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Exploring Portland...Columbia River Gorge

Updated on July 28, 2015

The Grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon up to 4,000 feet deep and stretches 80 miles separating the states of Oregon and Washington. The gorge began forming millions of years ago with the most dramatic changes occurring just after the ice age. Evidence shows that humans have inhabited the area for 13,000 years. Used as a transportation corridor for thousands of years, it took the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805 to start the influx of European and American settlers.

Today the Columbia River Gorge is a national scenic area bringing in thousands of visitors every year. It is a source of dramatic beauty and provides a playground for just about every kind of recreation. If you're into boats, you'll find them all from canoes and kayaks to ocean liners. In a car, take in the beauty on either side of the freeway. On the Oregon side, take the fast route on I-84 or the leisurely and scenic route of the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway. On foot? There are miles of hiking trails located in the gorge on both sides of the river. Don't forget wine tasting, golf and bicycling much more!

This page provides you information on a wide variety of ways to enjoy the Columbia River and all she has to offer.

Hike or Bike the Gorge

Hiking

There are hundreds of miles of trails on either side of the Columbia near Portland. While there are lots of websites that have descriptions of hiking in the gorge, I love an interactive site by NW Hiker. You click on an area and a specific hike; it tells you the difficulty, describes the hike, when to hike, and even has pictures taken on the trail. The only thing missing is directions to the trail head, but there is a map.

Biking

The Gorge offers 3 different routes to bike, each offering different experiences. All are described in the Columbia River Gorge Bike Map which includes maps, general information and tips for a safe trip.

Historic Columbia River Highway - This route takes you from Portland to The Dalles. You will pass 6 waterfalls, the Vista House and numerous viewpoints. Some portions are closed to motor vehicles, some are not.

Interstate 84 - A major freeway running through the gorge. There are 8-10 feet paved shoulders with the exception of the Toothrock Tunnel near Bonneville Dam. Here you should head up to the Historic Highway to avoid heavy traffic.

Highway 14 in Washington - Though traffic is moderate, the road is often 2-lane and offers limited shoulders. You will encounter 7 tunnels on this route.

Grab Your Golf Clubs or Your Fishing Rod

Golf

The following are golf courses that are in or very near the Columbia River Gorge.

Indian Creek

Skamania Lodge

Colwood National Golf Club

Heron Lakes

Broadmoore Golf Course

Husum Hills Golf Course

Pine Crest Golf Course

Fishing

There are many opportunities for fishing in the gorge. You can just throw a line in along the banks of the river, or you can charter a tour. In lakes and smaller rivers, you will find trout and steelhead while in the Columbia River, you can find bass, walleye, shad, sturgeon and salmon. Be sure to check local fishing license and regulations before heading out. For Oregon, check out the Fish and Wildlife website. For Washington Fish and Wildlife. You will find resources on regulations, river conditions and fishing guides.

Check out these books on the Columbia River Gorge

Take to the Water

Canoeing and Kayaking

Check out beautiful scenery, get up close and personal with wildlife or test your skills in a canoe or kayak.

Columbia River Flatwater Paddling and Canoing - This site provides an interactive map that shows canoing or kayaking trips on the Columbia River.

Columbia River Outfitters - Offers guided trips and rentals.

Columbia River Kayaking - Lower Columbia River and Oregon Coast tours.

Skamokawa Kayak - Lower Columbia River tours

Columbia Gorge Kayak School - Lessons and tours out of Hood River.

Wet Planet - Rafting and kayaking tours.

Alder Creek - Locations in Hood River and Portland offering rentals, classes and guided trips.

Windsurfing and kiting

The Columbia River Gorge forms the perfect wind tunnel for windsurfing and kiting. Windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge is huge with national competitions. For a great resource sites, check out:

Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association - Lists windsurfing schools.

Windsurfing and Kiting in the Columbia River Gorge - Another great resource.

Sailing

Where's there's wind, let there be sailing. Though not as popular as windsurfing or kiting, you will still find sailboats on the Columbia River. There are a lot of places to put your boat in the water. You don't have a boat? In Portland, check out the Portland Sailing Center. Here you can sign up for a class, take a cruise or charter a boat for the day. You can cruise from Cascade Locks in the heart of the gorge to the Pacific ocean.

In the town of Hood River, check out the Columbia Gorge Racing Association . They not only do they have regattas, they also work towards providing school children sailing lessons.

Time For a Cruise

You love the thought of being on the water, but are looking for something relaxing? How about a cruise. You'll find cruises from 2-hour sightseeing tours up to 9 day long cruises on ships. While the Columbia River Gorge is beautiful to drive through, you'll get a completely different aspect from the water. I've done both and recommend both to get the true picture of the gorge.

If you're looking for a shorter trip, check out the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler. This is a historically decorated paddle wheel boat that offers 2-hour sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and on Tuesdays and Sundays a 5-hour Landmarks of the Gorge tour. The Sternwheeler operates out of Cascade Locks from May through October.

