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

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Welcome to my personal guide to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area!

This place has been my backyard for years, and I've spent countless weekends exploring its beautiful landscapes.

From the breathtaking views atop steep cliffs to the roar of cascading waterfalls, this area is a treasure trove of natural wonders.

I've had the privilege of watching the seasons change here, each bringing its own unique beauty.

Whether you're a seasoned hiker, a nature enthusiast, or simply someone looking for a serene getaway, this scenic area has something to offer.

I'm excited to share the best things to do in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

So, come along, and let's embark on an unforgettable journey in one of the Pacific Northwest's most stunning locations.

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the region for yourself.

Discover the Wildlife at Wilderness of Columbia River Gorge

Scenic views at Columbia River Gorge
ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com

Ever since I planted my roots here, the Columbia River Gorge has been my sanctuary.

The beauty of nature that unfolds in the form of this gorge is unparalleled, making every corner shine with its pristine and untouched beauty.

Our region prides itself on the cleanliness and preservation of the gorge.

It's a treasure we proudly protect and share with visitors.

At Columbia River Gorge, you're never short of things to do or sights to see.

There's a wildlife hub that brims with life, and the thick greenery that stretches as far as the eye takes you to a tranquil place.

Hiking trail at Columbia River Gorge
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

From hundreds of waterfalls that flow with an untamed spirit to the thousands of hiking trails that lead you through the heart of the wilderness, you're destined to discover an adventure.

One day, you might find yourself trekking through dense forests, carefully maneuvering around the flora and fauna.

Another day, you might find tranquility beside a peaceful waterfall, listening to the symphony of nature.

Every hike leads to an awe-inspiring scene, each unique but equally mesmerizing.

Waters of Columbia River Gorge
Mr. James Kelley / Shutterstock.com

Be Mesmerized with the Charm of Rowena Crest Viewpoint

Gorgeous sunrise at Rowena Crest Viewpoint
kan_khampanya / Shutterstock.com

Every time I feel the need to escape the humdrum of city life, I find myself drawn to the soothing embrace of nature at Rowena Crest Viewpoint.

Not just because it's only a stone's throw away from where I live but because it's genuinely one of Oregon's best-kept secrets.

Each visit unfolds like a new experience and leaves me richer in spirit and mind.

When you're up there, it's as if you have the entire Columbia River gorge in the palm of your hand.

The panoramic views are simply breathtaking, and trust me, no matter how many photos you've seen, they hardly do justice to its real-life splendor.

I've spent countless afternoons hiking along the trails, and no two hikes are ever the same.

The beauty of nature is always evolving, and it gives me great joy to witness that change.

Flowers at Rowena Crest Viewpoint
kan_khampanya / Shutterstock.com

One thing I love about this place is that even though it's quite popular among locals and tourists alike, it never feels crowded.

It's large enough to afford everyone their own private corner, making it a perfect spot for photo sessions or a serene meditation retreat.

My personal favorite time to visit Rowena Crest Viewpoint is early morning when the air is still crisp with the remnants of night and the rising sun paints the sky in hues of pink and orange.

But, no matter when you visit, you're sure to be treated to awe-inspiring vistas and a sense of tranquility that's hard to find elsewhere.

The cherry on top? There's ample free parking available, and you don't have to hike miles to get a good view.

Just a short stroll from your car, and you'll find yourself amidst picture-perfect views that stretch as far as the eye can see.

View of a road from Rowena Crest Viewpoint
ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com=

Get Inspired by Local Talent at the Art On Oak

I still remember the first time I stumbled upon the Art On Oak, located in the heart of downtown.

Right off the bat, I was in awe of the vast array of striking art pieces on display, all crafted by our very own local artisans.

Stepping inside felt like entering a treasure trove of creativity.

From intricate pieces of jewelry and aromatic handmade soaps to exquisitely painted canvases and beautifully molded potteries, this gallery is a feast for the senses.

What makes the experience even more splendid is that the gallery is staffed by the artists themselves.

Chatting with them, hearing the stories behind their creations, and witnessing their passion, simply adds to the charm of Art On Oak.

Not to mention, they offer metal art that can't easily be found elsewhere.

These pieces are simply mesmerizing, each one a testament to the artisans' skill and imagination.

One thing's for sure, every visit to the Art On Oak Gallery leaves me with a newfound appreciation for the talent that exists in our little town.

