Located where the great Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range, the Columbia River Gorge is a natural wonder and an amazing playground. The river defines much of the border between Washington and Oregon. The Washington side of the river, which is paralleled by narrow State Highway 14, is the less traveled side of the river. Spend some time on the quieter side of the Gorge and you'll have access to several fun and interesting attractions, including a dam, an interpretive center, and an art museum.
Here are my recommendations for fun things to see and do on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.
Just off Highway 14 in the small town of Stevenson, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum is your place to learn about the human and natural history of the Gorge. Exhibits and artifacts illuminate ancient and traditional Native American life on the Columbia River and includes pictographs, stone tools, and baskets. The huge fish wheel, logging equipment, and railroad machinery provide a fascinating look at the region's early industry. An extensive collection of Catholic rosaries, built by a Skamamia County businessman, is among the other exhibits. Be sure to take in the film that covers the geology of the Columbia River Gorge and the impact of the Ice Age Floods.
Just east of the Columbia River Gorge, near the tiny town of Goldendale, is a world-class art museum with an eclectic collection. Housed in a grand historic mansion with a modern addition, Maryhill Museum of Art exhibits Rodin sculptures, Russian icons, Queen Marie of Romania regalia, and a fine selection of American and European landscape paintings. During your visit you'll also view artifacts that include Native American basketry, early Modern Dance video footage, and a collection of chess sets. During your Maryhill Museum of Art visit, spend some time wandering the outdoors, taking in the river and garden views, the outdoor sculpture, and the Lewis & Clark Overlook.
Parks & Outdoor Activities
Many miles of Columbia River waterfront are now a part of Washington State Parks, providing spaces to play and enjoy nature. Windsurfing, kitesailing, boating, fishing, and kayaking are all popular Gorge activities. Hiking, whether along the shore or among the hills overlooking the river, is another fun way to enjoy the Gorge's unique beauty. Birding, biking, rock climbing, and biking are among your other options.
The building of the Bonneville Dam during the 1930s forever altered the character of the Columbia River through the Gorge. Visitor attractions on the Washington side of Bonneville Dam include a powerhouse viewing gallery and a visitor center with exhibits covering dam construction and history. The dam's fish ladder is particularly fascinating. The salmon activity can be observed from above, or from an underwater viewing structure.
During most of their time traveling the Columbia River, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped and portaged on the Washington side of the river. While traveling along the river, it's always fun to imagine it from Lewis and Clark's point of view, even though the river is quite tame these days. Many of the sites are a part of the official Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and have been preserved and interpreted, whether on private land or inside a state park. Notable sites include the Columbia Hills and Beacon Rock State Parks.
Specializing in the production of premium red wines, Maryhill Winery sits on a hill over the Columbia River, allowing you to savor stunning views along with your wine. Their large tasting room and gift shop is open daily. You can enjoy the wine and scenery indoors by the fireplace, or outdoors on the Tuscan-style terrace. Evening concerts are scheduled throughout the extended summer season.