A Day Along the Columbia River Gorge

IMG_6361_LUCiDMy parents have come out to visit a couple times since we moved to Seattle and most recently bought round-trip flights to Portland for a long weekend visit. We made arrangements to join them Saturday and Sunday to see some new sights in town as well as the surrounding area.

Brian headed down earlier in the week to meet with a few customers, and I took the train to Portland on Friday after work to join everyone.

The train was packed–every seat was full in my car–  which wasn’t quite the experience I’d had my last couple of train rides.

Nevertheless I made it there on time, Brian picked me up from the station, and we headed to our hotel for a night cap and some shut eye in preparation for our full day Saturday exploring the Columbia River Gorge.

We headed out early on Saturday morning following a quick pit stop at Voodoo Doughnut where we grabbed breakfast to go. Believe it or not, Saturday morning is the time to go–usually there’s a line of people around the building, but there was hardly anyone waiting so we were in and out quickly, doughnuts and coffee in hand as we drove east out of town.

There is so much to see and do along the gorge as well as in the entire Mt. Hood territory, but we limited our itinerary to some highlights along the river that we thought we could reasonably see in a day.

We started by driving out to The Dalles, a historic spot discovered by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s at the end of the Oregon Trail as part of their expedition to discover the territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.

The town was still waking up when we arrived so we had no trouble parking downtown in the midst of really neat old buildings and storefronts. We headed down to the Riverfront Trail so we could walk off our breakfast and learn a little bit about the area.

There were a few people walking, jogging and biking along the trail, and we stopped off at some clearings to read the informational plaques about Lewis and Clark, Fort Dalles and other historical highlights. It was a beautiful morning, and we absolutely lucked out that the weather cooperated with us throughout the day.

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We checked out St. Peter’s Church, a 115+ year old landmark, but it, along with most of the town, wasn’t open yet. The downtown was very cool and it would have been fun to have spent some time touring the old theater, checking out the shops or wine tasting at the Sunshine Mill, but we had a full day ahead and didn’t have hours to wander around until things opened for business for the day.

Our drive along the Columbia River Gorge was breathtaking. We had buzzed out to The Dalles along I-84, which offered some great views of the river and surrounding area, but we took the more scenic byways throughout the day, making our way back to Portland.

Outside The Dalles we caught the Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, which twisted up the hill, giving us incredible views across the Columbia River. We stopped off at a couple viewpoints to take pictures as we headed west along the byway to our next stop at Hood River to check out Panorama Point.

Panorama Point isn’t far off the byway and offers an incredible view of Mt. Hood and the surrounding area. There were fruit trees everywhere– this is the entry to the Hood River Fruit Loop–but the only roadside stand we saw in this area mentioned salmon, not fruit. There were a few people at Panorama Point, but we had no trouble parking and walking around.

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There are tons of places to eat in Hood River–I would love to go back and do a mini food crawl. We were a little early for lunch and still working off our doughnuts so we continued on to Cascade Locks to check out the Bridge of the Gods and Eagle Creek Trail.

The traffic had picked up and more people were out and about by midday, but we were able to park next to the bridge and the trailhead. There were a number of fruit stands nearby and my dad bought a big bag of dark-sweet cherries–yum!

We had a quick snack and then headed off down the trail, walking single file at times to stay out of the way of the multiple bikes speeding by. The trail was lovely, wooded and peaceful, but we had hoped there would be a few viewpoints so we could catch some views of the bridge, Bonneville Dam or other parts of the river.

It looked like there were several clearings that offered those views, they were just a ways from the trailhead. We opted to make our way back to the bridge and took pictures from that vantage point instead. There was a beautiful mural under the bridge, and gorgeous views across the river. We all commented on how amazing it would be to come back in the fall once the leaves start to change color–I think that’s going on my list of future things to do!

After taking a few pictures we popped into a nearby restaurant for a quick lunch and then continued on our journey–but not before hitting one more fruit stand and tasting some delicious peaches for dessert! Thankfully we had the cooler because I ended up buying a bunch–some white, some yellow and some doughnut peaches. The lady was nice enough to also throw in a crimson pear, all from a local fruit farm. Delicious!

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Just beyond Cascade Locks we rejoined the scenic byway and entered Waterfall Lane, one of the main attractions of the Gorge and home eight different waterfalls!

The traffic at this point was absolutely insane–people were holding spots up and down the road, police were ticketing people who were parked over the lines, there were cars and people absolutely everywhere.

Brian and my dad dropped my mom and me off at Horsetail Falls and found a parking spot not too far away. The falls were right along the road, and this one ended up being one of my favorites. Once the guys caught up with us we walked down the road to a pathway you could hike out to Oneonta Falls. This falls sounded magnificent, but we weren’t properly attired to trek back the Oneonta Gorge to get to the lower falls. People who were coming back from the journey explained how you have to travel up the river, which was chest-height for some of the guys! We didn’t have swimsuits or towels to accommodate getting soaking wet, so we had to skip that falls this time!

We spent most of our time at Multnomah Falls, which was my mom’s favorite. It’s the most famous of all the falls, the most visited recreation site in the Pacific Northwest, and the second highest falls in the U.S. It was at the heart of why she wanted to travel the Columbia River Gorge in the first place, and I’ll admit it was pretty incredible at 611 feet with two tiers and a bridge crossing over the middle pond, giving you several amazing vantage points.

The 1.2 mile hike to the upper falls has a 600-foot elevation gain and 11 switchbacks. After 45 minutes we were at switchback five so we decided to head back down and continue on to the other falls we wanted to see. It was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted to make sure we had time to see several other falls and some viewpoints near Troutdale while there was still good light. Here are my thoughts on the others:

  • Wakeena Falls: Beautiful and another of my favorites. It’s less than half a mile hike and you can walk right up to and in front of the falls. If you stand in front of it long enough, you can get pretty wet!
  • Bridal Veil Falls: Tucked back in the woods, this falls has a nice hike back to a platform viewing area. A little bridge crosses a river half-way there, and people can swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls.
  • Sheppard’s Dell: Right off the side of the road. This one probably wasn’t my favorite, especially compared to the others.
  • Latourell Falls: This falls is visible from the trailhead and road. There was a nice parking area with information and a loop trail allowing you to hike to the upper and lower falls.

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Our final stop was at Vista House, which ended up being one of my favorite viewpoints and stops of the entire day. It’s not surprising to me it’s considered the ‘crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge!’

The observatory closed at 6 p.m. so unfortunately we were too late to go inside, but it didn’t matter to me–the views from the parking areas and steps of the house were gorgeous.

If you haven’t been to the Columbia River Gorge, it should go on your bucketlist. We had a really full day of activities and could easily have spent weeks seeing and experiencing everything else there is to do along the river and throughout the Mt. Hood territory. I would love to go back in the fall to see everything in color, and I would love to spend some more time hiking and exploring the towns along the way.

As I always say (and hope!), we’ll be back!

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2 thoughts on “A Day Along the Columbia River Gorge

  1. Pingback: Hikes and History of Long Beach, Washington – Heather's Compass

  2. Pingback: Portland with My Parents | Heather's Compass

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