Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

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Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
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  • Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the far west end of the Columbia River Gorge NSA with Mount Hood (11,250') in the distance.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Sandy River Delta "Thousand Acre Dog Park" at the confluence of the Sandy and Columbia River.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • The view from the Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint looking towards the Crown Point Vista House.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Viewpoint along the Cape Horn Lower Trail.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Cape Horn Loop Trail: View of the Columbia River Gorge from Nancy Russel Overlook.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Beacon Rock, Southeast Face, Pitch 1.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Oneonta Gorge: View on top of the log jam.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Pacific Crest Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Latourell Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Pacific giant salamander (Dicamptodontidae), common in the Columbia River Gorge.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Bridal Veil Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) on the Rock of Ages Loop.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Larch Mountain Trail: Weisendanger Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • McCord Creek below Elowah Falls during the winter months.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Barrett's penstemon (Penstemon barrettiae), an endemic wildflower of the Columbia River Gorge.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Morning clouds down the Columbia River Gorge from Munra Point.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Munra Point Hike.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Kayaking Wind River: The third drop is smoother than it looks- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Wahclella Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • View of Bonneville Lock and Dam from Aldrich Butte's summit.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Spirit Falls, Little White Salmon River.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Indian pipe or "ghost plant" (Monotropa uniflora). A rare species in the Columbia River Gorge.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • From Little Hamiilton Mountain you'll enjoy some of the best views of the Columbia River Gorge to the west and east.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • A view of Mount Hood (11,250') from Larch Mountain's summit.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Mount Adams (12,280') from Larch Mountain's summit.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Indian paintbrush (Castilleja).- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Wahtum Lake.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Ponytail Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Middle Oneonta Falls- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Beach Rock State Park Group Campground picnic shelter.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Native orchid fairyslipper (Calypso bulbosa).- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • View of Beacon Rock and marina at Beacon Rock State Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Ainsworth State Park Campground: Typical campsites, all equiped for full RV hook-up (electric, sewer and water).- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • The view west from Wauna Point.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Dog Mountain Hike with a view of Mount St. Helens in the distance.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Viento State Park Campground.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Viento State Park's day use area.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • The beach area at Hood River Watefront Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Government Cove.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • The Spit in Hood River.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • View of the Columbia River from The Spit.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Kite surfers on The Spit in Hood River, Oregon.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Mount Defiance Hike: View from the summit.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Mountain biker on the top of Cascade Locks Mountain Bike Trails.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Looking up toward Tom McCall Point over the Historic Columbia River Highway.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Looking west at the Columbia River from the Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Catherine Creek Hike: Viewing looking east over Columbia River- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Mayer State Park: View looking east across the Columbia River from the day use area.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Klickitat Trail via the Lyle Trailhead: A view of the Klickitat River from the pedestrian bridge.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Campsite along the Klickitat River.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Coyote Wall Hike: View over the Columbia River Gorge.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Mosier Plateau Trail: Coyote Wall across the Columbia River.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Columbia Hills Historical State Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Pioneer cemetery at Columbia Hills Historical State Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Salvaged petroglyphs at Columbia Hills Historical State Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Rock climbers at Horsethief in Columbia Hills Historical State Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • View west to Mount Hood (11,249 ft) from Dalles Mountain Road on the east end of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Lower Deschutes River on the far eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Ponytail (Upper Horsetail) Falls surrounded by autumn colors.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Sun rays cut through the mist from Punchbowl Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Fairy Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Spirit Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Upper Bridal Veil Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Emerald Falls on Gorton Creek.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Footbridge over Gorton Creek, Wyeth State Park.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Emerald Falls on Gorton Creek.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Upper Bridal Veil Falls.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Sunrise on Rowena Crest.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Morning light over balsamroot and lupine on Rowena Crest.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • A rainbow on Rowena Crest with balsamroot and lupine.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Vehicles driving a windy section of the historic Columbia River Highway below Rowena Crest.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • The nicknamed, Mossy Grotto Falls on Ruckel Creek.- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Largest National Scenic Area in U.S. Countless waterfalls. Broad and diverse gorge.
Cons: 
Notoriously icy roads and wind during winter months.
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Region:
Columbia River Gorge, OR
Congestion: 
High
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
Not Required
Picnic Tables: 
Yes
Area: 
292,500.00 acres (118,370.95 hectares)
Dogs allowed: 
Yes
Current Local Weather:
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Sat

Partly cloudy in the morning.
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Mon

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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Team

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Overview | Hiking | Rock Climbing | Mountain Biking | Windsurfing + Kitesurfing | Kayaking + Whitewater Rafting | Wildlife Viewing | Fishing | Swimming Holes + Beaches | Campgrounds + Lodging

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Overview

West End: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Map.