If you're looking for a more exciting trip, check out the Outrageous Jetboat. Boarding in downtown Portland, this jetboat is made for speed. You will cruise up the Willamette River, then east on the Columbia River to the town of Cascade Locks. Off the boat for lunch, then you re-board for the return trip to Portland. Fully narrated, you'll learn about the gorge while viewing the sites on a fun and fast cruise.

For longer adventures, check out one of several cruise operators that offer week long trips on cruise ships. These cruises offer fully narrated tours of the Columbia River Gorge up to the Snake River in Idaho. While on board, enjoy unlimited food, beverages, historian, naturalist, shore tours, taxes, port charges and fuel surcharges. The variety of guided activities might include birding, nature walks, photography, swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, wildlife viewing and historical site tours.

Adventure Smith Explorations

American Safari Cruises

Scenic Tours

Whether you want to travel by train, boat or car, you will find a variety of tours that highlight the Columbia River Gorge.

By boat

- Check out any of the cruising companies listed above.

By Train

- Hop aboard the Mt. Hood Railroad. Board in Hood River and enjoy the gorge before heading up the Hood River valley. Cruising April through December, they offer sightseeing, brunch, dinner and specialty trips.

By Tour Bus

- Whether you're looking for an intimate tour for two in a town car or limo or if you are with or want to be part of a group, the Columbia Gorge has it all. Some tour companies offer short 4-hour trips with just the highlights. Some companies offer day-long trips where you have the opportunity to tour various facilities. Some companies even offer multiple day tours. Check out the companies listed here to see what you're looking for.

Explore the Gorge

Hood River, OR

541-386-2384

Toll Free:

1-800-899-5676

Hood River Tours

803 State Street

Hood River OR 97058

1-541-350-9850

Sea to Summit Tours

Portland, Oregon

503-286-9333

seatosummit@qwest.net

Julee's Gorge Tours

25 Flying L Lane

Glenwood, WA 98619

Cell phone: 541.806.1075

julee@gorgetours.com

EcoTours of Oregon

3127 SE 23rd Ave.

Portland, OR 97202

503-245-1428

Wine Tours

The Columbia River Gorge offers 33 wineries with 25 different types of grapes from Albarine - Zinfandel. It's the rich volcanic soil and the diverse climate that brings such an abundance of grapes to the gorge. The western end of the gorge is cool and wet while the eastern end is dry and hot. With all this variety, wine tours are a natural. Here is a sampling of the companies offering wine tours in the area.

Bon Vivant Wine Tours and Driving Services

7322 50th Avenue NE

PO Box 15943

Seattle, WA 98115

206-437-1298

Email: info@bonvivanttours.com

My Chauffeur Wine Tours

503-969-4370

1-877-MYCHAUF (692-4283)

Northwest Limousine & Wine Tours

Portland, OR

503-282-5414

503-650-3885

Oregon Wine Tours

Portland, Oregon

Email: ron@orwinetours.com

503-681-WINE (9463)

Music and Movies Inspired by the Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge, Volume 1, BNSF's Fallbridge Subdivision
Columbia River Gorge, Volume 1, BNSF's Fallbridge Subdivision

Journey with Pentrex from Vancouver east to Maryhill along this scenic route and experience the variety of trains and motive power that ply this famous line.

 
Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge

Inspired by the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge.

 
Discover the Gorge: A City by City Guide to the Columbia River Gorge
Discover the Gorge: A City by City Guide to the Columbia River Gorge

In this video you will explore their history, tour their highways and byways and see first hand the kinds of activities and opportunities that make the Gorge a wonderful place to visit.

 
Suite For The Columbia Gorge
Suite For The Columbia Gorge

This music was used in a traveling show to raise awareness for protection of the natural wonders of the Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

 
Waterfalls of the Columbia River
Waterfalls of the Columbia River

With soothing music in the background, get an up close view of the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge.

 

Can't Miss Attractions

The heart of the Columbia River Gorge runs for about 80 miles from Portland to The Dalles. In these few miles, there are a lot of things to do and see. Listed here are sights to see starting in Portland and ending up in The Dalles.

Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site

While Lewis & Clark camped here in 1805, today the park, located near the mouth of the Sandy River where it merges with the Columbia River, is a relaxing spot to relax on a sunny day. The park offers a boat launch, fishing, swimming, hiking, and picnicking.

Crown Point and Vista House

Built in 1916 at the same time as the Old Columbia River highway, Vista House was a place for refreshment and relaxation. Sitting atop Crown Point in the Columbia River Gorge, today the Vista House serves as a beacon for tourists. Open from April - October, discover the history of the gorge, a gift shop, interpretive center and museum.

Brial Veil Falls State Park

The park, right off Interstate 84, is nestled among tall stands of timber and offers picnicking and hiking. A shorter, yet somewhat difficult trail leads you to the falls. The upper trails takes you to the top of the cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge. This is an interpretive trail with sign boards pointing out local wild plants. The trail is fenced to protect visitors along the viewpoint.