Whether you're looking for a unique gift or simply want to immerse yourself in local artistry, this gallery is the perfect place.

Chase Waterfalls at Multnomah Falls

Welcome sign of Multnomah Falls
Andrew Satre / Shutterstock.com

Did I ever tell you about the time I hiked in Multnomah Falls?

It's a well-known waterfall located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and it's as dramatic as it sounds.

Picture this – a majestic cascade falling from a great height with such power and beauty that it takes your breath away.

That's Multnomah Falls for you. The trail starts at the visitor's center, weaves its way past the observation platform, and shoots straight into the heart of the falls.

The bridge, situated about 200 feet up the trail, is an experience in itself.

Standing there, with the falls thundering below, you can feel the spray on your face.

It's an exhilarating feeling, like being a part of nature.

The rest of the hike up, it's medium to difficult, depending on how fit you feel that day.

But the view from the top? Unforgettable.

One of the many things I appreciate about Multnomah is the ample parking space.

People admiring the Multnomah Falls from a bridge
Christian Roberts-Olsen / Shutterstock.com

It's always a plus to be able to secure a spot without having to drive around endlessly.

And the facilities! Don't even get me started on the ice cream stand.

After a strenuous hike, there's nothing better than a cold cone to cool down.

But let me be honest, the falls is situated pretty close to the highway.

The constant hum of cars can be a little distracting, especially if you are looking for serene quiet.

There were times when I'd hear a loud train, and it kind of took away from the experience.

But you know what, the sheer beauty of the falls and the thrill of the hike more than make up for it.

And if you're not a fan of hiking, don't worry. You can always drive up, park near the camping area and take a leisurely 15-minute walk to the falls.

It's a great experience either way.

Looking down from Multnomah Falls
JBC Geomatics / Shutterstock.com

Take in the Stunning Sights at Crown Point State Scenic Corridor

Signage of Crown Point State Scenic Corridor
Thye-Wee Gn / Shutterstock.com

I've often found myself lost in the panoramic beauty of the mighty Columbia River, gazing out from the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor.

There's something almost magical about the way the river serenely flows, cradled by the surrounding valleys and mountain ranges.

Getting to this viewpoint is something of an adventure in itself, along a winding and scenic road that snakes its way up from the highway.

The journey is more than worth the effort, though. As you arrive, the first thing that strikes you is the incredible architecture of the visitor center.

It's completely done up in marble, right down to the bathrooms.

Inside, there's a bustling gift shop and a cozy coffee shop to unwind after your drive.

The grounds of Crown Point State Scenic Corridor
Irkins / Shutterstock.com

It can get somewhat crowded at times, but that's a small price to pay for the breathtaking views.

One of the highlights of my visit to Crown Point State Scenic Corridor is the glass entrance.

It reflects the beauty of the surrounding nature, creating a surreal gateway to this heaven on earth.

And once you step outside, the view is truly awe-inspiring.

It's a quick trip out from the city, but the memories you make here will definitely last a lifetime.

The views from Crown Point State Scenic Corridor
Dominic La Rondie / Shutterstock.com

Catch the Sunset at The Hook Waterfront

Ever had one of those peaceful evenings where you just want to unwind as the sun melts into the horizon, painting a perfect sunset silhouette?

That's what I get to enjoy at The Hook Waterfront every time.

A short drive from my house, and I’m at this idyllic location right in the heart of Hood River.

The panoramic view of the serene river and the lush greens surrounding it is alluring.

The Hook Waterfront is more than just a viewpoint; it's a hub of activities and relaxation.

The waterfront offers a generous amount of parking space, which is quite a relief.

The place can be breezy but isn't that part of the charm of any waterfront?

On less windy days, I often rent a standup paddleboard or a kayak from one of the local businesses on-site.

Paddling on the river is an exhilarating experience, especially when it's calm and quiet.

When the wind gods decide to show their might, The Hook turns into a windsurfer's paradise.

Trust me, watching these adrenaline junkies ride the wind is an experience in itself.

Besides, you can also take a windsurfing lesson if you're up for some adventure.

But today, it was one of those laid-back days.

Post a leisurely paddle around Wells Island, I was content just sitting in my van, soaking in the serene beauty that Hood River is famous for.

Walk Your Fido at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery

Daytime view of Bonneville Fish Hatchery
Tada Images / Shutterstock.com

You wouldn't believe the size of the sturgeon at the  Bonneville Fish Hatchery - they're absolutely massive!

