The Columbia River Gorge: One Of America’s Great Scenic Highways

Vista House View

Gary McFarland

The Columbia River Gorge is one of those places that is hard to describe with words.  It is a green, scenic, lush, beautiful, watershed, barely 30 minutes from Portland.  It is 74 miles of beauty stretching from Troutdale to Hood River.  It really is one of the top scenic highways in America.  Sound appealing?  I hope so, because not only are the views great but there is also some great hiking to be had as well.

This past weekend my in laws were visiting from Detroit.  My father-in-law is really into photography so we spent Sunday out at the Gorge.  Some of the photos in this post are his and some are mine (you can visit his website: here, and if you live in the Detroit area he does commercial photography as well).  We started our journey through the gorge at the Portland Women’s Forum and ended it at Hood River.  We had stops along the way at the Vista House, Wahkeena Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls, an attempted stop at Marchesi Vineyards, and ended our day at Full Sail Brewing.  We skipped Multnomah Falls on this trip but I will include it in my discussion below since it is a popular stop.

To get to the Columbia River Highway take I-84 east to Exit 22.  Follow the road to the top of the hill and then veer left.  Turn left on to the Columbia River Highway and your first stop, the Portland Women’s Forum, is just a few minutes down the road.

Portland Women’s Forum

Portland Women's Forum

Our first stop in the morning was the Portland Women’s Forum.  Unfortunately, for us when we got there it was raining.  Nonetheless the views were still pretty amazing.  The pictures I took did not do it justice.  There is also an old road that you can hike, but there is much better hiking awaiting you further in the gorge.

Vista House

Vista House

Our next stop was the Vista House.  Prior to reaching the Vista House and just a mile or so down the road from the Portland Women’s Forum is the turn of to go up Larch Mountain. We did not stop at Larch mountain on this trip but there are some spectacular views from Larch Mountain and some hiking.

The Vista House is a short drive from the Women’s Forum.  The Vista House was built to be both an observatory and a rest stop for travelers along the Columbia River Highway. I’ve been to many a rest stop in my day and I can’t think of a prettier one.  The views from up here are also pretty spectacular.  The photo at the beginning of this post was taken by my father-in-law from the Vista House.

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls Creek

Gary McFarland

Our first hike of the day was at Wahkeena Falls.  It is a very short hike from the parking area to the top.  There is a bridge that crosses right in front of the falls and is so close you feel like you can reach out and touch Wahkeena Falls.  The hike is only 2/10 of a mile to the bridge but it is a bit steep.  It is another half a mile to the top where there is a lookout.

At the base of the trail back by the road you can hike a half mile to Multnomah Falls.  There is a lot of parking around Wahkeena so if the parking lot is full at Multnomah Falls consider parking here.  If you walk along the road and skip the trail, Multnomah Falls is only a quarter mile away.

Multnomah Falls


We skipped Multnomah Falls on this particular trip.  If you have never been, however, it is a must stop.  There is a lodge that offers food.  My favorite thing to eat here is actually at the snack bar on the side of the lodge that sells ice cream cookie sandwiches (vanilla ice cream squished between two chocolate chip cookies, yum!).   There is a very popular mile long hike to the top of the falls.  I really enjoy the hike and it has a lookout you can walk onto right at the top of the falls.  If you continue hiking along the trail it will take you to the top of Larch Mountain.  The hike is a 14 miles roundtrip and will take you 5.5 to 6 hours. Once you get a little bit past Multnomah Falls the crowd virtually disappears.

Oneonta Gorge

Oneonta Creek

Gary McFarland

For us, our next stop was at Oneonta Gorge. The hike is almost entirely along a creek bed. The picture above was taken about a quarter mile into the hike when you reach a point where the gorge is blocked by a couple of big boulders and fallen trees.  If you want to continue the hike you will have to climb over this obstacle.  Be careful climbing over, especially if it has rained.  Once you are on the other side though, the scenery is gorgeous.

Oneonta Gorge

This is a picture I took from the other side of the log and boulder obstruction. Normally, you would not have this to yourself but because it was raining most of the day not that many people were out hiking. It was pretty cool being along at the bottom of this beautiful gorge.

Oneonta Falls1

This last picture was taken from where I stopped along the creek bed.  You can just see the falls around the corner.  This was the last stop for me because I did not bring a change of clothes and you have to do this to make it across:

Oneonta Deep

This is one of my favorite spots along the gorge and a great place to go to escape the heat on a really hot day. The beginning of the hike is also a great place for kids.  The water is about puddle deep before the obstruction and my two year old had a blast splashing in the water and throwing rocks.


Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls was our last stop along the Columbia River Highway.  The falls are right off the road and we stopped to get a quick picture and use the restroom.  There is, however, a great hike here that is only 2.5 miles long.

Marchesi Vineyards

Once we left the Gorge we got back onto I-84 and continued to Hood River.  Our next stop was supposed to be at Marchesi Vineyards.  However, once we got here hunger took over and so we decided not to stay and go get an early dinner.  I have not been here before so it is on my list of places to stop when we return to Hood River next month to pick apples along the famous fruitloop.

Full Sail Brewing

Full Sail Stout

Our last stop of the day was at Full Sail brewing. I have a funny relationship with Full Sail. I think the beer you can buy in the store is mostly ok. The brewery, however, offers some beers not sold in stores that are really good.  Whenever I am in Hood River I always stop at full sail to at least grab a pint.

Full Sail 26

After eating dinner at Full Sail we hopped on I-84 and took the quick drive home. We started our day at 10:30 am and got home around 7:00 pm. It was a fun filled day filled with lots of pretty views and some good hiking. I think the Columbia River Gorge is a must for anyone visiting the Portland area.

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3 thoughts on “The Columbia River Gorge: One Of America’s Great Scenic Highways

  1. Pingback: Apple And Pear Harvest Is Here: Time For The Fruitloop | Portland Travel Tips

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