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Great Road Trips In Washington State: The Columbia River Gorge

Updated on October 2, 2013

An Overview

Let me ask you this. Do you like to do any of the following: camping, hiking, biking, golf, fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, windsurfing, kiteboarding, boating, bird watching, photography, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing?

Let me ask you this. Do you like to do any of the following: visit museums, wine tasting, superb dining, shopping or lounging in a spa?

If any of that sounds enticing then you will most definitely enjoy this incredible trip through the Columbia River Gorge.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this entire road trip does not occur just in Washington State. In fact, half the trip is in Washington and half in Oregon, but it is all within the area known as the Columbia River Gorge.

The Columbia River is the second largest river in North America, starting in British Columbia and flowing 1,200 miles to the Pacific Ocean. At its deepest point the Gorge is 4,000 feet deep and the canyon stretches over 80 miles, from eastern grassland with annual precipitation of ten inches to the temperate rainforest on the western end with precipitation of over 100 inches.

Most of the Gorge is federally protected and it is officially called the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. The Columbia River cuts the only sea-level navigable passageway through the Cascade Mountains, and it creates the border between Washington and Oregon.

If you are into history, this was the tail-end of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery, and there are several interpretive centers for your enjoyment and education. This is also Oregon Trail country, so a history buff would do well to spend several days on this lovely trip.

The Gorge at Sunset
The Gorge at Sunset | Source

Driving map

A markercolumbia river gorge -
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon, USA
get directions

Driving Directions

The Loop within the National Scenic Area is 150 miles long. I would suggest you begin your trip in Vancouver, Washington, and end in Portland, Oregon, adding another 160 miles to your journey, so plan on a little over 300 miles for the entire trip. Without a doubt the trip can be done in one day, but any serious traveler will want to spend three or four days to fully appreciate the entire area.

The directions are as simple as can be: from Vancouver drive east on Highway 14 until you reach Maryhill and the junction of 14 & 97. There you will cross the bridge over the Columbia and then turn west and follow Interstate 84 on the Oregon side back to Portland.

Beacon Rock
Beacon Rock | Source
Bonneville Dam
Bonneville Dam | Source
Whitewater rafting at White Salmon
Whitewater rafting at White Salmon | Source
Mount Adams
Mount Adams | Source
Maryhill Museum
Maryhill Museum | Source

Heading East on Washington Highway 14

From Interstate 5 you want to take Exit 1 – Camus/Highway WA 14. You will be on a four-lane interstate for the first twenty miles or so. Eventually that road will become a two-lane the remainder of the eastbound leg of the journey.

At mile 23 your will come to the Cape Horn Lookout where you will be treated to a beautiful view of the evergreen forests along the Columbia. Continue another nine miles and stop in Skamania. You just might want to spend a night at the Skamania Lodge, a 254 room hotel with its own golf course. Using the hotel as a base you can venture down the road to Beacon Rock State Park. There you will find a challenge if you are a rock climber. The 848 foot tall Beacon Rock will give you a work out for sure. If you do not climb rocks then you can take the one mile trail to the top of the rock and enjoy a spectacular view. If you prefer to camp this park has 29 campsites and 9,500 feet of freshwater shoreline.

Four miles further and you come to North Bonneville, the home of Bonneville Hot Springs Resort. It offers 78 rooms with private outdoor hot tubs and the ever-popular Pacific Crest Dining Room. A short walk from there is the Bridge of the Gods toll bridge which will take you across the river and which commemorates the actual location of a natural bridge that spanned the river many years ago and was a part of Native American legend.

Next up is the town of Stevenson, the location of the old Cascade Rapids where Lewis & Clark had to portage around. The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center is located here; the 23,000 square foot museum traces the River’s history. Make sure you also visit the Bonneville Dam where there is a visitor’s center, fish ladders and tours of the generator rooms.

