Carved by the great Missoula Floods, the Columbia River Gorge is a stunning landscape full of breathtaking vistas and abundant waterfalls. With its charming orchards and vineyards and Hood River’s laid-back, surf-town vibe, the area seems like another world, though it’s only an hour from Portland’s downtown. Begin your explorations with this two-day gorge itinerary.
Strike out in the morning driving east from Portland on Interstate 84, then onto the Historic Columbia River Highway and The Vista House at Crown Point, a scenic viewpoint opened in 1918 that provides panoramic views of the gorge. With a museum, gift store and espresso stand, it may be the most awe-inspiring rest stop you’ll ever visit.
As you continue eastward on the highway, waterfalls and trailheads will beckon you to pull over. Be sure to answer the call of Multnomah Falls, the 620-foot-tall beauty that’s both accessible and immense. Whether you wander the trails here or just stay at the bottom, don’t feel you have to stretch your legs — it’s only another 40 minutes’ drive to Hood River, where you’ll spend the rest of the day.
Editor’s note: Access to Multnomah Falls is limited due to wildfire damage. As of Aug. 15, 2018, the Multnomah Falls Lodge, gift shop, information center, lower viewing platform and trail to Benson Bridge are open, but are only accessible via the Interstate-84 lot. All other trails and the upper viewing platform are closed as they undergo repairs. For more information, visit the U.S. Forest Service’s website.
Upon arrival in Hood River, you’ve got decisions to make: If it’s breezy, and you want to try kiteboarding at the sport’s most windswept location, take a lesson and/or rent gear from Kite the Gorge. But if the air is still, ask the outfitter about stand-up paddleboarding, a popular way to enjoy the water and work those abs. Or, to really get the stomach going, head to Full Sail Brewing, right along the river, for lunch or a brewery tour and tasting. Sipping on Session Lager in the sunshine is a tempting way to enjoy the day, but don’t stop there; the patio at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel is an equally great place to enjoy the sunset with dinner before turning in for the night.
Start off the day by exploring the hotel grounds, which feature gorgeous gardens full of native Oregon plants and the spectacular Wah Gwin Gwin Falls tumbling into the river below. There’s also plenty to see in downtown Hood River, so act like a local and grab breakfast and coffee downtown at Ground. With its small surf town vibe, Hood River’s streets were made for strolling, and there are plenty of shops and galleries worth your time.
When you’re ready, hop in the car to explore the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive full of farm stands, vineyards and fields, all in view of majestic Mount Hood. There are many worthwhile and surprising stops on this drive, but getting a handful of fur at the Cascade Alpaca Ranch and breathing in the sweet air at the Hood River Lavender Farm are sensory experiences that will stay with you forever. Eat your way along the loop, sampling fresh fruits from the source, and be sure to pick up a bottle or two of wine as souvenirs. Taste wines from the gorge’s oldest winery at Hood River Vineyards and Winery, which has been producing delicious reds and ports for more than 30 years; Cathedral Ridge Winery has won more than 100 awards for everything from its chardonnay to its syrah reserve.
As the trail brings you back to downtown Hood River, prepare your palate for dinner at Celilo, an excellent place to savor great Pacific Northwest flavors before settling in for another night or racing the sunset west back to Portland.