 

East End: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Map.

 

Collecting water from as far east as the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide in both the United States and Canada, the Columbia River discharges more water into the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North or South America. This massive river has cut a narrow channel directly through the Cascade Range, a nearly 600-mile chain of volcanic peaks, in order to reach the Pacific. Sculpted by tremendous geological events such as the Missoula Floods, cataclysmic floods at the end of the last ice age that exposed the area's basalt layers, the Columbia River Gorge stretches roughly 80 miles from east to west, up to 10 miles from north to south, and measures up to 4,000 feet deep.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was created in 1986 to protect the natural beauty of the Gorge. It includes both public and private land in Oregon and Washington with countless stakeholders, and it is by far the nation's most extensive National Scenic Area. Managed by the Forest Service and the Columbia River Gorge Commission, it extends 83 miles from the confluence of the Sandy River to the Deschutes River on the east side and encompasses 292,500 acres.

The Columbia River Gorge is perhaps best known for its dramatically chiseled walls, but one of the features that makes this area so unique is the stark contrast in annual precipitation between the western to eastern ends. While areas in the west end of the Gorge may receive up to 100 inches of rain annually, the east end may receive as little as 10 inches annually. This contrast is manifested in the old-growth forests and waterfalls that dominate the western portion of the Gorge and the wildflower-filled golden hills that unfold in the eastern portions. In fact, the pounding rains on the western side of the Gorge have created one of the densest concentrations of waterfalls on earth.

For those visiting from afar and those who live in the region, the Columbia River Gorge is a recreational mecca. Not only are there dozens of hikes to waterfalls, prominent peaks, and wildflower meadows, the Gorge is renowned for world-class windsurfing and kitesurfing that is fueled by the sustained winds. There are also plenty of boat ramps for salmon and sturgeon fishing, mountain biking trails (particularly on the east side), kayaking, wildlife viewing areas, beaches, swimming holes, state parks, roadside viewpoints, and numerous campgrounds and lodges to spend the night.

To get started, every first visit in the Columbia River Gorge ought to start on the Historic Columbia River Highway with a stop at the Portland Women's Forum and the Crown Point Vista House. The highway, built between 1913 and 1922, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being a National Historic Landmark. The intermittently connected scenic highway parallels I-84 on the Oregon side of the Gorge. It passes some of the most prominent waterfalls (Latourell, Bridal Veil, Wahkeena, Multnomah, and Horsetail) on the west side and wraps around the Mosier Plateau on the Gorge's east end.

Hiking

Hiker on the Munra Point Trail. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

Hiking opportunities in the Gorge are limitless, and it can be a lot to take in, but here's a quick digest. The easiest and most waterfall-filled hikes through old-growth forests are located on the west end of the Oregon side, but these also are by far the most crowded. The Washington hikes are surprisingly less crowded (Dog Mountain being an exception) and offer the biggest vistas, but these are also some of the most strenuous. You'll want to be wary of poison oak the further east you venture, primarily in the Hood River and Mosier longitudes. Stunning wildflower-filled meadows of balsamroot and lupine can be found on most hikes on the eastern end of the Gorge in late April and early May.

Washington (west to east):

Oregon (west to east):

Rock Climbing

Climbers at Indian Point. Photo by Joshua Lupkin.

Although many of the cliffs that line the Gorge are composed of crumbling basalt that is unsuitable for climbing, several developed crags are deliciously challenging and prompt thoughtful and imaginative movement. From the tall, bustling, lycra-filled outdoor gym that is Ozone to the sprawling desolation that is Horsethief Butte, the Gorge provides a crag for climbers of every persuasion.

Though rock quality and style varies greatly, the epic and sweeping views of the Gorge from the top of a pitch never cease to amaze. The expansive and rolling hills suggest that undeveloped crags await some intrepid exploration and a creative perspective.

Washington (west to east):

  • Ozone
  • Cigar Rock (bouldering)
  • Beacon Rock
  • The Bypass, also known as The Dump (sport)
  • Horsethief Butte

Oregon (west to east):

Mountain Biking

Mountain biker on the trails at Cascade Locks. Photo by Alex Zimmerman.

