Columbia River Gorge

Overview

Introduction

The beautiful Columbia River Gorge canyon runs through the Cascade Mountain Range. At 80 mi/130 km long and up to 4,000 ft/1,240 m deep, its canyon walls flank Washington to the north and Oregon to the south. Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Hood are all nearby.

The gorge can be seen quickly from Interstate 84 (on the Oregon side), but it deserves a closer inspection. Take the Columbia River National Scenic Highway (Washington Highway 14) or a summertime cruise on the stern-wheeler Columbia Gorge (operated by the Portland Spirit; phone 503-224-3900 or toll-free 800-224-3901; http://www.sternwheeler.com). The absolute best way to see the gorge, however, is to hike. Outstanding routes include Sleeping Beauty and Dog Mountain trails in Washington and the hikes to Wahclella Falls and Multnomah Falls on the Oregon side of the river. Horsetail Falls and Wahkeena Falls, both on the Oregon side, are also worth a visit.

The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center near Stevenson has exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the area (phone 509-427-8211 or toll-free 800-991-2338; http://www.columbiagorge.org). The center's logo, for example, is a piece of Native American aboriginal art based on the legend of Tsagaglalal, which translates as "she who watches."

Windsurfers will be in heaven on the river, particularly in the eastern part of the gorge, as its west-flowing waters and east-blowing winds provide some of the best conditions for the sport in North America. Nearby Bonneville Dam has a fish hatchery, underwater windows for watching fish navigate the dam's ladders and giant sturgeon ponds. We highly recommend a stop.

Beacon Rock, named by Lewis and Clark and near North Bonneville, is said to be the world's second-largest monolith after the Rock of Gibraltar (848 ft/258 m high). Hike up the trail to the rock's summit to see what the two famous explorers saw in 1805: a spectacular view of the Columbia River, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. Another popular hike is to Multnomah Falls, the second-highest year-round waterfall in the U.S. at 620 ft/86 m.

For more information on the area, call 541-308-1700. http://www.crgva.org. The Columbia River Gorge is 135 mi/215 km south of Seattle.

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