Every time I go, I'm astounded by the sight of these gigantic creatures, but the little ones are equally fascinating — such a range from small trout to full-grown adult sizes.

The place is an unexpected oasis with its pristine bathrooms, refreshing drinking fountains, and free entry.

The last time I took my dog for a walk, we wandered into the well-kept grounds of the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.

The flowers and trees were in full bloom, creating a beautiful backdrop to the water habitats.

It has become one of our favorite spots for our morning and afternoon walks now.

If you get the chance to visit the tiny visitors center, do check out the informative video they have.

It’s more than 20 years old, but it's still a remarkable source of information about the hatchery’s spawning process.

I guarantee it'll leave you spellbound.

Oh, and did I mention the gift shop? It's as charming as it's loaded with a variety of items.

From little mementos to remember your visit by to useful fishing gear, there's something for everyone.

It's worth your visit, I assure you.

Take a Snap of the Majestic Mt. Hood

Scenic view of Mt. Hood
Stone / Shutterstock.com

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see is the mighty Mt. Hood, standing tall against the clear Oregon sky.

It's like an old, familiar friend greeting me every day.

Its snow-capped peak is a haven for winter sports enthusiasts who flock to its slopes for some exhilarating skiing.

Although I'm not much of a skier myself, witnessing the thrill-seekers zig-zagging down the icy slopes always sets my heart racing.

Summer is a completely different story.

The lush alpine meadows come alive with hikers and climbers, each one eager to conquer the towering volcano.

The marked trails are perfect for all levels of hikers, from the novices to the seasoned experts.

And the views! Oh, they are to die for.

The panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscape from the summit are utterly breathtaking, making every step of the strenuous climb worth it.

But you don't have to be an adventurer to appreciate the beauty of Mt. Hood.

Nestled amidst this natural splendor is the historic Timberline Lodge, a rustic retreat that offers a cozy sanctuary after a long day of exploration.

Its old-world charm and warm hospitality add to the overall allure of the mountain.

Sample the Exquisite Wines at Cathedral Ridge Winery

Every town has its own gem that the locals hold dear to their hearts, and in my town, it's the exceptional Cathedral Ridge Winery.

Nestled in our little corner of the world, it's where I find tranquility wrapped in a bottle of my favorite Chardonnay.

The staff at the winery has always been welcoming, making my visits feel like a homecoming of sorts.

Our conversations, often laced with laughter, heighten the charm of the rustic vineyard setting.

No visit to Cathedral Ridge Winery is complete without savoring their diverse selection of wines.

Over time, I have developed a fondness for the Last Best Wife and the Chardonnay - tasting them is an experience in itself.

At my dinner parties, these two wines often steal the limelight, leaving my guests asking for more.

The winery also treats us patrons to unforgettable views of the surrounding landscape.

Between the rolling vines and the distant sight of Mt Hood, there is a different kind of serenity that envelopes you.

It's an added bonus for those post-hike afternoons when you're just looking to unwind.

The Cathedral Ridge Winery is not just for wine lovers.

It's a place that warmly welcomes everyone, even dogs.

There's a dedicated area for pets, making it a balanced space for both dog owners and non-dog-owning patrons.

Cross the Iconic Bridge of the Gods

Side view of  Bridge of the Gods
treiff / Shutterstock.com

I wake up every morning to the sight of the Bridge of the Gods, an iconic Columbia River toll bridge that has been a part of my daily life since I can remember.

This bridge, stretching an impressive 1,858 feet, has stood like a sentinel since 1926, serving as an essential link for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians.

I've crossed this bridge more times than I can count, whether on foot to enjoy the stunning views of the Columbia River or in my car, heading out to work or running errands.

I've seen the bridge change with the seasons, each lending a different hue to its majesty.

But the most exciting time is when the annual Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon takes place.

The whole town buzzes with energy, and seeing runners crossing this historic bridge is a sight to behold.

The area around the bridge is just as enthralling.

Road of Bridge of the Gods
Rigucci / Shutterstock.com

The town's center, located near the post office, has a friendly, small-town charm.

The public restrooms even have a shower for hikers tackling the Pacific Crest Trail, which cuts right through our town.

There are frequent fun runs and local vendors who bring the freshest salmon and fruits.

We also have some quaint little coffee shops. The best one, surprisingly, is a small Shell station that serves a mean cup of joe.

