Oregon Travel Guide: The Columbia River Gorge

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Oregon was a place that I had wanted to visit for a while, but I never had a reason to make the trip. Even while living in California, I never got around to crossing that northern border. Instead, I skipped right over the Beaver State and explored the state of Washington a bit. But Oregon has been on my travel wishlist for some time.

Fast forward to sometime last year, and a little invite of joy came in the mail. My cousin was getting married in Oregon, and I finally had a reason to go. I was beyond excited!

columbia river gorge travel

As usual, I did a bunch of research before. And to make sure all that time and energy don’t go to waste, I wanted to share my recommendations with you. So lucky you, in this post, you’ll get a travel guide of places to see along the Columbia River Gorge, which is where we spent most of our time. You’ll also get a list of other ideas to check out while in Oregon. All things that I very much wanted to do but didn’t have the time to do so.

Does that sound good? Great!

Let’s start by exploring what to do along the majestic Columbia River Gorge.

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Travel Guide: The Columbia River Gorge

Note: We flew into Portland, so this guide will start from the west and travel east along the Columbia River Gorge. So if you’re coming from the same way, this travel guide will be an easy pickup for you.

McMenamins Edgefield: I had already jotted this place down after I found it doing research, but a few friends had also recommended it, so I knew it was going to be a must-see. From Portland, it’s a quick 20-minute drive to the city of Troutdale and McMenamins Edgefield.

It’s technically a hotel, but it feels more like a small campus that includes various restaurants and wineries/breweries, a tea house, a coffee shop, live music, a glass-blowing hut, gardens, a spa, and more. You could easily spend a couple of hours here just walking around and exploring the quirky historic property.

Scenic Viewpoints: If you want to veer off the main drag (Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway), I highly recommend driving the Historic Columbia River Highway up to the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint and Vista House for some incredible views. The photo below is from the Portland Women’s Forum, with Vista House in the distance.

Chasing Waterfalls: If you continue along the Historic Columbia River Highway, you’ll be able to see beautiful waterfalls along the way. Some from the road, and others you can find by a quick hike out and back. A few worth stopping at include:

  • Latourell Falls
  • Bridal Veil Fall**
  • Wahkeena Falls + Fairy Falls
  • Multnomah Falls**
  • Upper Horsetail Falls
  • Upper McCord Creek Falls
  • Wahclella Falls

We didn’t have enough time to see every waterfall along the way. But we did stop at Bridal Veil Falls and the beautiful Multnomah Falls. The latter did not disappoint.

Tip: Make sure you check if the waterfalls are open and any specific requirements before you go. With COVID restrictions in place, we had to buy tickets to get into the falls. They were at specific times so that the state park could limit the number of people in the area.

columbia river gorge waterfalls

Cascade Locks: If you keep heading east, you’ll get to the small riverside town of Cascade Locks. You’ll want to make a stop because there are a few fun things you can do, including:

  • Bonneville Fish Hatchery. The campus is quite pretty, and you can check out the various fish ponds. The kiddos (or you!) will enjoy feeding the trout and seeing Herman, the 10′ long, 500-pound, 80-year old Sturgeon.
  • Bigham Fish Market. Catch a delicious lunch where you can choose from a variety of items on their menu, including chowders, ceviche, fish and chips, market-fresh fish, and more!
  • Thunder Island Brewing Co. Stop here for a cold one with a great view. The brewery specializes in small batch beer that you’ll want to try, which can be easily done with one of their four to eight pours tasting flight. Let’s go!
  • Cascade Lock Historical Museum. Get a taste of local lore at this quaint museum. Entry fees for adults are only $4 and you can see the Oregon Pony (not a horse but an old steam locomotive) and learn more about the rich history of the Columbia River Gorge region.
  • Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler. Take a sightseeing tour or dinner cruise on the river from the deck of an old sternwheeler steam boat. Make sure to check their schedule ahead of time as the sternwheeler only runs from May to October. But dang, you can imagine what the CRG looks like in the fall?
  • Bridge of the Gods. If you’re looking for a heart racer, this is it. Pedestrians can walk out on the bridge and take in views 91 feet above the river. Sounds even enough, right? Well, you’re not walking out on a solid cement bridge. It’s grated, so you can see down to the river, which gives you a shock to the system. It’s beautiful up there, but it will also give you the jitters if you have a thing with heights. Another fun fact: The bridge is a connection point for PCT hikers to cross between Oregon and Washington. Cool, huh? The photo below was taken from the middle of the bridge.

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Hood River: After Cascade Locks, if you’re still looking for more activities, keep driving east to Hood River, the windsurfing capital of the world. We went specifically to see about kiteboarding. But we also wanted to walk around the city’s cute downtown to check out all the boutiques, bookstores, and wineries.

If you’re in Hood River, here are a few things to add to your list:

  • Kiteboarding. Head down to the Hood River Sandbar, where you’ll find a few options to get a lesson and all of the gear you’d need. Hood River is the only kiteboarding launch site on the river, and it’s also one of the most consistently windy spots in the entire country.
  • Kickstand Coffee + Kitchen. If you get into town early, grab breakfast at Kickstand. It specializes in global fare and craft coffee with a fun, quirky vibe. Plus, if you’re there in the fall with cooler weather, it has an outdoor fire pit that guests can use. Starting the day with hot coffee by the fire sounds pretty great to me. And if you missed breakfast, don’t you worry because they also serve lunch and dinner.
  • Mike’s Ice Cream. On a hot day, head to Mike’s for some yummy treats to beat the heat. Plus, it’s tucked away in a quaint spot for a nice rest before getting on with your day.
  • Hood River Hotel. Okay, full disclosure. This recommendation is for a photo opp, but I also want to note that the hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and is Hood River’s oldest vintage hotel. And that’s the exact vibe that you’ll find in the hotel lobby, which I think would be a fun spot to snap a few photos.

South of Hood River: If you’re looking for great wineries and dreamy lavender fields, I highly recommend taking the road south of Hood River, where you’ll find:

  • Hood Crest Winery. Just south of Hood River, this boutique winery is in the rolling hills of the Columbia Gorge wine country, also known as Hood River Valley. The vibe is rustic and has beautiful outdoor seating that overlooks their vineyards. And on a clear day, you might even get a view of Mount Hood in the distance.
  • Stave and Stone Winery. If you want to get a combo of wine along with the fresh scent of lavender in the air, you’ll want to stop at this winery on your way south. Not only does it have a great wine and charcuterie menu, but there’s also the Hood River Lavender Farms next door, which is full of lovely lavender products that you’ll want to scoop up.
  • Lavender Valley. This place is an Instagramers dream. It’s a beautiful lavender field in Hood River Valley with a backdrop of Mount Hood in the distance. I have a vivid memory of the smell of lavender that wafts through the air. But also of the vibrant humming from all the bees who are helping pollinate the flowers. Very friendly bees, I might add.
  • The Grateful Vineyard. I’m so happy (er, grateful) that I found this spot. It has one of the best views of Mount Hood and feels as though you’ve stumbled into a vineyard that you might find in the Swiss Alps. Their menu includes wine, beer, and cider so, it will hit on everyone’s drink of choice. And you really can’t beat that view.

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Mount Hood Loop: The last recommendation I have for you while going south from Hood River is to drive the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway loop. Make sure you give yourself enough time in the day to do it, as its roundtrip driving time can total between 3-4 hours, but it’s worth it, especially as you get closer to the majestic mountain.

A midway stop along the loop is the Timberline Lodge, which gets you up to about 6,000 feet in elevation atop Mt. Hood. At that height, you’ll get some great views of the Cascade Range, and if you’re lucky, on a clear day, you might also see a few looming mountains peaks out in the distance. We stopped for lunch at the lodge, which helped break up the long day of driving.

Fun Fact: The Timberline Lodge was a shooting location for the movie The Shining. Are there ghosts there? There might be!

Those were all the places that we visited while exploring the Columbia River Gorge. But there are so many other amazing spots in Oregon that we didn’t get to see during our trip. And since I took the time to do that research, I wanted to share the other things that were on my list with you.

That’s a wrap, folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed my Columbia River Gorge travel guide. I did a lot of research before making the trip, so I feel as though I was able to put together a thorough post that travelers like yourself can use. It’s a beautiful area, and I 100% recommend planning a trip to explore the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

Let’s go places,

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Have you been to the Columbia River Gorge? If so, share your favorite place or experience in the comments section below.

All photos on this blog post are mine. Feel free to share but please credit me with a link back to the blog. Much appreciated, and thank you for your support!

4 thoughts on “Oregon Travel Guide: The Columbia River Gorge

  1. This Columbia River Gorge guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

  2. Wow. Absolutely stunning pics. I’m envious of your trip AND your photography skills haha.

    Thanks for including a bit about hiking. I figured there had to be a ton of trails to find.

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