The Bend Bulletin has a proposed itinerary for Gorge exploration that takes in both Oregon and Washington shores between Troutdale on the Western edge and The Dallas, OR and Maryhill, WA, on the East end.
The loop is about 200 miles and could be driven in one day, but the indoor and outdoor attractions, natural and historic sites, make a multi-day trip a good option. Travel along the historic highway through Multnomah Falls, past Cascade Locks, Hood River and The Dallas, about 80 miles from Portland.
The Dallas Bridge crosses to the Washington side, enabling you to travel back on SR-14, passing Lyle, Bingen, White Salmon, Carson, Stevenson and Beacon Rock. The Bridge of the Gods, near Stevenson, WA, crosses back to Oregon and Cascade Locks. Interstate 84 can take you back to Portland.
The historic highway begins (or ends) at the Sandy River Bridge. Troutdale, the gateway town, is home to Edgefield, a resurrected “poor farm” that has become part of the extensive McMenamins hospitality-industry holdings.
– First stop is Chanticleer Point (Portland Women’s Forum), a mile east of Vista House. Takes in a breathtaking 30 mile view of river and the Gorge, formed some 10,000 years ago when the last ice age receded, then go a few miles west to Vista House. The octagonal, deco-style structure was built 733 feet above the river in 1917 as a memorial to Oregon pioneers.It is the centerpiece of Crown Point State Park.
You can also leave I-84 at Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35) to follow the Historic Columbia River Highway along Oregon’s most impressive stretch of waterfalls. You’ll first pass 176-foot Horsetail Falls, followed within 8 miles by Multnomah, Wahkeena, Bridal Veil and Shepperd’s Dell falls. Some require short hikes; be especially careful in winter for icy spots on the trails.
Multnomah Falls draws almost 2 million visitors a year. Many to the Benson Footbridge, which crosses the cataract between its upper (542-foot) and lower (69-foot) plunges. At the foot of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, built in 1925. The second-highest year-round falls (after California’s Yosemite) in the United States, Multnomah Falls is easily reached off I-84 at Exit 31, for those who choose not to drive the historic highway.
Continue west on I-84 to the town of Cascade Locks. Their historic paddle-wheeler offers summer river cruises maintains a winter home in Portland, but an impressive bronze sculpture of Lewis and Clark’s native guide, Sacagawea, papoose on her back, stands in the surrounding park. Its sculptor, Heather Soderberg, has a gallery and studio in the heart of town.
Moviegoers who saw 2014’s “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, might recognize the Bridge of the Gods as the place where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia. Named for a Klickitat Indian legend, it stands a few miles upriver of the Bonneville Dam, whose visitor complex provides an education in hydroelectric technology.
Cross the river on the Bridge of the Gods, to check out the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, a stone’s throw from the Skamania Lodge. History displays range across the original Chinook Indian culture, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the development of pioneer communities here. In the Grand Gallery, which recalls the early timber, fishing and transportation industries, exhibits include a 1880s fish wheel, a 1917 biplane and a steam engine from a pioneer sawmill. A collection of rosaries, thought to be the largest of its kind in the world, features one used by President John F. Kennedy. Stevenson, a couple of miles from the lodge, is a busy little town with several good, casual restaurants.
A few miles east and north, up the Wind River, is tiny Carson with its natural hot springs.There are two resorts here, both under the same management. Natural mineral waters, seeping from ancient Mount St. Helens lava flows, feed the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa and the Carson Hot Springs Golf & Spa Resort. Bonneville has a heated mineral pool and indoor and outdoor hot tubs. Carson, by far the more rustic, has a bathhouse beside the 1923 Hotel St. Martin, where visitors simply soak solo in a bathtub.
On up the Oregon side, past Cascade Locks, is Hood River. A new riverfront redevelopment area is located near prime windsurfing and kiteboarding launch areas. The Hood River Waterfront Business Park is already home to a highly regarded brewpub (Pfriem Family Brewers) and distillery (Camp 1805), both of which also serve food, along with the Solstice Wood Fire Cafe, which relocated its pizza ovens from downtown.
Downtown Hood River, a mile uphill, remains the best place for shopping, with several square blocks of eclectic shops. It also has more than its share of winery tasting rooms and brewpubs, among them Full Sail and Double Mountain.
The Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum is a big draw. Located south of town in three large hangars beside the Ken Jernstedt Airfield, this museum displays more than 100 old planes, more than 130 classic cars, dozens of motorcycles, military Jeeps and other vehicles — almost all of them in full operating condition.
Opened in 2007 and twice expanded, WAAAM offers demonstrations and special exhibits throughout the year, even including Model T driving classes. And there’s a special children’s area where kids can climb aboard vehicles made of recycled items.
Two fine places to dine in Hood River are the modern Celilo Restaurant & Bar, on a downtown street corner, and Stonehedge Gardens, concealed in wooded grounds on the west side of town. There’s no argument about the finest lodging: The Columbia Gorge Hotel has stood atop a bluff overlooking the river since 1921.
Near the end of this Gorge journey is the city of The Dalles which features dozens of historic sites, beginning with memories of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which came through in 1805 and 1806. A campsite dubbed the “Rock Fort,” just off West First Street, is marked with a set of interpretive signs; farther down the city’s 10-mile Riverfront Trail, at Klindt Cove, native fishing platforms stand near the riverbank much as they might have appeared two centuries ago. Even the nets remain.
