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 including 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 along the Hood River Valley Fruit Loop.

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Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway

Columbia River Gorge View from Chanticleer Point

Angela M. Brown

Historic Columbia River Hwy, Troutdale, 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 road 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 multiple places to stop and enjoy the view along with a picnic or 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
Phone +1 541-308-1700

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, hit one of the brewpubs in Hood River to kick back and relax.

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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 offers visitors interpretive exhibits, a gift shop, and a snack bar. You can wander the grounds or climb to the roof to take in the scenery in all directions.

The Vista House was built in 1918 and soon became a tourist destination along the historic Columbia River Highway. The architecture and details of Vista House represent that 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 is 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. Native Americans, the Oregon Trail, and the pioneer era, as well as the regional flora and fauna, are among the other things you can learn about 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 visitor center on the Oregon side of the river houses exhibits along with an observation area to take in the views. Take a guided powerhouse tour, or watch a film at the visitor center theater. Nature trails, river access, and picnicking are also available in the park area.

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

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Quaff a Few Brews

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. Sign up for a free afternoon tour of the brewery, then enjoy Full Sail's brews and food at the on-site tasting room and pub.

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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 stop and learn more about how and why the river was dammed. Head to the visitor's center at The Dalles Lock and Dam to learn about the dam's construction and operations. Just make sure to leave some time to explore the beautiful Lake Celilo, a reservoir behind The Dalles Dam.

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Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler Cruise

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler Cruise

Wikimedia Commons 

427 SW Portage Rd, Cascade Locks, OR 97014, USA
Phone +1 541-374-8619

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

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Tour and Taste on the Fruit Loop

Hood River Valley
Getty Images/Craig Tuttle

The Hood River Valley is 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.

Wineries abound and one of the most special is the Mt. Hood Winery where you can taste wine with a splendid view of Mt. Hood.

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Tour a Fish Hatchery

Bonneville Lock and Dam

Linda Garrison

Also at Bonneville Dam is a historic fish hatchery located on beautifully landscaped grounds. You can 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.

Entry is free.

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Hike to a Waterfall

Bridal Veil Falls
Getty Images/Brad McGinley Photography

There are 77 waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge and hiking up to them, behind them, and around them is a popular Gorge activity.

You can take hikes on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River Gorge to see the waterfalls. Some of the most popular hikes are Multnomah Falls, Latourelle Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, all accessible from the historic Columbia River Highway.

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Take in Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Multnomah Falls is the most visited recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. The falls drops in two major steps, an upper falls of 542 feet (165 meters) and a lower falls of 69 feet (21 meters), with a gradual 9 foot (3 meters) drop between the two, so the total height of the waterfall is 620 feet (189 meters).

After the Eagle Creek Wildfire, trails opened gradually and the upper trails are still closed to hikers. At the base of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge which houses a gift shop and restaurant.

These must-see falls are accessible from I-84 and the historic Columbia River Highway.

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Best Things to Do in the Columbia River Gorge