Twenty miles further and you will come to the twin towns of White Salmon and Bingen. White Salmon has Bavarian architecture and a bevy of restaurants and gift shops. Bingen specializes in antique stores and other shopping experiences. If you choose you can take the bridge across the river into Hood River, Oregon, a much larger town and renowned for its windsurfing.

A side trip is suggested at this point. Take Highway 141 north out of Bingen and head for one of the most remote volcanoes in the Cascades, Mount Adams. You will follow the White River, an excellent whitewater rafting river, and further up the road you will come to the town of Trout Lake where you can visit the nearby ice caves. During the winter this is great country for snowmobiling, skiing and snowshoeing, and the summer months offers a variety of trails and some great trout fishing.

Just a bit further down the road on Highway 14 and you will find vineyards, orchards, rolling grasslands and towering cliffs. If you like wine then you can visit the tasting rooms at Waving Tree Winery, Maryhill Winery, Cascade Cliffs Vineyard, Cor Cellars and Syncline Wine Cellars. You could easily spend a day here. Parks and trails are nearby so plan on stretching your legs and enjoying the great outdoors.

The last stop on the Washington side of the river is the Maryhill Museum of the Arts, a 6,000 acre ranch with 26-acres of gardens and a caste-like chateau on a bluff overlooking the Columbia. Inside you will find a marvelous art museum and outside a replica of Stonehenge. There is also Café Maryhill where you will find gourmet coffees, deli food and desserts.

Now take the bridge across the river and head west on Interstate 84 in Oregon.

Mount Hood
Mount Hood | Source

Heading West on Oregon Interstate 84

Since this article is a summary of a Washington State road trip, our mention of the Oregon side of the trip will be limited. It would be an injustice to say that the Oregon side is the same trip only in reverse, and to do justice to this 97-mile leg of the trip would require another article. For now, let me highlight the sites you will see traveling east to west along I-84.

· Deschutes River State Park

· The Dalles Dam

· Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

· Wasco Country Museum

· Mount Hood Highway and a wonderful side trip to Mount Hood

· Mitchell Point Overlook

· Viento State Park

· Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

· Cascade Locks

· Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery

· Eagle Creek Recreation Area

· Bonneville Dam National Historic Landmark

· Multnomah Falls

· Benson State Recreation Area

· Rooster Rock State Park

· Lewis and Clark State Park

· Oxbow Regional Park

· And of course, Portland, the Jewel of Oregon on the Willamette River

Time lapse drive through the Gorge

Wonderful Hotels

Not just a place to sleep but an adventure! You will find no Motel 6’s on this trip. Most of the hotels along the way are first-class establishments that will cater to your every need.

· Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa 800-345-1921

· Best Western Hood River Inn 800-828-7873

· Celilo Inn 541-769-0001

· Inn of the White Salmon 800-972-5226

· Bonneville Hot Springs Resort 888-902-7449

· Skamania Lodge 509-427-7700

· Carson Hot Springs Resort 800-607-3678

Museums Along the Way

Interpretive centers and museums abound on this trip. Make sure you spend quality time at each of the following:

· Columbia River Gorge Visitors Association

· Multnomah Falls Lodge

· Columbia Gorge Discover Center

· Wasco County Historical Museum

· Fort Dalles Museum

· Maryhill Museum of Art

The intrepid traveler along the Gorge Highway
The intrepid traveler along the Gorge Highway | Source

Memories for a Lifetime

Do not cheat yourselves and rush through this trip. There is more than enough to see and you can easily spend four or five days making this loop. Whether you are an outdoorsman or simply a sightseer, you will not be disappointed on this journey.

Packing for this trip can be a little tricky. It is not unusual to find a temperature variance of twenty to thirty degrees between the western side of the Cascades and the eastern side, and on the Gorge trip that shift in temps can happen in a fifty-mile span. Remember, too, that the Gorge creates its own wind tunnel, so plan on winds up to thirty miles per hour.