Multnomah Falls

The number one tourist spot in the Columbia River Gorge has to be Multnomah Falls. The 2nd highest waterfall in the United States, it is 620 feet high. The falls is divided into two sections. A short hike will bring you to a bridge overlooking the middle point. The more adventurous can hike all the way to the top.

Beside the falls, check out Multnomah Falls Lodge. A museum in itself, the lodge houses an impressive rock collection, a gift shop and restaurant. In the summer they offer a snack shack outside plus volunteer guides.

Bonneville Dam and Lock

Located at the halfway point in our journey, Bonneville Dam and Lock is 40 miles east of Portland. Several structures make up the width of the Columbia River. The original structure built in 1937 were a powerhouse, dam and spillway. In 1974 a second powerhouse was built and then in 1993 a new lock was built.

Today there are visitor's centers on both sides of the river. The Oregon side boasts the history of the dam, a fish ladder and viewing room and a fish hatchery. On the Washington side, learn about electricity generated and visit the giant turbine.

Eagle Creek Gorge

The most popular hike in the Columbia River Gorge has to be Eagle Creek Gorge. And it's no wonder with the natural beauty of the area. The trail boasts Punchbowl falls for those looking for a shorter hike. Tunnel Falls is a 6 mile hike (one-way) but worth the trip as the trail leads you behind the falls. For the more adventurous or those looking for a weekend backpack trip, Wahtum Lake awaits you at 13 miles.

Bridge of the Gods

If you're looking for a landmark steeped in Native American history, be sure to visit the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks. It is believed that a thousand years ago a landslide blocked the Columbia River. Over time, the river gouged a hole through the landslide creating a natural bridge. Eventually the bridge collapsed and today stands the third largest cantilevered bridge on the Columbia River.

Cascade Locks Marine Park

Nestled in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, be sure to visit the Marine Park in Cascade Locks. Covering 23 acres, this is the perfect spot for a picnic, boating, swimming or camping. The park is home to the Cascade Locks Historical Museum showcasing local transportation history. Drop by the visitors center for information on the local area or a bite at the cafe. The visitors center is also home to the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler for a short tour on the Columbia River. Finally, if you're looking for the perfect location for that special event, check out the Gorge Pavillion.

Port of Hood River Marina

If you're serious about being on the water, the Hood River Marina has it all. They have space for 150 vessels with plans to expand. They are also home to a variety of watersports including kayaking, windsurfing, kiteboarding and sailing. Need lessons? Look no further. Or if you just like to watch, there's plenty of room to relax and soak up the sun while watching your favorite sport.

Twin Tunnels

The Mosier Twin Tunnels are part of a trail that runs along the old Columbia River Highway. Starting in Hood River, the trail is 4.6 miles long ending near the town of Mosier. The tunnels were originally built between 1919 and 1921, then closed in the 50's for safety. Reconstruction was completed in 2000 when the tunnels were re-opened for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Check out the windows inside the tunnels that allow viewing of the beautiful Columbia River.

Fruit Loop

Starting in Hood River, the Fruit Loop is a 35 miles scenic drive that moves you through the Hood River valley. View orchards, forest, farmland and tiny communities. Be sure to stop by local fruit stands to try out the delicious fruit or visit a winery for a sample. Throughout the year, some of the orchards offer special events with activities for the whole family.

Panorama Point

If you don't want to travel the entire Fruit Loop, stop by Panorama Point for a fabulous view of the Hood River Valley and it's many orchards. Just off Interstate 84, don't miss out on this great photo opportunity.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center is the official interpretive center for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Inside enjoy lots of interactive exhibits. Outside come see volunteers as they act out period adventures. The Discovery Center also offer a variety of programs and classes.

Fort Dalles Museum

Take a tour of our unique collection of pioneer and military artifacts and antique wagons at one of the old west's most pivotal places in history. You will enjoy viewing our exhibits and walking on the grounds of this military fort built during the 1800s. They also offer workshops in spinning, dying and quilting. Every 4th Sunday enjoy music on the lawn.

The Dalles Dam Visitor's Center

The visitor center is at the old location of the Seufert's Fish Cannery where the old foundation remains as well as fishwheel sluiceways. Exhibits at the center tell the history of the cultural and natural environment of The Dalles area and of the mission of the Corps of Engineers in providing electricity, navigation, flood damage reduction, and recreation opportunities.

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    • gstorrs profile image

      gstorrs 4 years ago

      I grew up in Vancouver, WA, close to the Columbia River, and it is so much fun to see your pictures of the Gorge! My family would get in the car and drive as far up the river as we could and back in a day on weekends. I love Multnomah Falls and the Bridge of the Gods. Thanks for creating this lens!

    • Rodaussie profile image

      Rodaussie 4 years ago

      I love to be the 20th like on someone's lens

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      I have seen a very small part of the Gorge in Washington State. It was lovely.

    • HhaosThorngage profile image

      HhaosThorngage 5 years ago

      I've always wanted to fish the Pacific Northwest but have never had an opportunity