Not nearly as accepted or ubiquitous as hiking trails, the most popular mountain biking accessible trails and networks in the Gorge are relatively isolated to the Washington side of the river and predominantly east of White Salmon, but those that exist are heart-pounding and will keep you coming back for more. Venturing outside of the boundaries of the National Scenic Area, predominantly in Oregon, more trails become accessible, such as Waucoma Ridge or Surveyor's Ridge.

Washington (west to east):

  • Hardy Ridge Trail, Beacon Rock State Park (9 miles)
  • Nestor Peak/Buck Creek Trails (12 miles)
  • Hospital Hill (12 miles)
  • Syncline (also known as the Coyote Wall for hikers)
  • Klickitat River Trail

Oregon (west to east):

  • Cascade Locks Trails (2 miles)
  • Gorge Trail #400
  • Post Canyon Trails (15 miles)
  • Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (4.8 miles, paved)
  • The Dalles Riverfront Trail (10 miles, paved)

Oregon (Hood River Valley)

  • Waucoma Ridge Trails (19.2 miles)
  • The Whoopdee Trail (10 miles)
  • Surveyor's Ridge/Dog River Trail (24.7 miles)

Windsurfing + Kitesurfing

Kitesurfers on the Columbia River outside of Hood River. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

With highly differentiated air pressure on both the east and west ends of the Cascade Range, the Columbia River Gorge is a 4,000-foot deep wind tunnel where sustained winds of 35 mph are common. Although the wind can be mildly annoying at times, it has also put the Gorge on the map as a world-renowned destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing, and Hood River is most certainly its capital city.

For a complete guide of all of the best locations, visit our friends at Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association.

Kayaking + Whitewater Rafting

White water rafters on the White Salmon River. Photo by Adam Elliott.

Although water flow is nearly boundless during the winter months, most of the creeks that flow into the Columbia River Gorge are either too short or too shallow to warrant a float. But on the few that do match up with a good boating profile, the kayaking and whitewater rafting is world-class. High annual rainfall and steep elevation drops make the White Salmon, Little White Salmon, and Wind Rivers on the Washington side some of the most challenging and legendary rivers to runs in the nation. Popular runs from west to east include:

For those who don't own their own equipment or don't feel like dropping off a waterfall is a good idea, plenty of guides are available, including:

Wildlife Viewing

Canada geese (Branta canadensis) in Scaup Pond at Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

Although the Columbia River Gorge doesn't have the same level of nature and wildlife habitat protection as a Wilderness Area designation, wildlife viewing opportunities are still plentiful. Perhaps most noteworthy are the spring and fall salmon runs.

  • Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge (waterfowl, song birds, raptors, amphibians)
  • Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge (waterfowl, song birds, raptors, amphibians)
  • Bradford Island Visitor Center + Fish Ladder (salmon)
  • Eagle Creek (salmon)

Fishing

As the largest river to flow into the Pacific Ocean in the western hemisphere, the Columbia River has an abundance of fishing opportunities. Salmon, steelhead, and river trout can be found year round with a particular abundance during the spring and fall runs, and legendary sturgeon are primarily found below Bonneville Dam. Shad, walleye, panfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass can all be found in the smaller tributaries and lakes throughout the Columbia River Gorge.

For a comprehensive guide to some of the best fishing spots in the area, view the recommendations by our friends at Skamania Lodge.

And don't forget to check into fishing permits for Washington and Oregon.

Swimming Holes + Beaches

Cliff jumping at Rowland Lake. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

When the temperatures soar above 80 degrees during the summer months, there can be nothing more refreshing than to set up camp along a river or lake and take the plunge into refreshing and cool waters. The Gorge offers plenty of opportunities for such bathing.

Washington (west to east):

Oregon (west to east)

Campgrounds + Lodging

Campground at Columbia Hills Historic State Park adjacent to Horsethief Lake. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

Although the Gorge has no shortage of campgrounds, it is certainly one aspect of the area that leaves much to be desired. On both the Oregon and Washington side of the river, nearly all of the campgrounds are located within a short distance of the railroad, where it is common to hear trains passing throughout the night. Worse yet, on the Oregon side, white sound radiating from I-84 exacerbates the issue. Viento and Memaloose, for instance, are flanked by the railroad and freeway on both sides. Beacon Rock State Park Campground on the Washington side is surely the quietest, and therefore most desired, campground in Gorge.

As for more civilized accommodations, there are plenty of incredible and iconic lodges in the region where you can rest your head. A handful of the best are listed below.

Washington (west to east):

Oregon (west to east):

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