12 Best Things to Do in the Columbia River Gorge

Just 30 minutes west of downtown Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is one of the most accessible and beautiful scenic stretches in Oregon. Here, you'll find many of the Gorge's most popular hikes, waterfalls, and lookout points as well as major towns like Troutdale, Hood River, and The Dalles.

Major attractions include the historic Columbia River Highway, the visitors center and fish hatchery at Bonneville Dam and Locks, iconic Multnomah Falls, and touring and tasting your way along the Hood River Valley Fruit Loop.

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Get Out on the Water

A woman kayaking on the Hood River in Oregon

Cavan Images / Getty Images

1108 E Marina Dr, Hood River, OR 97031, USA
Phone +1 541-386-9463

Fans of windsurfing (something this area is known for, but more on that later), kayaking, canoeing, catamaran sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, or jet skiing can rent water sports gear and supplies from companies like Hood River Waterplay for an epic day out on the water. Lessons are also available for those who wish to hone their skills. Hood River SUP and Kayak offers rentals as well as sunset tours, morning tours, and lessons from its location at The Hook, a scenic spot along the Hood River.

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Sample Locally Made Beer and Cider

Beer at Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon

Full Sail Brewing Company

506 Columbia St, Hood River, OR 97031, USA
Phone +1 541-386-2247

One of the Northwest's many great microbreweries, Full Sail Brewing Company is located in the windsurfing mecca of Hood River and known for its award-winning premium lager, seasonal IPAs, and amber ale.

Cider enthusiasts should head to Double Mountain Brewery and Cidery to refuel after a long day of sightseeing, hiking, or taking on your favorite water sports. The pizza is here quite tasty as well.

About a 20-minute drive from Hood River in Cascade Locks, Oregon, Thunder Island Brewing Co. is also worth a look, with a menu full of burgers, sandwiches, salads, bowls, and specialty plates to whet your appetite as you imbibe at your picnic table.

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Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway

Columbia River Gorge View from Chanticleer Point

Angela M. Brown

Historic Columbia River Hwy, Corbett, OR, USA

The Historic Columbia River Highway, now a 20-mile stretch of US Highway 30, was one of the first American roads specifically built for scenic auto-touring. Opened to the public in 1915, this unique stretch is loaded with enchanting stonework railings and bridges, which accent the grand waterfalls and Columbia River views as you drive through the lush green forest.

Along the way, there are many places to stop and enjoy the view, have a picnic, or take a stroll. If you're feeling energetic, spend time on one or more of the numerous hiking trails that will take you past creeks and waterfalls.

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Wind Surf at Hood River

Wind Surfing in the Sparkling Columbia River

Moelyn Photos / Getty Images

Hood River, OR 97031, USA

The eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge is famous for its windsurfing conditions as well as its stunning beauty. Nature lovers will find plenty to appreciate, from spring wildflowers to fishing.

You can windsurf and kiteboard when the winds are right in the Columbia River near Hood River. After an exhilarating day on the water, kick back and relax at one of the brewpubs in Hood River.

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Catch the View at Vista House

Vista House

Angela M. Brown

40700 Historic Columbia River Hwy, Corbett, OR 97019, USA
Phone +1 503-695-2240

Perched atop one of the most spectacular viewpoints along the Columbia River Gorge, the charming Vista House houses several interpretive exhibits, a gift shop, and a snack bar. Wander the grounds or climb to the roof to take in views of the surrounding scenery.

The Vista House was built in 1918 and soon became a major tourist destination along the historic Columbia River Highway, with its architecture and artistic details representing the bygone era of automobile travel.

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Discover Columbia Gorge History

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum

Angela M. Brown

5000 Discovery Dr, The Dalles, OR 97058, USA
Phone +1 541-296-8600

The Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center is a fun museum located at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge in The Dalles. The Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corps' activity in the region are well-covered topics. The interesting geology of the Gorge, including the impact of the Ice Age Floods, is explained both through exhibits and in film. Learn about the area's Native American history, the Oregon Trail, and the pioneer era, and regional flora and fauna during your visit.

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Stop in at the Visitor Center at Bonneville Dam

Columbia River Flowing Through Bonneville Dam Against Sky

Katie Jordan / EyeEm / Getty Images

Star Route, Cascade Locks, OR 97014, USA
Phone +1 541-374-8820

The Bonneville Dam (Bradford Island) Visitor Venter on the Oregon side of the river houses exhibits along with an observation area to take in the views. Try a guided powerhouse tour or watch a film at the visitor center theater to learn more about the importance of the dam. Nature trails, river access, and picnicking are also available in the park area.

Be sure to visit the fish ladder and under-water viewing room where you can see how salmon, sturgeon, and various other river fish are counted as they make it past the dam on their journey upstream.

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Visit The Dalles Lock and Dam

The Dalles Dam

Wikimedia Commons 

3545 Bret Clodfelter Way, The Dalles, OR 97058, USA
Phone +1 541-296-9778

As you travel east on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge, you'll find some great places to learn about how and why the river was dammed. Head to the visitor's center at The Dalles Lock and Dam for more information about the dam's construction and operations. Don't forget to leave enough time to check out Lake Celilo, a beautiful reservoir behind The Dalles Dam.

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Tour a Fish Hatchery

Bonneville Lock and Dam

Linda Garrison

70543 NE Herman Loop, Cascade Locks, OR 97014, USA
Phone +1 541-374-8393

Also at Bonneville Dam is a historic fish hatchery located on beautifully landscaped grounds. See the small fish being fed and check out a pond of fully grown rainbow trout. Not to be missed is a visit with Herman the Sturgeon, who survived the Eagle Creek wildfire, and the giant fish in their own pond with viewing window. Best of all, entry is free.

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Cruise Columbia Gorge on a Sternwheeler

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler Cruise

Wikimedia Commons 

299 SW Portage Rd, Cascade Locks, OR 97014, USA
Phone +1 503-224-3900

Sightseeing, dinner, and brunch cruises are available on this grand and colorful paddle wheeler. Columbia River Gorge sternwheeler cruises are available May through October, boarding from Marine Park at Cascade Locks. From the water, you'll be able to take in the full length of the Columbia River Gorge and see iconic landmarks like Multnomah Falls, Beacon Rock, and Bonneville Dam.

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Taste and Tour Your Way Along the Fruit Loop

Hood River Valley

Getty Images / Craig Tuttle

2882 Van Horn Dr, Hood River, OR 97031, USA
Phone +1 541-386-8333

The Hood River Valley and its delicious Fruit Loop are known for wine, growing fruit, and the beautiful blossoms that spring brings. It's a great destination for wine tasting, visiting a lavender farm, buying apples and pears, and stopping at the Apple Valley Country Store for pie or jams to take home. Make time to stop by Mt. Hood Winery where you can taste wine with a splendid view of Mt. Hood.

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Take in Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Multnomah Falls, Oregon 97014, USA

There are 77 waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge and hiking up to them, behind them, and around them is a popular activity on both the Oregon and Washington sides. Some of the most popular hikes are to Multnomah Falls (pictured here), Latourelle Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, all accessible from the historic Columbia River Highway.

Multnomah Falls is the most visited recreation site in the Pacific Northwest, dropping in two major steps with an upper falls of 542 feet and a lower falls of 69 feet. There's a gradual drop between the two of nine feet, making the total height of the waterfall 620 feet. At the base of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which houses a gift shop and restaurant. You can reach the falls from I-84 and the historic Columbia River Highway.

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12 Best Things to Do in the Columbia River Gorge