Surrounded by towering basalt cliffs, lush forests and snow-capped mountains, the Columbia River Gorge is a nature lover’s paradise. Add in the wide array of outdoor recreation and destination-worthy dining, and you’ll barely scratch the surface of all your options during a week’s stay.
With the big, wide Columbia River flowing between Oregon and Washington, it’s no surprise water sports are the biggest draw. Fishing guides take anglers out on the river for sturgeon, steelhead and salmon; or they head to one of the many lakes and tributaries on both sides of the state line for trout, bass and spring chinook.
Image by Gorgeus Photography
The mighty Columbia offers a variety of water sports to Hood River-area visitors: reliably steady winds attract windsurfers to Hood River
Sporty types make a beeline for the beachy sand bar in Hood River, Oregon, where you can splash in the shallows or launch a board—whether for windsurfing, kiteboarding or stand-up paddleboarding. The near constant winds at this spot on the Columbia has earned it the moniker “Windsurfing Capital of the World.” Still a newbie? A slew of shops offer lessons and rentals.
On the Washington side of the border, the White Salmon and Klickitat rivers boast miles of class II–V rapids, perfect for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Several outfitters, such as Wet Planet, offer daylong adventures.
If you prefer a gentle spray rather than a complete soak, the shadier Oregon side is waterfall alley. In fact, the region has the highest concentration of waterfalls in the nation. Visit the Friends of the Columbia Gorge website (gorgefriends.org) and choose from the dozens of hiking trails that take you up close and personal, whether it’s the easy paved path to famed Multnomah Falls or the Lower Oneonta Trail, which takes you scrambling over logs and wading waist-deep in water—an excellent choice on hot summer days.
Aside from strapping on a harness and climbing the cliffs at Beacon Rock State Park (or hiking up the steep switchbacks), one of the best ways to soak in the stunning Gorge views is via bike, particularly along Oregon’s old Historic Columbia River Highway, the country’s first national scenic highway. The flat, car-free, 4.5-mile leg from Hood River to Mosier is easy enough for kids. There are also excellent single-track trails for mountain bikers (check out Ride Oregon—rideoregonride.com—for a trail list). Post Canyon is a favorite among locals, who often build wooden features for doing stunts, to keep things interesting.
Image by Skamania Lodge
Waterfalls, including the Multnomah Falls, are a draw on the Oregon side of the Columbia
No matter how wild your Gorge adventures get, you’re never far from excellent pizza and beer. The towns of Stevenson and White Salmon are the best bets for great food on the Washington side of the Columbia, from upscale dining (and lodging) at Skamania Lodge to the pub fare and quenching ales at Everybody’s Brewing. But Oregon’s boutique-studded, picturesque Hood River is the region’s main attraction. Grab breakfast or a picnic lunch at Pine Street Bakery, owned by a scion of the Grand Central Bakery family. Or tuck into Scandinavian aebleskiver at Broder Øst. The offshoot of one of Portland’s most popular brunch spots, it’s tucked into the ground floor of the pet- and family-friendly historic Hood River Hotel, centrally located downtown.
At lunch or dinner, take a beer crawl through the town’s half dozen breweries, including Full Sail, Double Mountain and two award-winning Belgian-focused spots: Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and Pfriem.
Wine lovers will find an excellent bottle list complementing the upscale, seasonal dishes at Celilo Restaurant and Bar. Better yet, go online to Columbia Gorge Winegrowers (columbiagorgewine.com) and put together a wine-tasting itinerary. Some wineries can be found along Hood River County’s “Fruit Loop,” a 35-mile scenic road dotted with bucolic farm stands and orchards. But that’s just the beginning. Dozens of grape varieties thrive throughout this region, from cool-weather Pinot Noir to heat-seeking Syrah, thanks to how drastically the climate changes as you move east, getting hotter and drier.
Image by Hood River Chamber of Commerce
Farms dot the area which is also known for its ample produce, orchards and wineries
If camping isn’t a dirty word, the quietest places to pitch a tent are on the Washington side, up in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and away from the rumble of the highway. But if you want to stay closer to the amenities of Hood River, Wyeth (U.S. Forest Service) and Viento (Oregon State Park) campgrounds are just a short drive away and relatively quiet. One of the crown jewels, however, is 25 miles away at Lost Lake, with its spectacular views of majestic Mount Hood, boat rentals and a general store.
The city of Hood River and the Columbia Gorge area are on the Washington/Oregon border and are about a three-hour and 40-minute drive from Seattle.
Pack a picnic and head to Hood River’s kid-friendly Waterfront Park (hoodriverwaterfront.org), where you can watch windsurfers jumping the waves by the dozens. Try to time your visit to coincide with the Fruit Loop’s Cherry Days Celebration (hoodriverfruitloop.com) in July, when farm stands on the Fruit Loop offer special food, drinks and entertainment.
Hood River Hotel hoodriverhotel.com
Skamania Lodge $170–$285/night Stevenson, destinationhotels.com/Skamania
Wyeth Campground, Cascade LocksOregon, recreation.gov
Viento State Park Campground, Cascade Locks Oregon, oregonstateparks.org
Lost Lake Campground, Hood River Oregon, lostlakeresort.org
Eat and drink (In Hood River unless otherwise noted)
Pine Street Bakery pinestreetbakery.com
Broder Øst brodereast.com
Everybody’s Brewing White Salmon, everybodysbrewing.com
Full Sail Brewing Co. fullsailbrewing.com
Double Mountain Brewery doublemountainbrewery.com
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales farmhousebeer.com
Pfriem Family Brewers pfriembeer.com
Celilo Restaurant and Bar celilorestaurant.com
Wine tasting columbiagorgewine.com
Kiteboarding, windsurfing, SUP portofhoodriver.com/waterfront-recreation/general-info
Rock climbing the-columbia-river-gorge.com/category/rock-climbing
Biking/Single Track Trails hoodriver.org/bicycle-itineraries; rideoregonride.com
Fruit Loop hoodriverfruitloop.com