I feel like over the last couple months I’ve mentioned in some posts wanting to be in the middle of a forest or out in nature. You can take the boy out of Oregon, but you can’t take Oregon out of the boy. Miami has a good number of options to be outside (and in very beautiful/stunning ways), but I haven’t been able to take care of an itch to be someplace like the middle of Mt. Hood National Forest (which was front and center in Reese Witherspoon’s new movie- Wild) or the Columbia River Gorge. This recent trip back to Portland just made it very clear to me that rivers, forests, and mountains run through my blood.
One of the things that I always loved about Portland is the awesome day/weekend trips you have nearby. You have pretty much everything. You can find a forest in the city itself! (Forest Park), but then there are other forests and campgrounds within 20 or 30 minutes depending on what you’re looking for. You have wineries just south of the city. Sauvie’s Island is not far from downtown Portland with a lot of farms and U-pick sites. The ocean and Mt. Hood are each an hour or so away. Central Oregon and Mt. Bachelor is three hours away. Tons to do and see!
I unfortunately haven’t done a lot of side trips on trips back to Portland, but I was hoping to change that this time. Seattle was one of them. Then on New Year’s Eve I went with my parents to visit the Columbia River Gorge. I feel like relative to the east everything in the West is just big! The Gorge is no exception. It’s also really close to Portland, so if you’re visiting Portland it’s a nice trip if you have a car (and possibly worth renting one just for the day to get there). It’s a little under 40 minutes to get from downtown Portland to Multnomah Falls (one of the more popular sights in the Gorge).
You start by taking Interstate 84 east through the suburbs of Gresham and Troutdale. A little after Troutdale you have the option of taking the Historic Columbia River Highway (now considered a scenic byway), which I highly recommend. Not only does it take you by some of the lesser known waterfalls and sights, but it’s also a much prettier drive than I-84. You get some great vista spots being higher up, plus you go over some cool historic bridges and pass some historic stone road barriers.
We made several stops, which you’ll find pictures of below. It was very very windy that day. It’s usually windy in general, so I would prepare for that no matter the time of year. However, this was the worst I think I’ve experienced. I was actually literally blown into a run at the Vista House by how strong the wind was.
Overall we spent probably 3-4 hours in the Gorge. You can do it much shorter by only hitting up the main sights (Multnomah Falls and probably Vista House) or make it much longer by seeing many of the other waterfalls or doing much longer hikes at each stop. Our stops that day were:
- Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint– I think a must stop if you’re driving along the Historic Columbia River Highway. It’s one of the first stops and you get some great views of the Gorge with the Vista House included.
- Crown Point Vista House– this was built as a rest stop on the original highway. However it’s one of the most beautiful rest stops I’ve ever seen (both in terms of the building and the views). It has stunning views of the Gorge in both directions. This is where you will really feel the wind if it’s windy!
- Latourell Falls- one of the many waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. This you can partially see from the parking lot and it’s a very short walk to get a full view. Nice one to do if your group can only do short walks (kids, etc.).
- Wahkeena Falls- this is a slight longer hike (half a mile or so), but you can get much closer to the waterfall itself. There was some ice when we visited, so we didn’t get as up close and personal (you can still get a good impression of how close you can usually get from the pic below). There also was construction taking up the viewpoint across the street from the parking lot. When that’s not there you can get a decent view of the waterfall from right there.
- Multnomah Falls– the most famous waterfall/sight in the Columbia River Gorge. There is a visitor’s center, restaurant, and gift shop in the lodge. The waterfall is quite stunning and impressive and is easy to view from behind the lodge. That’s a short walk from the parking lot and is all paved and easy to do. You can also hike up farther to the bridge itself and then even farther to the top of the waterfalls. Paved and not too strenuous, but you it’s relatively steep in parts. On the bridge it was pretty icy this time, so we turned around there. I hadn’t seen it in winter in a long time, so it was very cool to see the hillside covered in ice.
The Columbia River Gorge is one of my favorite places in Oregon and is well worth a day trip (really can be a half day trip if not shorter) from Portland! Hope you like the pics below!
http://traveloregon.com/trip-ideas/scenic-byways/the-historic-columbia-river-highway/– Travel Oregon’s overview of the Historic Columbia River Highway and sights to see along the way