbia River Gorge
- 17. Viewpoints In The Columbia River Gorge
- 18. Stand in Awe of Columbia River Gorge Architecture
- 19. Don’t Forget the Washington Side!
- 20. Go Columbia River Gorge Camping For A Central Home Base
- Columbia River Gorge Map
- What are some of your favorite things to do in the Columbia River Gorge? Did we miss any of your favorite activities? Share them in the comments below!
- MORE OREGON ADVENTURES
What is the Columbia River Gorge?
The Columbia River Gorge is an 80-mile stretch of the protected scenic area, spanning from Portland to The Dalles along the Columbia River.
It covers both the Oregon and Washington sides, with most of the waterfalls being on the Oregon side. It cuts right through the Cascade Mountains and is quite the geological wonder as the river heads west to the Pacific Ocean. (more on that geology below!)
It’s the largest national scenic area in the United States, full of hiking trails, waterfalls, sweeping vistas, and scenic drives. The area also has the highest concentration of waterfalls in the United States.
Along the Columbia River Gorge, you can find adventure-centric cities, rural towns, and lots of wide-open spaces to enjoy.
From hotels and restaurants to farm-fresh food and u-pick orchards, there are so many fun things to do in the Columbia River Gorge.
Columbia River Gorge History
About 18,000 years ago, the Ice Dam holding back Lake Missoula broke free and sent water rushing through the Pacific Northwest to escape to the ocean.
It sent 550 cubic MILES of water rushing west at 60 miles per hour, carving out gorges along the way.
This fast-moving water is what carved out the Columbia Gorge as we see it today!
Before the settlement of pioneering white people, the land was inhabited by the Klickitat Tribe. They were salmon-fishing people who thrived in the area’s rich berry and fish population.
In 1986, President Ronald Regan signed into law the National Scenic Area Act. This protected 292,500 acres of federally protected land which is what we call the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area today! Now, the variety of things to do in the Columbia River Gorge is abundant – there is something for pretty much anyone!
Want more timeline facts? Read this article from PDX Monthly.
Columbia River Gorge Facts
Before you head out on your adventure, here are some interesting facts about the Columbia River Gorge:
- The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest
- The Columbia River creates the natural border between the states of Oregon and Washington
- It flows all the way from British Columbia (hence the name) and flows through Oregon and Washington to empty into the Pacific Ocean.
- The Columbia River is around 1,243 miles long.
- The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon that gets up to 1,200 meters deep and stretches more than 130 kilometers.
- The Columbia River is the seventh-largest river in North America.
- The Columbia River flows through several major cities, including Kennewick (Tri-Cities), Hood River, Revelstoke, Portland, and Vancouver.
- It’s the largest hydro-power-producing river in North America, serving 14 dams across two countries.
- The Columbia Basin Watershed provides water for more than 600 wildlife species.
- Humans inhabited the Columbia Basin area for more than 15,000 years.
- Celio Falls is an extinct waterfall that was on the Columbia River, which is now replaced by the Dalles Dam
- The Columbia River was given its name in 1792, after Captain Robert Gray’s ship, the Columbia Rediviva.
- There are an abundance of things to do in the Columbia River Gorge – the most popular activities are hiking, fishing, camping, and wine tasting!
Essential Tips For Visiting The Columbia River Gorge
So, before we get started on the best things to do in the Columbia River Gorge, here’s what you need to know:
- Parking lots fill up FAST. On nice summer days, you can expect lots to be full by 9 am. Come early to snag a spot!
- Off of the paved trails, terrain is rocky and uneven. Bring sturdy hiking shoes!
- The best time to visit is spring, summer, and fall. Winters can be inaccessible and icy!
- Always prepare for rainy weather. It’s the Pacific Northwest after all!
- Allow lots of buffer time.
- Bridge Crossing tolls – Bridge of the Gods, Hood River Bridge
- It’s possible to visit them in a single (but long!) day LINK itinerary
Places To Stay In The Columbia River Gorge
There is a wide selection of accommodations in the Gorge, from luxurious stays to cozy vacation homes, and even convenient campgrounds.
