Head east from Portland and you’ll see the landscape shifts dramatically. Sweeping dry grasslands and jagged rocky outcroppings dominate a golden horizon. Driving on I-84, you’ll reach Rowena Crest Viewpoint, part of Mayer State Park, where you can hike amid colorful wildflowers to lofty 1,700-foot McCall Point for panoramic views of Mount Hood and the Columbia River. Continue to the town of The Dalles, 84 miles (135 km) east of Portland, and you’ll learn:
The Dalles only gets 15 inches of rain per year. It is the closest point to Portland with this kind of arid climate, meaning sunny days and rolling hills for cyclists and explorers.
As one of the oldest settlements on the West Coast, The Dalles is steeped in history, and the residents are proud to preserve it. A visit to the Wasco County Historical Museum and the Fort Dalles Museum reveal collections of well-preserved buildings, wagons and artifacts that give insight into the cultural history of the Gorge and the settlement of the American West.
The picturesquely situated Columbia Gorge Discovery Center sheds light on how this beautiful gorge came to look the way it does today, from the turbulent volcanic eruptions and Ice Age “mega-mammals” of the prehistoric era to the explorations of Lewis and Clark and the hearty pioneers who followed throughout the 19th century. Additionally, their Raptor Program brings rescued birds of prey (who cannot survive in the wild) up close for visitors to see.
There are plenty of opportunities for sipping and snacking inside the handsomely restored Sunshine Mill, a century-old, 125-foot-tall former wheat mill that now houses two wineries: premium Quenett — the barbera and zinfandel are highly acclaimed — and more affordable Copa Di Vino, which produces everyday wines in single-serve bottles. You can sample wines, order appetizers in the Boiler House Bar and admire artifacts and photos documenting the building’s history.
The high-ceilinged Baldwin Saloon, with its classic mahogany bar and gilt-frame 19th-century oil paintings, is an atmospheric dinner option. Specialties include blue cheese-bacon burgers and hearty bouillabaisse.
The Celilo Inn, a renovated motel, sits high on a hill with sweeping views of the gorge, an outdoor pool and hip decor. In the summertime, they offer free shuttle service to guests who have tickets to summer concerts at Maryhill Winery. Near the winery, visitors can also check out the Stonehenge Memorial, a World War I memorial and an astronomically aligned replica of England’s famous standing stones.