The historic Columbia River Highway was the first scenic highway in the United States and is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The highway is about 75 miles long between Troutdale and the Dalles in Oregon and travels through the Columbia Gorge, transitioning between temperate rainforest to dry grasslands in only 80 miles.
The area is best known for its high concentration of waterfalls but is also a popular destination for hiking, mountain-biking, fishing, watersports and sight-seeing.
The Columbia River Gorge is the perfect day trip from Portland on a hot summer's day or worth road tripping out to spend a week or two to fully explore the area.
Best Times To Visit
SPRING: Best for less crowds & hiking
SUMMER: Best for swimming, watersports & berry picking
AUTUMN: Best for seeing fall colors & photography
WINTER: Best for viewing frozen waterfalls
Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge
Latourell Falls is a 249-foot plunge waterfall and the first waterfall seen along the Columbia River Highway. This waterfall is most recognized for the large patch of bright yellow lichen adorning the cliff face to the right of the falls which makes for some visually pleasing photographs. Latourell Falls is a short hike from the parking lot to the bottom of the falls.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is a two-tiered waterfall which requires a short hike to reach the viewing deck overlooking the falls. The trailhead is located right off the Columbia River Highway and starts out paved and soon changes to gravel, leading to a beautiful wooden arch bridge over the creek.
Wahkeena Falls is a 242-foot waterfall which has a subtle cascading flow. To reach this waterfall, park at the Wahkeena Falls parking lot and hike an easy 0.5 miles out to the falls. You can also continue this loop trail to reach the top of Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls is the most visited waterfall along the Columbia River Highway. Multnomah is a 611-foot cascading waterfall easily accessed via the parking lot. For a closer view walk along the paved trail to the bridge which spans the falls first tier's misty base where you will have a perfect view of the top tier's full 542-foot height.
Lower Oneonta Falls
The only way to reach Lower Oneonta Falls is by wading waist deep in water through the Oneonta Gorge. It also requires a lot of climbing and scrambling over rocks and log jams but this makes it all the more an adventure!
Elowah Falls is a 289-foot waterfall that crashes into a huge amphitheatre. The cliffs on either side of the falls are flanked with the colorful yellow-green lichen found throughout the Columbia Gorge adding a lot to the aesthetics of the scene. Located near Warrendale at John B. Yeon State Park.
Horsetail Falls is located right beside the Historic Columbia River Highway and requires no hiking! This waterfall is much less crowded than nearby Multnomah Falls and is great for getting photographs of yourself in front of the waterfall.
BEST HIKING TRAILS ALONG COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY
Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls
This is an easy and very popular hike. It is 3.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 500 feet. This trail leads to Punchbowl Falls where you can rewards yourself a the end of the hike with a swim in the crystal clear water.
Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls
This trail continues past the Punchbowl Falls and is a little more strenuous. It is a 12 mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 1640 feet. The trail leads to a tunnel built behind a waterfall (hence the name) which plummets to the creek below. It makes for an excellent climax to the hike!
Oneonta Gorge to Lower Oneonta Falls
This is an incredible hike through a slot canyon and is a little bit like Zion National Parks' The Narrows. It is an easy hike of 0.6 miles roundtrip with 400 feet elevation gain. On this hike, the creek is the trail so you need to wade in waist deep water and scramble over log jams until you reach Lower Oneonta Falls.
Hole In The Wall Loop
This hike is 2.5 miles round trip loop with an elevation gain of 600 feet and leads to a man-made waterfall.
This hike is 1.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 680 feet. There are great views from the top of the river below including Bonneville Dam. Beacon Rock is an icon of the Columbia River Gorge and should not be missed!
This hike is 5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1500 feet. The trail is on the western end of the Columbia Gorge and leads to spectacular 270 degree views of the gorge including Beacon Rock.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The Bonneville Dam is the oldest dam on the Columbia River. There is a Visitors Center which is a great place to take the kids. There is an underground viewing area which allows you to get a better view of the fish passing by and a fish ladder for the salmon making their way upstream.
Bonneville Fish Hatchery
Bonneville Hatchery raises millions of Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon and Steelhead trout every year. This is a great place to visit with the kids where they can feed rainbow trout in the display ponds and view a 10 foot sturgeon named Herman.
Bridge of the Gods
Bridge of the Gods is a steel truss bridge that spans the Columbia River between Cascade Locks in Oregon and Washington State. The bridge was seen in the film "Wild' with Reese Witherspoon and is part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
CAMPGROUNDS ALONG COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY
Eagle Creek Campground
This campground has 17 campsites which must be booked online. The campgrounds feature flush toilets (no showers) and drinking water. Campsites are situated between large trees atop a bluff above Eagle Creek and the Columbia River. There are no RV hookups. Eagle Creek campground is situated adjacent to Interstate 84 and railroad tracks so may be too noisy for some.
Wyeth Creek Campground
This campground offers 13 sites in a beautiful setting surrounded by Douglas-fir and Big-leaf maple tree's. This is a popular campground so book early! Exit the I-84 at Wyeth road and drive 1/4 of a mile.
KOA Cascade Locks
This campground offers tent camping, RV sites and cabin accommodations. This is our favorite of the campgrounds because their amenities include a swimming pool, hot tub, games room, snack bar and laundry facilities. When we stayed, they also offered all you can eat pancakes on the weekend for $5!
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