Some of the best resorts in the Pacific Northwest are located right here!
Here are some of our recommended campgrounds and hotels in the Columbia River Gorge.
Luxury Hotels In The Columbia River Gorge
Skamania Lodge: ($200-$500 per night, depending on the season) On-site spa and golf course, with treehouse accommodations as well as luxurious forest-inspired ooms.
The Society Hotel in Bingen: (~$100-$250 per night) A historic schoolhouse converted into a modern and trendy resort. Restaurant, bar, spa and pool on-site, with concierge service for other activities around the Gorge.
Budget Hotels In the Columbia River Gorge
Best Western Columbia River Inn in Cascade Locks: (And the location in Hood River): ($150-$250) Simple and predictable accommodations. A great option if you’re a Booking.com member, you can save a ton of money if you’ve got points!
Camas Boutique Hotel: ($80-$130) This historic boutique hotel offers a more personalized stay. Great for couples staying in the Columbia River Gorge.
Quality Inn Gresham: ($100-$150) Simple and reliable rooms and service. Perfect for a budget-friendly weekend in the Columbia River Gorge.
Camping In The Columbia River Gorge
Scroll to #20 to see our full list of Columbia River Gorge campgrounds!
20 Adventurous Things To Do In The Columbia River Gorge
1. Drive The Historic Columbia River Highway
One of the most quintessential things to do in the Columbia River Gorge is to drive the Historic Columbia River Highway!
This route was completed in 1922, and it was the first planned scenic roadway in the USA! It was specifically built for auto-touring and dubbed “King of the Roads” by locals.
Built on a steep hillside, you can find examples of incredible roadwork and safety engineering from the stonework railings, historic bridges, and incredible viewpoints that have stood the test of time.
This scenic drive spanned 70 miles from Troutdale to The Dalles, but over time the highway took over most of this route. Sections of it also became the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Trail, only accessible to bikes and human-powered modes of transportation.
Don’t free though, you can still drive 20 miles of Highway 30 between Troutdale and ending at Elowah Falls, commonly called the Columbia Waterfalls Corridor.
Remember: This historic route wasn’t built for today’s big cars. The roads can get very narrow at parts – drive slowly! Click here for a brochure of the full route, but you can plan to follow it from Troutdale to Ainsworth State Park, before having to hop on 1-84 the rest of the way.
2. Visit Crown Point and The Vista House
If you’re following a list of things to do in the Columbia River Gorge heading west to east, one of the first stops you’ll encounter is the Crown Point Vista House.
Built in 1918, it boasts the best of the automobile era, with a domed tile roof, stained glass windows, and sweeping vistas of the gorge.
Here, you can explore Interpretive exhibits, buy food at the snack bar, and check out the gift shop. There are also bathrooms inside.
Speaking of the inside, the Vista House has very specific opening hours! Come Friday through Monday from 9 am – 5 pm to come inside. The house is closed Tuesday through Thursday.
Enjoy the viewing deck outside, with a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge below. It’s one of the most popular Oregon photography locations!
3. See The Tallest Waterfall in Oregon – Multnomah Falls
What’s a trip to the Gorge without seeing the iconic Multnomah Falls?! It’s one of the (if not THE) most popular waterfalls in Oregon!
It’s the most visited waterfall in Oregon as it is easily seen from Highway 84. This 620-foot two-tier waterfall is best visited on the weekday, in the morning hours.
Multnomah Falls is the most visited recreation site in the Pacific Northwest, so on any given summer weekend, it’s guaranteed to have crowds.
Don’t let crowds deter you though, this crown jewel of Oregon is worthy of a visit regardless. You can access the large parking lot off of I-84 or try your luck at the much smaller lot on Highway 30. Scroll a little farther for permitted use times!
You’ll first encounter the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which was built in 1924. It holds a restaurant, gift shop, bathrooms, and information about the waterfall. There are no accommodations here, but we share plenty of other incredible hotels in the Columbia River Gorge here in this post.
