With more than 60 miles of Columbia River shoreline, forested hills, uncongested blacktop roads and quiet bays, Columbia County, just 30 minutes northwest of Portland, has long been renowned among cyclists, birders, anglers and other nature lovers. But the county’s inviting small towns, like St. Helens, also have plenty to offer visitors who like to pair country-fresh air with plenty of creature comforts.
It’s hard to imagine a more welcoming spot than the Nob Hill Riverview Bed and Breakfast. Set atop a rocky bluff above the historic Olde Town St. Helens neighborhood, this large Craftsman-style home (once the residence of a prominent doctor) features three rooms, each with plush sitting areas, fireplaces and private bathrooms. From the expansive wraparound porch, take in the Columbia River and, on sunny days, an incredible view of Washington’s famed volcano, Mount St. Helens.
The scenery — and the smell of homemade Dutch waffles and organic chicken sausage for breakfast — provides an enticing backdrop to contemplate the area’s historical significance: Legendary explorers Lewis and Clark camped here in 1805 as part of their journey to the Pacific Ocean (and on the way back in 1806). Today, locals are just as likely to regale you with tales of another notable duo: Edward and Bella of Twilight fame. Portions of the smash-hit vampire saga were filmed in town in 2008. (According to local legend, actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson even rehearsed their lines on the porch of the Nob Hill B&B.)
Plenty more local history waits inside Olde Town’s collection of antique shops. Funky thrift stores like Jilly’s offer enough sequined evening gowns, feathery earrings and wigs, not to mention Twilight souvenirs, to deck out any costume party.
On Thursday nights from June to August, walk to nearby Columbia View Park to dance off meals during 13 Nights on the River, a popular outdoor concert series paired with a farmers’ market and river views.
When the sun finally sets, a visit to St. Helens’ Historic Columbia Theatre provides a nostalgic way to cap the day. Opened in 1928, the lobby is filled with memorabilia from Hollywood’s Golden Age, including photos of MGM actors and an enormous 1930s carbon arc projector on display. The balconied 400-seat cinema is fully modernized, though, with high-definition digital projection, 3-D technology and the latest releases. When the curtain falls, don’t be surprised if the theater, much like the town, leaves you wishing for an encore performance.
The historic town of St. Helens, located 45 minutes from Portland, celebrates Halloween all month long with haunted tours, costume contests and more.
Bird-watch on Scappoose Bay, cruise around on a path or exploring the historic community of St. Helens – Columbia County offers countless family-friendly activities.
Mid-century furnishings, hardware, kitchsy collectibles and vintage lighting and furniture all await in Portland's carefully curated antiquing scene.
Tree- and forest-lovers of all ages can learn about sustainability and experience a Portland icon at the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum.