15 Best Things to Do in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
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The Columbia River Gorge is a magnificent nature destination in Columbia River in Oregon.

Over 80 miles long and 4,000 feet deep, the canyon is tucked 30 miles east of Portland and separates the north of Washington and Oregon's southern section.

It cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range and encompasses six counties from the two states—Oregon's Multnomah, Hood River, and Wasco and Washington's Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat.

Also known as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the gorge has over 75,000 people living beside the long stretch.

A guaranteed place with plenty of activities, this natural landscape wonder entices all your senses—from seeing incredible sights to tasting the best wines produced within locales.

If you want to explore this side of the Pacific Northwest, don't forget to try the best things to do in Columbia River Gorge, and you'll get different sorts of adventures and experiences.

Witness Stunning Views at Vista House in Crown Point

Far view of the Vista House in Crown Point
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What is a trip to Columbia River Gorge if you won't be seeing its beauty from an overlooking spot?

You can get the best canyon view at Crown Point State Scenic Corridor along Highway 30.

Millions of visitors go to Crown Point's famous building Vista House which sits atop a cliff. The house was originally built in 1918 and features gorgeous marble floors and stained-glass windows.

Sunset over the Vista House in Crown Point
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The house is also listed as a National Register of Historic Places and serves as a memorial for the first settlers in the gorge who completed the Oregon Trail. Numerous stone panels feature carvings of the names of families.

When you look from the windows, you'll get mesmerized by the incredible overlook of the canyon, which gets even more dramatic when you wait for the sunset.

People at the Vista House in Crown Point's overlook
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Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway

Aerial view of the Historic Columbia River Highway
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A road trip to the Historic Columbia River Highway takes you to striking sceneries of the gorge.

This 75-mile-long highway from Troutdale to The Dalles was completed in 1922 and is considered a historic scenic destination.

View of the waters from the Historic Columbia River Highway
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Dubbed as Waterfall Corridor, it serves as the pathway of twists and turns to multiple falls, trailheads, and viewpoints of the gorge.

If you are not visiting via private car, you can book a bus tour through the national treasure, with specific stops such as the Vista House, Latourell Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, among others.

A tunnel along Columbia River Highway
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Windsurf at The Hook

Columbia River Gorge is the windsurfing capital of the world, so a trip to this place will never be complete if you won't try this fun activity.

Windsurfing in the gorge is a popular sport for locals and tourists alike, specifically in the town of Hood River, where there is plenty of rental shops, lessons, and guides you can check out.

The Hook is an enclosed lagoon that offers a safe place for beginners to learn how to tackle the waves.

Currents here are gentle and far from extreme winds from the Columbia River, which may not be suitable for starters just yet.

During the summer, shops offering windsurfing lessons set up shops inside the cove, a fitting opportunity for you to try and experience.

Try Mountain Biking at Indian Creek Trail

Fall scene at Indian Creek Trail
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Indian Creek Trail is a paradise for mountain biking located south of Hood River Valley.

Spanning a 5-km trail from Hazel Avenue to Barrett Park, you'll enjoy an easy route that takes you to a lush oak forest with wildflowers and ferns covering the sides of the track.

Tall trees at Indian Creek Trail
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You’ll be treated to great views of the Hood River and fruit canneries in the valley when you look far and beyond. Along your bike outing, you might also come across friendly beavers on the way.

You can complete your mountain biking activity in over an hour, and the best months to go here are March to October.

Camp at Ainsworth State Park

Road along Ainsworth State Park
OregonDOT, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A camper visiting Columbia River Gorge will enjoy a night or two at the 43-acre Ainsworth State Park.

You can choose from any of its 40 full-hookup sites that lets you camp under the starry skies and amidst the peaceful, mossy forest.

Staying here is a comfortable and convenient experience as the campground also features shaded tent sites, picnic tables, biker areas, firewood, and flush toilets.

The Park, which is near Interstate 84, was built in 1933. It opens to multiple routes, including the Waterfall Corridor, which includes Multnomah Falls.

The campground also has a trail to various falls, such as Latoureel, Wahkeena, Bridal Veil, and Horsetail Falls.

Drink Craft Beer at Thunder Island Brewing Co

A fun way to experience life in the gorge is to spend an afternoon lounging on a patio with a bottle of craft beer.

Thunder Island Brewing Co at Wa Na Pa St. in Cascade Locks is one of the best breweries in town, frequented by locals and tourists.

It offers different craft beers while you enjoy good music and panoramic views of the great outdoors.

Built in 2013, the craft brewery takes pride in offering award-winning beers made with the gorge's beauty as its inspiration.

You can choose between year-round beers such as the Glacier Lily Golden, a golden ale that smells of delicate flowers from Mt. Hood with a hint of citrus.

There is also a collection of limited edition beers, including the Sunset Series Saison—made from a good mix of Loral and Mandarina Bavaria with a kick of citrus, clove, bubble gum, and chamomile.

Try Skiing on Mt. Hood

Scenic view of Mt. Hood
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If you are heading to Columbia River Gorge in the winter, don't forget to try skiing on Mt. Hood, Oregon's tallest peak.

Standing at 11,249 feet, Mt. Hood rests between the counties of Hood River and Clackamas, east-southeast of Portland.

Mt. Hood is an active volcano that belongs to the Cascade Range, which welcomes outdoor enthusiasts from early November to the end of May.

It has a skiable terrain of 1,685 acres and features 4,540 feet of vertical drop during the winter.

If you want to take skiing to the next level, you can enroll in training centers located at the foot of the mountain and enjoy the activity within the terrain parks.

Trek to Multnomah Falls

Welcome sign of Multnomah Falls
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Another must-see wonder in Columbia River Gorge is Multnomah Falls, a picturesque waterfall formed 15 000 years ago.