Once there, you can take the short paved trail up to Benson Bridge to feel the waterfall’s mist on your face! If you want to extend your time here, you can continue on to three other waterfalls including Dutchman Falls, Weisendanger Falls, and Ecola Falls.
NEW for 2022: Multnomah Falls and the Historic Highway Corridor is PERMITTED USE ONLY from May 24th-September 5th. Click here to reserve your ticket in advance.
4. Discover Even More Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
Portland can easily be called the city of waterfalls, with over 100 (not kidding!) accessible for endless Portland day trips.
There are 90 waterfalls alone in just this 70-mile stretch of river! The Columbia River Gorge has the highest concentration of waterfalls anywhere in the USA!
To visit these beautiful waterfalls near Portland, first, you’ll need to snag a permit if you want to visit the waterfall corridor and/or Multnomah Falls in the summer. This is currently necessary between May 24th and September 5th, 2022.
Some other popular Columbia River Gorge waterfalls include Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Horsetail Falls, and Wahkeena Falls. There are plenty of others too, but these are the most convenient roadside falls off of Highway 30.
Want to see the full list? Read here: 25 Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls To Add To Your Bucket List
5. Explore Oneonta Gorge Trail
Oneonta Gorge holds a scenic and lush canyon trail, full of waterfalls along the route.
It’s one of three routes up to Larch Mountain, with Oneonta Trail being the most difficult and challenging to Larch Mountain. This is due to its steep grade and challenging river ford through Oneonta Creek.
This trail was closed for several years following the 2017 Eagle Creek fire but is now open for visitors. Parking is extremely limited, with only 8 spaces available.
The most popular day route through here takes you on a loop to Lower Oneonta Falls and Triple Falls. From here you head east to Middle Oneonta Falls, past (and under!) Ponytail Falls and exits out at Horsetail Falls. From here, take a quick walk over to your car along the road at the Oneonta trailhead.
Since this is similar to a slot canyon, the spring season is prone to flash flooding, which can be very deadly. It is recommended to visit in the late summer when water levels are lower.
Beware of log jams! these occur when trees fall into the gorge and the water flow pushes them together. They are NOT stable, so please be cautious when encountering them. There has been one recent death reported from a log jam here, so this area is not family-friendly.
Note: Oneonta Gorge has its own sign and bridge looking into the canyon. This area is currently closed dues to dangerous log jams. This is NOT the trailhead and is not maintained. Please keep driving to park at Oneonta Trailhead just a little farther to the west, to begin your hike.
6. Bonneville Hatchery
Address: 70543 NE Herman Loop, Cascade Locks, OR 97014
If you come during salmon spawning season (September-October) you can watch salmon swim upstream.
Not in season? Don’t fret! There are two ponds with trout and sturgeon to see up close. Inside you can visit the Sturgeon Viewing Center, where you can see Herman the Sturgeon. Herman is 80 years old, 500 pounds, and about 10 feet long!
Nearby is the Bonneville Lock and Dam. It was built by the Army Corp of Engineers in 1938. Inside the facilities, there is a fish-viewing ladder, where you can watch salmon swim up the fish ladder! You can find more information about it on the Washington side visitors centers or Brandford Island.
7. Get Out On The Water
Being right on the river, watersports in the Columbia River Gorge are plentiful! If you are visiting during the peak summer months, July and August typically have the hottest weather in the Columbia River Gorge.
Here, you can go kayaking, canoeing, SUPing (stand-up paddleboarding), jet skiing, catamaran sailing, and kiteboarding! It’s an adrenaline lover’s dream.
The cold, moist air of Portland to the west and the hot, dry air of Eastern Oregon are both constantly trying to equalize, thus making this area very windy year-round! You can expect to feel 10-20mph wind gusts, but it can sometimes blow strong 25-35mph wind gusts.
The wind in the Gorge is great for windsurfing, which is a very popular sport to try. Big Winds in Hood River offers gear rentals, as well as lessons for first-timers.