Having said all that, be prepared for some incredibly beautiful scenery as you tour one of the great rivers in North America. I promise you will not be disappointed.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      wsupau, thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

    • wsupaul88 profile image

      wsupaul88 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great hub! I recently took a trip to the Columbia River Gorge area to take waterfall photographs and wrote a HUB about it.

      https://hubpages.com/travel/Exploring-the-Oneonta-...

      The Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful place, great for exploring!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I hope so, Jamie! We would love it.

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 4 years ago from Texas

      Thank you, Bill! I would love to be able to do that some day :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jamie my friend, if you ever get up here you have a tour guide free of charge. Bev and I would love to spend time with you. Thanks for the visit.

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 4 years ago from Texas

      Bill, this sounds like one heck of a road trip! I sure do wish I lived a bit closer to your neck of the woods. Sounds like you covered everything and love all the pretty pictures. I think I might just have to bookmark it.. just in case. Never know what the future holds! Thank for sharing this :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, I lived in Vermont for two years, and visited parts of New Hampshire, but never saw that Highway. One day I'll take Bev back there and we will take a look at it. Thanks for the suggestion and the visit.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I love a good road trip and this is another one of yours going on my list. If you ever make it to New Hampshire you would love the Kancamagas Highway. We were there a number of years ago and it was lovely.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Prasetio, thank you for coming along on this trip. I know you would love it if you could visit.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Wow...I really enjoy the virtual tour in the Columbia River Gorge. Beautiful and very well research. Thanks for writing and share with us. The photos you included are the best. Voted up!

      Prasetio

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, we're waiting for you. Let us know when you are 50 miles out and we'll fire up the barbecue. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kathy, you have a long ways to travel to see this, but if you ever make it, it will be worth the trip. Thank you for traveling with me on this virtual drive.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Bill you're making me want to go to Washington! Meeting you and Bev would definitely be the highlight!!

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This looks like a trip I would love to take someday! Thanks for the guide - hopefully I will get out to explore this area sometime. It sounds and looks wonderful!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, James! Thank you for the visit and blessings to you my friend.

    • James-wolve profile image

      Tijani Achamlal 4 years ago from Morocco

      Very interesting road trip.Thanks for being a tour-guide,taking us to beautiful places.

      Many Blessings to you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eddy, if you ever get over here you will have Bev and I serving as your tour guides. Now how great is that? LOL

      Thank you my dear; I will be by to visit you shortly.

      love,

      billy

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Another masterpiece Billy : this one I have to save into my 'Armchair travelling' slot.

      Oh how wonderful on a wet day when I have a few free hours (Ha ha ha joke) and I can be transported to The Columbia River Gorge.

      I vote up,across and share all around.

      Take care

      Eddy.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Austin, I love nothing better than to get in the car and head off to areas yet unseen. The open road and experiences around every bend...love it!

      Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Gail, I hope you make it soon. It really is a great trip and one that you should not hurry through. Thank you!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I just love road trips. Still my favorite thing to do after all these years. There are some pretty good ones here in Texas too!

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 4 years ago from United States

      This is great information, Billy. I have taken many roadtrips and I love it! This one has been on my list for several years now, but I have not gotten there yet. I would love to take a roadtrip to that area. I have actually planned a trip a couple of times, but each time I have had to cancel for one reason or another. Try, try again. Thanks for all the information and tips! Voted up, awesome and bookmarked.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rachna, I promise that you would love it. Come visit soon.

      Thank you and have a great week my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, Alicia, you will have to travel through again so I can meet you. :) Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Martin, without a doubt San Francisco is a great city. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, I hope some day you will be able to visit. Thank you for this short visit.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love your travel hubs, Bill. I've traveled through Washington and Oregon but haven't spent long in either state. Your descriptions make them both sound very enticing!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. Us San Franciscans are a bit spoiled. Sorry.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      This sounds like a great road trip, so many museums!! Would love to visit specially the orchards and vineyards. A great trip.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, we will keep it looking beautiful until you get here. How's that for a deal? :) Thank you Ruby!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I would love to visit this beautiful state. I don't care about hiking but i could spend hours in the museums and just enjoying the scenery. Thank you Bill..Great hub....

