Columbia River Gorge: Exploring the Washington Side

Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Hiking, wine tasting and history from Vancouver to Maryhill

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When you hear about the Columbia River Gorge you usually think about the Oregon side, lined with waterfalls such as the renowned Multnomah Falls. But on the other side of the river, things are a bit slower and every bit as scenic.  It’s just drier. The Washington side of the gorge begins just east of Vancouver, Washington, part of the greater Portland area. Confusing? Yes. But remember that the Columbia River marks the boundary between Washington and Oregon in this area and Vancouver is just a five-minute drive across the bridge from Portland, Oregon.

This route can be driven one way in two hours but that doesn’t include any stops. Our time indicated is the time you may want to take to see the sights, walk the trails or visit the attractions.

Entering the Columbia River Gorge: Camas and Washougal (2 hours – 1 day)

You’ll be traveling east on SR 14 out of Vancouver (also called the Lewis and Clark Highway). Before you enter the official Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, you’ll want to stop and check out the offerings of Camas and Washougal. Camas has a quaint downtown area. Established in 1883 as a mill town, it has been revitalized to include fine shopping, dining, and services while still maintaining its historic feel. The Camas Hotel, a century old, beautifully remodeled European boutique style hotel is located downtown.

On First Fridays, downtown galleries, shops and restaurants are open late into the evening. Camas has a seasonal farmer’s market.

Just a little farther down the highway, you’ll see Washougal, home to the Pendleton Woolen Mills factory and outlet shop. Tours are available.

Just across the parking lot from the Pendleton factory, you can “hike the dike” along the Columbia. Park at Pendleton and take the pedestrian tunnel to the walking and biking trail. The Columbia River Dike Trail, also known as the Captain William Clark Park Trail and the Cottonwood Beach Trail, follows the Columbia River from Steamboat Landing Park to the border of the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. A great place to stop is Captain William Clark Regional Park at Cottonwood Beach. There is a structure resembling a native long house, dugout canoes and interpretive signs telling you a bit about Captain Clark’s explorations and travel in the area.

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge (1 hour)

You’ll encounter art with your wildlife as you walk the trails of the Steigerwald Preserve. The entrance is just past Washougal on Highway 14, on the right. This beautiful preserve used to be a lowland dairy farm. (no dogs permitted). Entrance is free. At this point you will be entering the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Cape Horn (5 minutes)

You must carefully pull over at Cape Horn for an amazing view up the river and gorge. Cape Horn is a massive basalt cliff outcropping. There are also trails in the area named for the cape.

Beacon Rock (1.5 hours if you climb it)

Beacon Rock State Park is on Route 14 in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area about 35 miles east of Vancouver. There are restrooms and picnic area.  The park is named for Beacon Rock, an 850-foot high basalt volcanic plug. You can hike up Beacon Rock (3/4 mile trail) for an amazing view of the Columbia Gorge. (Discovery Pass needed)

North Bonneville Trails (1-2 hours)

The community of North Bonneville was developed as a construction town next to the massive Bonneville Lock, Dam, and powerhouse. It is still a residential town featuring a golf course and an interesting trail system. Some of the trails link with the Fort Cascades Trail. There is a gas station just off the highway at North Bonneville.

Fort Cascades (1 hour)

Fort Cascades was an army fort built in 1855 to protect a portage road around the lower cascades rapids of the Columbia River.  The fort burned down in 1856 and the area was abandoned in 1861 and then flooded out in 1894. The Fort Cascades Trail will take you past historic sites (don’t expect to see remains of buildings), beautiful mossy rocks and woods, and eventually leads into the town of North Bonneville. It is a lovely flat trail to take on a warm day because of the shade. (No charge)

Bonneville Dam Visitors Center (1 hour)

Just north of Fort Cascades is the Washington entrance to the Bonneville Dam Washington Shore Visitors Center. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This complex offers an easily accessible view of the second powerhouse. Inside the fish-viewing building and adjacent Visitor Orientation building are exhibits on the history of fish in the area and how the hydropower plant works. (No charge)

Bridge of the Gods

If you want to drive over to I-84 on the Oregon side of the gorge, now is your chance ($2.00 toll). The Bridge of the Gods to Cascade Locks is the third oldest bridge on the Columbia River. The Bridge of the Gods serves as the link for Pacific Crest Trail hikers to cross between Oregon and Washington.

Stevenson in the Columbia River Gorge

Skamania Lodge (1-2 hours if you sight see and dine)
Keeping on SR-14 on the Washington side, on the outskirts of Stevenson, you’ll find a sign on the left to Skamania Lodge and the Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center. Skamania Lodge, built in the style of the grand park lodges, has a marvelous view of the gorge, excellent dining, a golf course and a zip line course.

Stevenson is a nice stop for a view of the Columbia River and, if you are lucky see a riverboat docked at the Stevenson Landing Pier.

Walking Man Brewing on SW First Street is an area favorite with a dog-friendly beer garden and weekend live music. Big River Grill on SW Second Street is known for fish and northwest cuisine. Good selection of northwest wines and microbrews.

Columbia River Gorge Winetasting and Aniche Cellars

Continue on SR 14.  You’ll see several opportunities to stop and wine taste.  One we recently discovered, is small and homey with a gorgeous view. Aniche Cellars, with it’s all female wine making team, is located up the hill from the Columbia River at 71 Little Buck Creek Rd, Underwood, Washington.  It’s off Cook-Underwood Road.

Hood River Bridge and Windsurfers

From Stevenson east on the Columbia River, you’ll often see whitecaps. It’s windy and that provides good opportunities for windsurfers and kite boarders. On the Washington side, just before you approach the bridge to Hood River, Oregon you’ll often see the colorful boards with Mt. Hood in the background. A great photo op!

At this point if you want to visit Hood River, you can take the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge over.

Maryhill Winery and Maryhill Museum (2-3 hours)

To reach Maryhill Winery, follow Highway 14 five miles past the bridge to The Dalles, Oregon (US 197).

Maryhill Winery has a 4,000-seat amphitheater, picnicking on the spacious and scenic covered arbor, a self-service deli and award-winning wines.

You can also visit Maryhill Museum of Art and Maryhill State Park. The full-scale replica of England’s famous Stonehenge is one mile from the state park. The museum, housed in a gracious Beaux Arts mansion on 5,300 acres high above the Columbia River, opened to the public in 1940. The museum was founded by Northwest entrepreneur and visionary Sam Hill. Maryhill Museum of Art boasts a world-class permanent collection and rotating exhibitions worthy of the drive to visit.

The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area ends at this point yet there is much to explore on both sides of the Columbia River.

Explore another Columbia River Gorge Itinerary

Columbia River Gorge, Driving Route 30 … A day along the historic highway, from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls, Oregon

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