Want something a little tamer? Hood River SUP and Kayaking provides tours, rentals, and lessons to help customize a trip that’s perfect for you.
How about getting on the water without much physical effort? The Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler is an old-timey boat that offers dinner, brunch, and sightseeing tours. Sightseeing trips run about 2.5-3 hours and cost around $40 per passenger.
8. Drive The Hood River Fruit Loop
The Hood River Fruit Loop is a 35-mile scenic drive in the Hood River Valley. The route provides visitors with a unique rural farm experience, filled to the brim with fruit stands, wineries, u-pick farms with fresh produce, and so much more!
Currently, there are 27 unique makers and growers along the route, sharing their skills, bounty, and unique agricultural heritage.
The Hood River Fruit Loop looks quite different depending on which season you visit. Here’s a snapshot of what you can experience throughout the year:
- Spring: Strawberries, lavender, and flowers
- Summer: cherries, raspberries, blueberries, apricots
- Autumn: pumpkins, gourds, fall decorations
- Winter: Wine tastings, beer tastings, tree blossoms (end of March)
Looking for particular fruit? Check their harvest calendar for a snapshot list!
Opening business hours and activities depend greatly on the time of year and weather. The Hood River Fruit Loop Facebook Page is very active and will update visitors on things like availability and opening hours. Definitely check it out when planning your Columbia River Gorge itinerary!
Don’t leave without checking out these popular stores! The Hood River U-Pick is great for picking in-season produce. The Apple Valley Country Store sells delicious pies, jams, and jellies. Cathedral Ridge Winery, Fox Tail Distillery, and Mt Hood Winery are great places to visit with friends.
9. Try Local Beer in the Columbia River Gorge
There is something special about craft beer that comes from the Pacific Northwest.
Maybe it’s the hops and barley that grow crazy well here (especially in nearby Yakima). Maybe it’s the grey weather that keeps people in bars enjoying beer for much longer during the year. Our take? It’s all of that AND the love and care that the brewers put into their batches for us to enjoy.
The Columbia River Gorge has a handful of incredible tasting rooms, breweries, and restaurants to try between your Gorge activities.
Thunder Island Brewing Company in Cascade Locks is one of the coolest places to have an aprés-hike. You have to walk passed the giant brewing tanks as you head upstairs to the restaurant! Their burger and beer combos are top-notch, especially after putting in lots of miles on the trail.
Gorges Beer Co. is also in Cascade Locks and has a very cool community feel in their restaurant. Come for lots of beer on tap, and yummy (albeit smaller but more artisan) bites as you sip.
Full Sail Brewing in Hood River used to be a former fruit cannery but has since been converted into one of the city’s most popular breweries (with great food too!). Also in Hood River is Ferment Brewing a cool, modern place with floor-to-ceiling windows.
10. Enjoy Native Plants of the Columbia River Gorge
There are so many cool things to do in the Columbia River Gorge and nearly everything includes interacting with the outdoors! The unique plants that are located in this river gorge are abundant, beautiful, and totally fun to identify!
From roadside wildflowers to delicious berries tucked away on the trails, everywhere you turn, there’s an interesting new plant to discover!
Here are some unique plants in the Columbia River Gorge:
- Bleeding Hearts
- Blue-eyed Mary
The best time to see wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge is between March and early June.
During any time of year, you can expect to see these resident Pacific Northwest plants:
- Lace Lichen
- Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris)
- Trees of the Columbia River Gorge: Yellow Cedar, Red Cedar, True Fir, Spruce, Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Larch
- Mushrooms / Fungi of the Columbia River Gorge: Black Bulgar, Violet Chanterelle, Lion’s Mane, Crimson Waxy Cap
11. Spot Unique Wildlife in the Columbia River Gorge
With an abundance of rich flora comes an abundance of wildlife in the Columbia River Gorge!
The most common types of animals you may see in the Gorge include deer, beaver, ground squirrels, Townsend’s chipmunks, and yellow-bellied marmots.