The Dalles Dam Visitor Center is on the Oregon side of the Columbia. Join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers with an eye on the eagles. During the fifth annual Dam Eagle Watch, scheduled 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 24, spotting scopes and binoculars will be made available to those who attend films and lectures in the dam’s theater.
The first U.S. Army fort was built in 1850, overlooking the Columbia River on a north-facing hillside. The Gothic Revival quarters of its surgeon were added in 1856, and today, this building is the oldest surviving structure in the city. It’s at the heart of the Fort Dalles Museum, which opened in 1905 as Oregon’s oldest history museum. (Winter visitors can phone for an appointment.) The Dalles grew up at the foot of the old fort. In 1854, the town was designated as the seat of government for Wasco County, the largest U.S. county ever created: It spread across 130,000 square miles, from the Cascade crest to the Continental Divide at present-day Yellowstone National Park.
When Oregon became a state in 1859, Wasco County was reduced to the area that now comprises all of eastern Oregon, including Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties. The original county courthouse (built in 1858) still stands just west of downtown.
Nearly 70 historic commercial buildings, more than two dozen from the 1800s, remain today in The Dalles National Historic District. The tallest is Old St. Peter’s Landmark, built as a Catholic church in 1897 and saved from demolition in 1971 by a citizen preservation group. The Gothic, red-brick church, whose steeple rises 176 feet into the sky, was a benchmark for steamboat captains traveling the Columbia River in the early 1900s.
Today, windturbines on either side of the gorge generate more power than the might hydro electric dams.
Other locations with their own histories include the Sunshine Mill and Klindt’s Bookstore. The former, once the steam-powered, 19th-century Sunshine Biscuit Mill, has been revitalized as a boutique winery. The latter is Oregon’s oldest bookstore, having had three owners in the 144 years since it opened in 1870. Throughout downtown, colorful murals depict numerous chapters of The Dalles’ history.
Biggs Junction, where U.S. Highway 97 crosses Interstate 84 and the Columbia River brings you to the small community of Maryhill, WA, several miles below the John Day Dam. Climb the hill, glance to your right (upriver) and, atop a nearby bluff, you’ll see Stonehenge.
Modeled after the Neolithic druid site in England, the memorial was built by businessman Sam Hill between 1918 and 1929, honoring World War I soldiers and dedicated to the casualties of the war. Its concentric circles of massive “stones,” 108 feet in diameter and rising as high as 25 feet, were built not of rock, but of reinforced concrete and crumpled tin.
Four miles downriver, Hill built a three-story Beaux-Arts manor 900 feet above the river. Today it is the Maryhill Museum of Art, featuring collections donated by Queen Marie of Romania (Orthodox icons and royal Romanian regalia), modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller of Paris (Auguste Rodin sculptures) and sugar heiress Alma de Bretteville Spreckles of San Francisco (European and American oil paintings and post-World War II fashions). A $10 million expansion of the museum was completed in April 2012. Surrounded by 26 acres of gardens, the museum reopens in mid-March after a winter closure.
One of the Northwest’s largest wineries is the Maryhill Winery, a mile and a half farther along Washington State Route 14.
Well-known for its summer concert series (the 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater is vacant in winter), this destination winery has an expansive tasting room, a broad arbor-covered patio and picnic grounds. Request a tour: The barrel room is an impressive sight, with as many as 4,000 barrels of French, Hungarian and American oak stacked one atop another, aging the numerous vintages.
The Columbia River Gorge National Recreation Area was established in 1986. A worthwhile diversion is Columbia Hills State Park at Horsethief Lake. When Celilo Falls, a famed Native American fishing ground and rendezvous location, was submerged by The Dalles Dam in 1957, so too were hundreds of sacred petroglyphs. Many of these rock etchings, depicting tribal legends and hunting scenes, were rescued and moved to this park in 2004, 6 miles upstream from the dam.
According to anthropologists, Celilo was continuously inhabited for more than 10,000 years before it was erased by the dam. Another ancient Native American village stood at Wishram, 3 miles west of the Maryhill Winery.
The village here today was built around a railroad siding, and a 1923 steam locomotive in the community park is its pride and joy. The freight trains that continue to pass through town can be seen from miles away, snaking around the curves of the river within sight of snow-covered Mount Hood.
About 26 miles from Maryhill, Route 14 descends into tiny Lyle, its charming hotel just refurbished under new ownership. Bald eagles gather in January and February to feed on steelhead near the mouth of the nearby Klickitat River. Take a ¾-mile hike on a paved loop trail at Balfour-Klickitat Day Use Park to see dozens perched in trees above the river.
West of the Discovery Center, in The Dallas, the Historic Columbia River Highway — built between 1913 and 1922, and the principal route upriver from Portland until I-84 opened in 1963 — begins its ascent toward the Tom McCall Preserve.
There are some great viewpoints in this area, known for its spring wildflowers; but for some, a bigger highlight is driving the Rowena Loops. These graceful curves rise dramatically to the Rowena Crest Overlook before descending through thriving orchards to Mosier, where you can pick up I-84 for the final 5 miles into Hood River, then back though Cascade Locks and home.