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Efficient, you simply have to make it out here some year. I have seen the area you live in, and it is pretty, but there is nothing like this area for natural beauty.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Liz, summer lasts two months so make sure you hit it properly when scheduling. :) You and winter here would not mix well. LOL Thanks, Liz!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, thank you as always. You are always welcome in our little neck of the woods. :)

    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Efficient Admin 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Wow, now this sounds like my kind of vacation (except for the rock climbing) because I love the outdoors. I checked out the link of the Columbia Gorge Hotel and it looks really nice. I have never been to the West Coast but these 2 states are on the bucket list. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Beautiful! This looks like a fun trip. In the summer, of course. Let's not get too crazy :D

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for taking us along on your amazing road trip this lovely Sunday!!! Washington is indeed a gorgeous state in which to travel, and you are blessed to live right there in such beauty!

      Excellent hub here, and very informative with amazing photos and imagery to enjoy, as if we were right there with you.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, thanks! What a great job that would be, to travel around and get paid for showing people the beauty of this state.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      What a great way to see some of America and feel a part of its history. Love this, you would make a great tour guide!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I'm surprised you haven't been to see this. It will still be here so come soon.

      Thanks buddy!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, no matter where you go in the country there are great sites. Come visit my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, it appears to me that you and Larry need to come visit. As an added bonus you'll get to meet Bev and I in person. :) Thank you for your never-ending flow of kind words.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I must love it; I don't seem to be in any hurry to leave. :) Thanks my friend; have a great Sunday!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great tour Bill. We have yet to get to the Columbia River Gorge area but we'll have to add this to a future trip. Certainly seems like my kind of area; beautiful scenery, hiking, museums, mountains, etc... Really enjoyed this tour, great job.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, this sure sounds like a great place to visit, or to even live for that matter. What a lucky break that we have such wonderful places like this in the U.S.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Are you kidding me? This is great, beautiful photos, educational, interesting, and just darn good! Larry would love to visit here (as I have told you before.) Not only is Larry a geography lover but a history buff.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and very interesting. What a beautiful country we live in.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      There's so much to see and do in Washington. No wonder you love it so much!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Linda! I hope your day goes well. We will be out in the garden most of the day, soaking up rare sunshine.

      hugs and love,

      bill

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      Well, I've had my road trip for the day and enjoyed every mile. The photos are gorgeous and I could easily fall in love with your state. Now, it's back to work, regretfully. Thanks for sharing the beauty kindred.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      dghbrh, thank you so much for stopping by. Maybe some day you will be able to visit us here.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, it will be here any old time you want to come to visit....and as an added, I'm here too. :) Thank you my friend.

    • dghbrh profile image

      deergha 4 years ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

      Very nice hub. I really enjoyed the pictures here. Thank you very much for giving us a chance here to view this beautiful part of the country. Votes ++++++++ and shared across the board.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Beautiful memories indeed and seriously some of the most picturesque countryside I have seen in sometime. Thank you seriously Bill for sharing more of you part of the country with us!! Have of course voted up and shared all over, too as always!!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, the weather usually is spectacular by the second week of July. This particular trip will see temps in the eighties and nineties.

      Hurry on out. We'll leave the light on for you. :)

      blessings and a hug for this Sunday, coming your way,

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, since you have seen it you know I speak the truth. This really is a beautiful part of the country. Thank you my friend and have a great Sunday.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Ready, set, go. I want to come there. There is SO much to do and enjoy. Ice caves, of course, I would have to see those. What is the weather like in the summer? I love the outdoors and this is filled with many treasures. This country is such a gold mine of breathtaking places to visit. Thank you for sharing this, Bill.

      Happy Sunday to you...

      Angels are on the way to your house....:) ps

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I know this country well. Family lives in Hood River and we did live in Oregon. The river is so beauteous. Good travel hub on stimulating people to make a trip up in the area. You do live in God's country. I miss the beauty of the Northwest. Thanks for a great read