It’s also true that bobcats and bears live in the Columbia River Gorge, but you are unlikely to find them on the popular waterfall trails – they get spooked by crowds.
Nevertheless, if you are seeking to venture further on Columbia River Gorge backpacking trips, it’s always a good idea to be bear aware, pack bear spray, and know how to use it!
Birds of the Columbia River Gorge:
- Stellar’s Jay (Cobalt blue color)
- Western Tanager
- Greater Roadrunner
Fish of the Columbia River Gorge:
- Small and Largemouth Bass
12. Explore Incredible Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge
One of our absolute favorite things to do in the Columbia River Gorge is to take a hike! Besides all of the amazing waterfalls in the Gorge, there are some pretty incredible trails with other unique features that are worth discovering.
Remember, because of the Eagle Creek Fire, trail conditions are subject to open and close dues to maintenance. Please refer to this list for the most up-to-date trail openings and closures.
Here are some favorites and ones still on our bucket list:
Eagle Creek Trail (#440)
For the full experience, hikers can venture out 13.1 miles (25.8 miles total) to Wahtum Lake for an overnight backpacking stay.
For day hikers, the most popular route is to Tunnel Falls and back, which is 12 miles in total. On this route, you can see more than 4 waterfalls!
Read More: The 57 Best Backpacking Gifts (for birthdays and holidays(
Munra Point Trail
6 miles total, 2,300 feet of elevation gain. Great views of the river gorge, traversing the edge of a summit!
Oneonta Gorge Trail
~6 miles out and back, 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Forging a creek and seeing tons of waterfalls along this route!
Pacific Crest Trail
To experience a little section of the PCT, you can start at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead. From here, go southbound on Section G as far as you want (It goes all the way to the Timberline Lodge!) and just return the same way you came it.
You might also like: The 26 Coolest Oregon Coast Hikes
13. Play & Stay in Hood River
If you’re looking for a central location for all the things to do in the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River is an excellent spot to stay!
Here, there is an abundance of shopping (especially cute boutiques), bookstores, tasting rooms, and coffee shops to try. The Hood River Historic Downtown District is several blocks of incredible stores, as well as 30 unique restaurants.
For some outdoor time, no trip to Hood River is complete without a trip to the waterfront! Plan a day to walk down to the Hood River Waterfront and rent some gear to get out on the water. Hood River Waterplay, Cascade Kiteboarding, and Big Winds all provide gear and lessons for beginners and experts!
14. Go For a Tasting at Columbia River Gorge Wineries
The Columbia Gorge AVA is a unique 40-mile stretch of land that encompasses both Washington and Oregon. The area is known for its steep slopes, dramatic basalt cliffs, and a surprising mix of both dry areas to the east, and very rainy areas to the west.
This AVA commonly grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Rieslings, but there is a lot of experimenting going on here too! There are some incredibly unique wineries are vineyards in the Columbia River Gorge. Here are some to consider checking out:
Luke Bradford of Cor Cellars focuses on low-alcohol wines that are for easy sipping and experimenting with unusual varieties. The facilities are sexy and modern, with some private tastings taking place in gorgeous outdoor tents.
This biodynamic farm overlooks the Gorge in Mosier, Oregon. The drive up to the estate is a magical experience, driving past rows of grapes and orchards set the scene for a peaceful experience. Idiot’s Grace is known for old-world traditions, creating wines that pair exceptionally well with food at the dinner table.
Hiyu Wine Farm can only be described as ethereal and beautiful. They put a lot of effort into creating a gorgeous wine experience, hosting chef’s lunches, tastings, and feasts to round out the experience. This place is pricey, but if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind organic experience, this is it.
Cathedral Ridge Winery is an award-winning estate located in the Columbia River Gorge. They have three tasting rooms in Hood River, Dundee, and Carlton. You can choose from a variety of wine tours, including standard tastings, barrel tastings, and private tastings for parties.
15. No Car? No Problem! Book a Columbia River Gorge Tour
“Do you have to have a car to visit the Columbia River Gorge” – you actually don’t! It’s possible to book a Columbia River Gorge tour right from Portland, where you can get picked up and dropped off back in town.