Far view of Bridge of the Gods
Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / Shutterstock.com

Stroll along Indian Creek Trail - Hazel Avenue Trailhead

Fall scene at Indian Creek Trail
Gary Gilardi / Shutterstock.com

One of my cherished pastimes is embracing the beauty of Hood River, in particular, the Indian Creek Trail - Hazel Avenue Trailhead.

The trail is a treasure trove of nature’s finest display, making each run a rejuvenating experience, a gift we should never take for granted.

Indian Creek Trail - Hazel Avenue Trailhead continues to be a cherished spot for me and my kids.

My young ones, ages four and five, find endless delight in our walks along the trail.

We typically start at the Hazel Street entrance and walk all the way to Dutch, where a treat always awaits us before we head back.

It's during these walks that we occasionally encounter dogs without leashes.

Thankfully, we've never had any issues with them.

Enjoy a Pint at Thunder Island Brewing Co.

Ah, the joy of living in the heart of the Columbia Gorge!

There's nothing like soaking in the picturesque beauty of the place, especially at the Thunder Island Brewing Co.

If you ever find yourself here, be sure to check this place out.

Thunder Island Brewing Co. the perfect spot for a laid-back afternoon, especially when you snag a table out on the balcony.

With the sun shining down, you'll find yourself losing track of time, enjoying a flight of beer tasters before settling on a pint of cold beer.

I'd recommend having it with their chili cheese fries - a perfect pairing if you ask me.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Have a Picnic by Starvation Creek Falls

Far view of Starvation Creek Falls
Gary Gilardi / Shutterstock.com

A simple splash of water sliding down a rocky hillside can take a breath away, right?

That's what Starvation Creek Falls does to me every time.

Nestled in the heart of Oregon, this waterfall is a sanctuary for nature lovers like myself.

The journey to the falls is an adventure. A wet climb up the creek leads to the base, revealing a sight worth every step.

The climb may be a little uncomfortable due to the sharp basalt, but the falls' distant views make it all worthwhile.

The beauty of Starvation Creek Falls extends beyond just the waterfall.

With a short walk from the parking lot through a paved pathway, you come face to face with this unbelievable spectacle.

It's the perfect quick pit stop during a road trip - a break from the monotony of driving.

But Starvation Creek Falls is not just a pit stop. It's a full-fledged destination in itself.

The waters of Starvation Creek Falls
Thye-Wee Gn / Shutterstock.com

The area around it is well-equipped for a leisurely picnic or lunch date.

Picture this: a relaxed lunch at the base of one of the most beautiful waterfalls, with the sound of cascading water for company.

Now, isn't that a picture-perfect date?

Another highlight is the short hike around the falls.

Within walking distance, there are several other waterfalls to explore, each with its own charm.

And don't worry about the facilities; there are clean restrooms available and a picnic area for your convenience.

Hike towards Cabin Creek Falls

The waters of Cabin Creek Falls
Gary Gilardi / Shutterstock.com

The first glimpse I got of Cabin Creek Falls, it took my breath away. It was on one of those misty mornings, the kind that softly blurs the boundary between the sky and the earth.

The trail to the falls is a dreamy half-mile walk from the parking lot, a true hiker's delight.

The path is clearly marked, and the journey is rewarding.

The sight of the breathtaking waterfall, much taller in real life than photos could ever replicate, is worth every step.

The waterfall's flow is optimal during the rainy season, but it has a unique allure all year round.

The cool, refreshing mist that the waterfall casts is a soothing balm on a summer's day.

Beside it, a fascinating rock formation stands tall, adding a touch of the surreal to the whole panorama.

The serenity of the place is all-enveloping, and one cannot help but lose themselves in the beauty of nature.

It's not just Cabin Creek Falls that makes this a popular destination; the facilities are also commendable.

There's a convenient parking lot a short distance away, with bathrooms available for visitors.

It's a great spot for families, hikers, and nature enthusiasts alike.

Have a Tee Time at Hood River Golf Course

If you ever have the itch to swing a golf club in the heart of nature, look no further than Hood River Golf Course.

I find myself drawn to this gem nestled in the greenery practically every other day if not more.

It's not just about swinging and putting, though, it's the whole experience.

The affordability, the absence of overcrowding, and the high standard of maintenance - all contribute to the course's charm.

The management is no-nonsense, and straightforward and reciprocates the respect they are shown; they appreciate those who abide by golf etiquette, which makes the environment friendly and welcoming.

