Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge (courtesy, Oregon Parks and Recreation)

Five spectacular wildernesses are within or just outside the Gorge—Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Indian Heaven, Trapper Creek, and Columbia. Surrounded by a Ring of Fire, you can visit the Mt. St. Helens volcano, which blew its top back in 1980. Gas, food, and lodging can be found in numerous towns along the Gorge including Skamania, Cascade Locks, Hood River, White Salmon, and Biggs. The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular river canyon cutting through the volcanic rock of the Cascade Mountain Range. As the only sea-level river flowing through the Cascades, the Columbia is both a natural wonder and an important transportation corridor. Home to 40,000 people, it contains industries, businesses, cities, farms, and schools. Yet despite this development, five spectacular wildernesses are within or just outside the Gorge—Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Indian Heaven, Trapper Creek, or Columbia.

For views of the Columbia River Gorge, you can't beat a scenic drive or bike tour along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Set up your tripod at the Portland Women's Forum State Park, a spectacular shutter-snapping spot. Just east, Vista House Crown Point provides a windy but unforgettable view. Get a different feel of the Gorge with a stop at Beacon Rock and Cape Horn for a breathtaking view of the Gorge from the north side of the river.

Hike one of the waterfall trails along the Historic Columbia River Highway, then sink into comforters and linen at one of the many bed and breakfasts in the Gorge. There are a total of 77 falls along the Oregon side of the Gorge alone! If cool night air appeals to you, there are many campgrounds in the area.

To view wildflowers, explore Larch Mountain, Cape Horn, or look along roadsides and trails from Starvation Creek to Mitchell Point. Cool, moist nooks and crannies along the Oregon side shelter hanging gardens misted by waterfalls. Fifteen wildflowers species are "endemic"—found only in the Gorge. Dog Mountain, east of Home Valley, Washington, is a great destination for the Balsamroot display of brilliant yellow flowers. The dry windswept clifftop of Rowena Plateau surrounds you with both crayon-bright wildflowers and the panorama of the eastern gorge. Check with ranger stations, since the timing of peak flower displays changes from year to year.

For the best picnicking break out the potato salad at Eagle Creek Picnic Area, Larch Mountain, Lost Lake, Rainy Lake, Waihkeena Fails, or Tamanawas Falls in Oregon, or Government Mineral Springs, Trout Creek, or Ice Caves, on the Washington side.

For the best huckleberry picking, take your huckleberry baskets to Larch Mountain, Indian Springs, or Rainy Lake in Oregon, or scoot across the river to Mowich Butte or Lookout Mountain in Washington. The huckleberry is a small, succulent cousin of the blueberry whose sweetness elicits thoughts of steaming huckleberry pie, pancakes, and ice cream.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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