Wildwood Tours offers half-day tours to Crown Point, Vista House, Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and Bonneville Hatchery. It’s a great way to see the most popular spots!
You can also explore the Gorge on a bike with Pedal Bike Tours. Tours are about 6-7 miles long on flat terrain and take about 5 hours.
See the Gorge via boat with The Portland Spirit’s Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler. It’s a boat tour that provides a meal, along with sightseeing!
16. Explore Interesting Museums in the Columbia River Gorge
History buff? The Columbia River Gorge is overflowing with history! From geology, flora & fauna, and stories of the people and their traditions, there is a museum for practically everyone.
Located in The Dalles, this is a central location to discover the beauty and uniqueness of the Gorge. This center highlights the geology of the Gorge, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, economic development, and rare flora and fauna in the area.
This dam actually has two visitor centers (one on Bradford Island and one on the Washington shore) The Bonneville Dam is open for visitors from 9 am-5 pm daily. Here you can learn about migratory salmon, see 60-degree views from the observation area, and even take guided powerhouse tours.
The Dalles Lock and Dam is one of the 10 largest hydropower dams in the United States! Inside, you can explore a variety of interactive displays, see the fish ladder, and have a picnic nearby.
Visit the Sturgeon Viewing Center, where you can see Herman the Sturgeon (he’s huge!). Here, you can learn a ton about fish in the Pacific Northwest.
This center tells the story of the Gorge through the perspective of the Chinook People who lived here first, and the 19th-century pioneers who came more recently.
Live your pioneer and cowboy dreams in this unique museum on the eastern side of the Gorge. From pioneer wagons, old structures, and military complexes, it’s one of Oregon’s oldest historic museums.
17. Viewpoints In The Columbia River Gorge
Looking for a better view? There are tons of viewpoints in the Columbia River Gorge that will take your breath away! Most are only a short drive, but some require a hike. We’ll let you know here!
Rowena Crest Viewpoint
This easy-to-reach viewpoint is not so much about the view, but all about the curve in the road! (Drive-up view)
On the route from Horsetail Falls to Ponytail Falls, make the quick and easy detour to Lemmons Viewpoint where you get a panoramic view of the river below. (Hike-in view)
The hike to Munra Point is a little steep and scary, but the pictures are hard to beat! (Hike-in view)
Cape Horn Lookout
Located on the Washington side of the gorge, this 7.5-mile trail will bring you to see views of the river below. (Hike-in view)
Crown Point (Vista House)
The Vista House on Highway 30 is an iconic viewpoint to see the Gorge. It’s definitely one of the most iconic things to do in the Columbia River Gorge. (Drive-up view)
Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint
Get a similar view to the Vista House at Crown Point, but with the house in views! (Drive-up view)
Mosier Cape Viewpoint
Take the Mosier Plateau Hike to reach this destination. From here, you can see views of the river, and the winding highway through it. (hike-in-view_
Sherrard Point is an easy point to reach (0.6 miles round trip) and the unobstructed views of Mt Hood are breathtaking. (hike-in view)
18. Stand in Awe of Columbia River Gorge Architecture
The Columbia River Gorge has seen some of the most remarkable architectural and engineering accomplishments.
From the placement of masonry guard walls, retaining walls, culverts, and bridges, Highway 30 alone was an engineering masterpiece. It was basically built on the side of a cliff!
If you love engineering and want to gape at the amazing accomplishments of humankind, here are some structures you need to check out on your trip.
Bridge of the Gods
The Bridge of the Gods is located in Cascade Locks. It’s the closest river crossing once you leave the greater Portland/Vancouver metro area. It takes $2 to cross on either side, so bring some cash with you!
It’s a 1926 steel cantilever bridge, and you might recognize it from the movie “Wild” where Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) crossed over the bride to complete her 1,100-mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Why is it named Bridge of the Gods? It took its name from a nearby natural bridge that formed after a landslide around the same place years ago. It was meant to be!
