The Columbia River Gorge is essentially Oregon’s little slice of Middle Earth. It runs along part of the Oregon-Washington border, with countless waterfalls surrounded by moss, tall basalt cliffs, and incredible views of Mount Hood in the distance.
There’s plenty to see and do in the area, whether you’re a hiker, experienced climber, or just driving up the historic Columbia River Highway. These are some of our favorite, out-of-this-world places to explore across the Gorge.
1. Oneonta Gorge
The adventure up Oneonta Gorge couldn’t be more surreal. The relatively easy trail leads through a mossy slot canyon that’s so narrow you actually have to hike through Oneonta Creek. But after crossing over some logs, and wading through the water for a short while, the pay-off is worth bringing extra clothes for. Oneonta Falls greets you by the end, plummeting over 100-feet into a basin. Technically you can hike this all year round, but the water is cold, and much more refreshing in the summer when it’s warm out.
2. Multnomah Falls
The best thing about Multnomah Falls is that you don’t even have to leave your car to see it. Even non-hikers can take in views of this 620-foot, two-tiered cascade from the road while driving down the Columbia River Highway. Just a half-hour from Portland, the roadside eye-candy is well known as one of Oregon’s most famous icons, and the state’s tallest waterfall.
If you are looking to stop and get pics, there are a couple of trails you can follow for different viewpoints. Most people just do the moderate 2.2-mile hike (with over 700 feet of elevation) to the top of Multnomah Falls. But if you’re looking for more of a work-out, you can also take on the more challenging 5.4-mile loop to Wahkeena Falls (with over 1,600 feet of elevation).
3. Vista House at Crown Point
A trip to Vista House is a must on your way to Multnomah Falls. The near-century old building still stands tall on a rocky promontory, with world-class views overlooking the Gorge. It’s free to get in, and the views from their balcony are worth millions. The building now serves as a museum, featuring displays with lots of fascinating historic info about the area and old significant photographs. Here is a map of Vista House along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
4. Tunnel Falls
As the name might suggest, Tunnel Falls has a man-made tunnel carved into the cliff behind it that you can actually walk through. It’s about a 12-mile hike (round-trip) to the 175-foot cascade, following Eagle Creek through a lush emerald green wonderland. Since the elevation gain is mild, this can be done in a day. See this map of the Tunnel Falls Trail.
5. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is another short trip you can take off the Columbia River Highway to a lovely cascade. The out-and-back hike spans for about 0.6 of a mile with only 70 feet in elevation, so it’s perfect for hikers of all ages and skill levels. It leads over an arch bridge that spans Bridal Veil Creek, and out to a wooden lookout where you can get enchanting waterfall views and some of the most beautiful photo ops.
Where are some of your favorite places to explore near the Columbia River Gorge?