Often referred to as simply "the Gorge," the Columbia River Gorge is an extraordinarily scenic region rich in recreation opportunities. The unique beauty of the Gorge, shaped by the Ice Age floods, is preserved by local, state and US agencies as parks and public lands and has been officially designated as the Columbia Gorge National Recreation Area. Roughly 80 miles in length, the Gorge transitions from a temperate rainforest ecosystem at the western end to dry pine forests and prairies at its eastern end. Gorgeous waterfalls and striking basalt rock formations can be found on both sides of the river.
In short, the Columbia River Gorge is straight-up gorgeous. With plenty of places to stay, towns to visit, and things to do, it's perfect for a quick getaway or spending a few weeks exploring hiking trails and outdoorsy activities alike.
Where is the Columbia River Gorge
While there are several gorges along the 1,243-mile-long Columbia River, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (which is what people usually mean when referring to this area) is located at the point where the river cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range. Forming part of the border between Oregon and Washington State, the Gorge runs approximately from the city of Troutdale to The Dalles (west to east).
What to See & Do at the Columbia River Gorge
Whether you plan to visit for a weekend or an extended vacation, you won't run out of great attractions and activities during your Columbia Gorge visit.
The area is known as a top-notch hiking destination, whether you head to a state park like Beacon Rock State Park on the Washington side or just pull over when you see a trailhead sign and decide to see what's there, you won't be disappointed. Just about every corner of this gorge is super scenic.
Because of its favorable wind conditions, the Columbia River Gorge has become an international hotspot for windsurfing and kite sailing, especially in the town of Hood River. Likewise other watery pursuits such as fishing and boating are also popular.
Waterfalls are plentiful along this stretch and bouncing from one to the next to see several in one day is a lot of fun. Start with famous Multnomah Falls, just 30 minutes from Portland. For more ideas, read on below.
Where to Stay at the Columbia River Gorge
You'll find a range of visitor services and accommodations in the parks and communities that line the Gorge. There are upscale resorts, boutique hotels, no-frills motels, historic lodges such as Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, and campgrounds and RV parks, so you can choose your own adventure.
How to Get to the Columbia River Gorge
If you are traveling by air, you will want to fly into Portland International Airport. Portland is just about 30 minutes from the Gorge so it makes a convenient place to arrive.
Interstate 84 is the major freeway that parallels the Columbia River. It runs along the Oregon side from Portland through the Gorge communities of Troutdale, Hood River and The Dalles. On the Washington side of the river, State Highway 14 is the primary route. You can drive on either side, or even switch between the two as there are bridges in The Dalls, Hood River and Cascade Locks (the Bridge of the Gods of "Wild" fame). But take note, the bridges are toll bridges.
When to Visit the Columbia River Gorge
Conditions vary with each season, with winter being the only time to avoid the Gorge. Spring charges up the waterfalls and brings wildflowers. Trail conditions can be wet and muddy, however, so use caution. Summer and fall are awesome seasons for your visit, bring sunny dry weather and excellent conditions for land and water recreation. The fall foliage along the Columbia River Gorge is stunning.