Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Overview

Introduction

The spectacular gorge of the Columbia River forms the border between Oregon and Washington. The gorge is filled with high waterfalls, high dams and high winds. (To get a good overview of all there is to see and do in this region, cross the river into Washington and visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center near Stevenson.) The gorge extends for a long distance, but we think the section of the river that slices through the Cascades, from about The Dalles to just east of Portland, is the prettiest. The best views in the gorge are from the Vista House at Crown Point or from the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks.

The best way to experience the gorge is either to venture off onto one of the many hiking trails (especially the moderate 2-mi/3-km climb to Angels Rest) or to drive the awe-inspiring (and sometimes terrifying) Historic Columbia River Highway—no RVs allowed. To reach the highway, exit off Interstate 84 about 6 mi/10 km west of Bonneville Dam. The road was an engineering marvel in its day, and every turn offers gorgeous view of the gorge. Highlights of the drive include Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls and Wahkeena Falls. If you can see only one cascade, though, make it Multnomah Falls, which is more than double the height of Niagara.

By far our favorite dam to visit along the Columbia River is Bonneville Dam. It has everything from a fish hatchery to underwater windows for watching fish navigate the dam's ladders. We highly recommend a stop. Also worth visiting is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles. There, you can learn the history of The Dalles Dam and of the spectacular waterfalls and ancient fishing grounds that were flooded once the dam was completed. The spectacular stretch of the Columbia near Hood River is considered one of the windsurfing capitals of the world—steady breezes provide ideal conditions for windsurfing and the increasingly popular sport of kiteboarding.

In late 2017, the Eagle Creek fire tore through the region causing enormous damage to more than 48,000 acres of pristine wilderness. Many of the trails were quickly repaired, but historic structures such as Benson Bridge were destroyed. Regardless, while the Douglas firs may now be gone, the fire has revealed interesting basalt cliffs and rock formations. Multnomah Falls (at 620 ft/190 m, it's the highest falls west of the Rockies) marks the entrance to the park.

The fire didn't damage the trails on the Washington side of the Columbia River, which will undoubtedly become a popular alternative for hiking in the gorge. The pastoral fruit orchards and vineyards on the "Fruit Loop" to Mount Hood were likewise unaffected. http://www.visitcolumbiarivergorge.com.

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