Now, let me talk about what sets this place apart - the unbelievable views.

It's like taking a scenic tour while playing golf. The magnificent sight of Mt. Hood in the backdrop is just something you don't get everywhere. And then there's the course itself.

The back 9, let's just say it's a challenge that makes you keep coming back for more. It's brutal yet fun!

Hood River Golf Course isn't your typical fancy golf course, but the charming atmosphere and friendly employees more than makeup for it.

Snap Mementos of the Majestic Wahkeena Falls

Scenic view of Wahkeena Falls
Dusty Roads / Shutterstock.com

There's nothing quite like the sense of tranquility and awe I feel when standing at the base of the extraordinary 242-foot Wahkeena Falls.

Nestled along the Historic Columbia River Highway, it's a slice of paradise tucked away on the outskirts of bustling city life.

A hike here is like stepping into a different world, one filled with the sounds of rushing water and the scent of fresh, unpolluted air.

The Wahkeena Falls trail is something I am lucky enough to experience often.

It's a great escape on the weekends, perfect for a morning workout or a leisurely afternoon stroll.

The trails wind up and around, offering different vantage points of the waterfall.

But be warned: not all trails are well marked, so don't forget to bring a map or use a GPS.

The trek to Wahkeena Falls offers a blend of easy and moderate difficulties.

The waters of Wahkeena Falls
Panpilas L / Shutterstock.com

Personally, I enjoy the 5-mile route from Wahkeena Falls to the majestic Multnomah Falls.

It's a route I think everyone should take. It's best to start early in the morning, around 8 AM, as the parking area tends to fill up quite fast.

On quieter days, I enjoy a simpler pleasure: standing close to the breathtaking waterfall and capturing the beauty of nature with my camera.

It's a sight that never fails to enchant me.

If you're up for a more extended hike, the trail doesn't disappoint.

Go Camping at Ainsworth State Park

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

Let me tell you about my favorite weekend hangout - Ainsworth State Park.

Nestled on 180 acres of nature's bounty, it offers a perfect mix of tranquility and thrill for an outdoor lover like me.

To get a more detailed overview, check out Ainsworth State Park.

Every time I visit, I find something new to marvel at.

The cascading waterfalls are an absolute treat to the eyes, especially in the spring when the snow melt swells the streams.

And then there's the view of St. Peter's Dome, a sight so majestic it leaves me speechless every time.

The park also boasts some of the best hiking trails in the area.

On a clear day, I love to hike up to the top of the falls.

It's pretty steep, but the view at the top is worth every bit of the effort.

Once you reach the top, there's a beautiful lounge area where you can rest and soak in the vista.

Ainsworth is also a camper's paradise.

The facilities are top-notch, with flushing toilets, hot showers, and full hook-up sites.

The only downside? The noise from the interstate and the occasional train.

But trust me, once you get used to it, it's not that bothersome.

Oh, and remember to pack a good mosquito repellent - the bugs can be a bit of a nuisance.

Discover Local History at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum

Welcome sign of Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
Victoria Ditkovsky / Shutterstock.com

I find myself frequently driving over to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum, a place where history is vividly brought to life with incredibly detailed exhibits.

The experience feels like a journey, stepping back in time and exploring from a number of different angles.

The historical representation doesn't shy away from the hard truths but presents them in a way that's insightful.

I've found the staff to be friendly and quite helpful. And they house two permanent residents - bald eagles, that always draw my attention.

Within the museum, you'll find a unique blend of history and art.

From stories of the indigenous people to the early explorers, the exhibits are artistically inclusive.

Striking a balance between education and entertainment, there's always something new to discover here.

A cabin at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
T.Schofield / Shutterstock.com

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is not just about history and exhibits.

Nestled in the grandeur of the Columbia Gorge, the views outside are nothing short of spectacular.

The landscape alone is worth a visit.

Sitting outside, feeling the breezes off the river, and taking in the jaw-dropping scenery has become one of my favorite pastimes.

Waterfall wall at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
T.Schofield / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Living amidst the natural splendor of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is an experience that fills my heart with gratitude every day.

From the roaring waterfalls and the tranquil beauty of Mt Hood to the rich history displayed at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum, there's always a new adventure to embark on.

Every day brings a new opportunity to explore, learn, and appreciate the world around us. And for that, I consider myself truly fortunate.

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