Located in Multnomah Creek, this 620-foot waterfall featuring two tiers is Oregon's tallest.

It is quite an accessible destination from the area's parking lot, serving as a jump-off point to multiple trails.

People admiring the Multnomah Falls from a bridge
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If you want to take a peek at its beauty, you can just walk for several minutes from the parking lot.

However, if you wish to witness a more breathtaking view, consider a short trek to Benson Bridge, a viewing structure built in 1914.

An even more challenging yet more fun hike will be the trail to Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint, which features a deck right on top of the falls, giving you an overlook of the whole scenic wonder.

Looking down from Multnomah Falls
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Shop Artsy Finds at Art on Oak

There is more to Hood River beyond lovely landscapes and thrilling outdoor activities. Its downtown area offers a shopping haven for art lovers.

At Art on Oak, you will find unique pieces crafted by local artists in the gorge

Located on Oak Street, the artist-owned art gallery showcases artworks in different mediums, such as wood, painting, metals, and ceramics.

You'll be amazed at how local artisans develop pieces that speak of their local culture and creativity.

When you check this shop, you'll never run out of things to check out and buy—from funky jewelry, cute journals, scented candles, handcrafted soaps, and more.

Explore Fruit Farms Along the Fruit Loop

A red barn at Fruit Loop
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Columbia River Gorge is rich with vast tracts of fruit-bearing trees. If you want to learn more about them, take the Hood River Fruit Loop, a scenic drive that spans 35-mile of rural farm experience.

The self-guided loop was formed in 1992 to feature the valley's abundance of fruits. It is covered with pears, apples, and cherries sprawled across its 14,500 acres.

You can start in Hood River, go down to Parkdale, and go around through Dee, Odell, and Oak Grove.

Pear blossoms along Fruit Loop
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The route can take up to 4 hours, but you may extend it as you check out the farms that you may find interesting.

Driving along this route lets you visit 27 century-old farms, fruit stands, breweries, and family-owned country stores offering seasonal fruits.

Other products include jams, syrups, and jellies that you can buy as souvenirs.

Tour at The Dalles Lock and Dam

Daytime view of The Dalles Lock and Dam
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A less popular but essential destination to see is The Dalles Lock and Dam at Bret Clodfelter Way, which has played a crucial role in keeping the gorge powered with water.

Entering the visitor center, exhibits telling the dam's history will welcome you.

There are also many activities for children, such as fish viewing, picnic, and strolling around rose gardens. The dam also presents scenic views of mountains and mossy forests below.

The Dalles Lock and Dam is a significant area in Columbia River Gorge and other places in the Pacific Northwest.

About 192 miles from the mouth of the river, it is a hydropower, irrigation, and navigation source. It is also crucial for the region's fish passage and flood mitigation since its completion in 1957.

Taste Wine at Cathedral Ridge Winery

Columbia River Gorge is home to a few wineries offering full-bodied wines you can try for your visit.

Cathedral Ridge Winery, founded in 1985, is one of the most famous wine cellars in Hood River.

This winery at Post Canyon Drive was formerly named Flerchinger Vineyards but renamed in 2003 after being purchased by new owner Robb Bell.

The winery produces 26 various one-of-a-kind red wines annually sourced from expansive local vineyards in Oregon and Washington.

You can try samples in their tasting room for your visit and order what you like. Take a sip of your bet while you enjoy the splendid views.

The wine cellar stands atop a ridge that showcases a beautiful gorge overlook, with Mount Hood and Mount Adams towering from a distance.

Witness Salmon Swim at Bonneville Hatchery

Fish pens at Bonneville Hatchery
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A visit from September to October is perfect timing to witness the remarkable phenomenon of salmons swimming upstream at Bonneville Hatchery along NE Herman Loop.

This seasonal activity features salmons swimming back to the river from the oceans for spawning.

Rainbow trout at Bonneville Hatchery
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Bonneville Hatchery, which opened in 1909, is visited by millions of guests annually. It is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's largest and oldest facility with a diverse fish production program.

Trouts at Bonneville Hatchery
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Discover History at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum

Welcome sign of Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
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If you want to go in-depth in learning about the gorge, head to Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum for a day of history.

Located at Discovery Drive in The Dalles, the 54-acre center sits next to Columbia River. Going around the 48,200 square foot Discovery Center & Museum, you'll see interactive exhibits about the gorge's creation.

The discovery center opened in 1997, offering you exhibits of Ice Age animals, including a Columbian mammoth.

A cabin at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
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Another display of the first settlers in the area will give you an idea of how natives lived during their times.

It was even immortalized with a life-size wagon-raft braving the strong currents of the Columbia River.

Waterfall wall at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
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Hit Balls at Hood River Golf Course and Country Club

Golfers also have a place to unwind in the gorge at Hood River Golf Course and Country Club, located at Country Club Road.

Opened in 1923, this golf course is the oldest in town and one of the most frequented events places for locals.

The 300-acre well-manicured course features its first nine holes with Mt. Hood as the backdrop. On the other hand, the remaining nine offer panoramic views of nearby vineyards and farms.

If you and your family love golfing, you must try a day here to play and revel in nature's wonders surrounding the expansive ground.

Final Thoughts

Locals of Oregon both enjoy all that the Columbia River Gorge has to offer—a spectacular natural area, diverse water and outdoor activities, and exciting land experiences.

You will find something to do in this place, whether you want some thrilling hiking experiences or you want to lounge around vistas with freshly brewed craft beer on hand.

These best things to do in Columbia River Gorge will leave you in awe and make you want more wines, fruits, sights, and experiences.

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