The Columbia River Gorge, one of the great natural treasures of the Pacific Northwest with its many dramatic waterfalls, channels the mighty Columbia River through the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, marking much of the border between Oregon and Washington. The gorge figures in early United States history, as it was here that the Lewis and Clark expedition completed its final stretch in 1805. Today the area is popular with hikers, windsurfers, and wine lovers.
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is an accessible day trip from Portland. Join a hiking or biking tour and you'll be guided to the best trails. Other tours visit wineries or include a cruise on the river. Of the many waterfalls to see, Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and Wahkeena Falls top the list.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Wear sturdy shoes for any hiking or biking tours, as trails may be steep or slippery.
- Bring layers even in summer, as it can be windy year–round, and trail temperatures are often lower than those in the city.
- During the busy summer season, cars heading to the parking area at Multnomah Falls can back up onto the Columbia River Highway. Tour vans have reserved parking, avoiding the traffic hassle.
- Trails are not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers, but there is some wheelchair accessibility at Multnomah Falls.
How to Get to the Columbia River Gorge
The Gorge runs from Troutdale to Biggs on the Oregon side of the Oregon–Washington border and from Vancouver to Maryhill on the Washington side, starting about 16 miles (25.7 km) from downtown Portland. The easiest way to visit the gorge is by car or on a tour. There are several points of interest not far from I–84, the main highway running along the Oregon side of the gorge, but the older and meandering Columbia River Highway boasts more scenic views.
When to Get There
The summer months, especially July and August, offer the best visibility. The gorge can be foggy and gray in winter, as well as some of fall and spring. Winery tasting rooms are open year–round, but the fall harvest season is a popular time to visit the orchards, vineyards, and wineries. With the right clothing and gear, hikers and windsurfers can get out in almost any weather.
Where to Find the Best Views in the Columbia River Gorge
Vista House, which overlooks the gorge at Crown Point near Portland, provides brilliant views in both directions on clear days, and the nearby Bonneville Dam showcases the power of the river, with a fish-viewing window to see spawning in autumn. On the Washington side, the Maryhill Stonehenge monument, a replica of the landmark in England, makes for an interesting stop.