No trip to Portland, OR is complete without a visit to this national scenic area. The Columbia River Gorge is approximately 30 minutes away from the city, teeming with waterfalls and tremendously beautiful vistas. You’ll definitely want to take the backroads here, the Historic Columbia River Highway is much more pleasurable than I-84. Whether you are a hiker, sightseer, or just looking for a stunning cruise down the corridor – there is nowhere quite like this.
Your best bet is to hit the road early in the day or later in the evening, on a weekday if possible, to beat the crowds. Also, bring a rain jacket so you don’t get soaked from the mist if there has been heavy rainfall. A great place to start is the Crown Point Vista House [40700 E Historic Columbia River Hwy Corbett, OR 97014], whether it’s open or not! If it’s open you can purchase a beverage, local gift, and learn about the region. If it’s not, you can still admire the excellent architecture of the stone house built in 1917,
and more importantly the commanding view of the gorge!
From here you’ll want to continue east along the highway stopping at whatever sights to you. My first stop was at Latourell Falls which you can see right from the parking lot, but taking the short paved path to get to the base of the magnificent waterfall is a real treat.
The next point of interest was a pit stop at Shepperd’s Dell, once again there is a short path down to the falls – but this one is even better viewed from the road!
The most popular of all of the stops is without a doubt Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon!
There is a visitor’s center where you can stock up on refreshments and use the restroom and a busy hiking trail with multiple options. In just a quarter of a mile you can hike to the bridge which gives a spectacular view of the upper falls. If you continue on up the 11 switchbacks you can reach the top of the falls (over 600 feet!), and at this height you’ll have a great view out to the Columbia River and Washington State on the other bank.
Another must see is Horsetail Falls, viewed with ease from the parking lot.
Beyond the lot is an exceptional trail I highly recommend – the 2.5 mile loop was very quiet on our visit. Trek up switchbacks over 600 feet to upper Horsetail Falls, also known as Ponytail Falls. You can walk behind the falls and continue on.
You will be rewarded with a remarkable vista, almost forgetting about the cars and crowds below. Drop down into the canyon and yet another smaller, though not shabby Oneonta Falls reveals itself.
Soon a well marked junction will appear, you can detour to Triple Falls if you have the time or simply hang right on the Oneonta Trail towards the highway to close your loop. When you hit the road make a right to return to the parking lot passing through an impressive tunnel.
The scenic highway ends at John B. Yeon State Park where you can pick up the trail to Elowah Falls. The 1.5 mile out and back trail was also very quiet, aside from a bride and a groom who hiked out to take pictures at the waterfall! If you want to get there as well, head up and hang left at the fork to make your way down to the base of the falls – yet another tremendously gorgeous sight.
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area continues on for quite some time, but this was our turn about point. This was truly the highlight of our traversing around the Portland area, a nature lovers dream right outside the city limits!