Hood River Bridge
The Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge was built in 1924. It’s nearly a mile long (0.8 miles) and has very narrow lanes. It’s a car-only bridge, so pedestrians and bikers can’t go across!
Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls
Benson Bridge is the footbridge that crosses over Multnomah Creek at Multnomah Falls.
It’s a 45-foot-long reinforced concrete arch, suspended between two cascades of the falls. Built in 1949 by the Pacific Birdge Company, it’s enjoyed by droves of crowds still today!
19. Don’t Forget the Washington Side!
While yes, most of the Columbia River Gorge attractions (especially waterfalls!) are on the Oregon side, there is still so much to do on the Washington side!
Beacon Rock State Park
Test your fear of heights on the Beacon Rock Trail, a dizzying trail climbing 848 feet in just one mile! This is a very popular park for rock climbing and waterfall hiking, so you will find plenty of both here.
For even more waterfalls in Washington, consider hiking the two-for-one trail of Rodney Falls and Hardy Falls.
Dedicated in 1918, Maryhill Stonehenge was America’s first WWI memorial. It was specifically made to honor the soldiers who dies in Klickitat County.
It’s pretty far east, (20 miles east of The Dalles) but worth it to see. It’s meant to be a replica of the ancient Stonehenge found in England.
Dog Mountain Trail
Dog Mountain trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s especially popular in the springtime because the hill is covered with cheery wildflowers!
Peak springtime requires a permit, and any other time you can use an America The Beautiful Pass or a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead.
Catherine’s Creek Recreation Area
The best time to visit Catherine’s Creek Recreation Area is in the springtime when the grass is green and wildflowers are in bloom. This area dries up quickly in the summertime, so come when the color is full! Catherine Creek Loop is a 1.9-mile paved route, with interpretive signs and beautiful views of Mt Hood.
The Klickitat Trail spans 31 miles across the Columbia River Gorge. It’s an incredibly popular place for mountain biking on both paved trails and gravel. The easiest access point is by Helms Road in Lyle, Washington
20. Go Columbia River Gorge Camping For A Central Home Base
Where do you stay when you want to try out all the things to do in the Columbia River Gorge? Yes, you can certainly rent a hotel or stay in a resort.
But many options still require a drive into the area. If you want to be in the center of it all, we recommend going camping in the Columbia River Gorge! Here are some spots we recommend checking out:
Ainsworth State Park is the closest Columbia River Gorge Campground to the Waterfalls Corridor. If your goal is to spend as much time hiking as possible, we think this campground would be great for you. Campsites are wooded and tucked among the trees, and it’s very close to the river.
Spacious, well-shaded campsites on either side of the highway make this a convenient Columbia River Gorge Campground. There is a path that leads down to the Columbia River, as well as the Historic Columbia River Trail.
Eagle Creek Overlook Group Camp
If you’re looking for a place for your next group gathering or family reunion, the Eagle Creek Overloop Group Camp is one of the best Columbia River Gorge campgrounds for that! There is only one site for reservation, but it has access to an indoor facility, an awning with picnic tables, and lots of space to set up your tent.
Wyeth Campground has 13 regular sites and 3 group sites. It’s conveniently off Interstate 84 and is located in a grassy, sunny area.
KOAs (Kamgrounds of America) are an extremely convenient way to go camping if it’s your first time! Their friendly staff and clean amenities make it really accessible and fun. They even have Wifi available!
Other Columbia River Gorge Campgrounds:
- Crown Point RV Park
- Gorge Base Camp
- Marine Park Campground
- Timberlake Campground & RV Park
- Tucker Park
- Beacon Rock State Park – Tent and Group Campsite
- Lewis & Clark Campground & RV Park
Columbia River Gorge Map
Overwhelmed by all the Columbia River Gorge attractions? We’ve got you. Berty and I have created a map of the Columbia River Gorge below (map created using Proxi!), and you can filter it by hotels, waterfalls, trails, and more.
These are all great options when planning your adventurous weekend trips from Portland!