Some major highlights of the Columbia River Gorge can be enjoyed fairly close to Portland. You don’t need hiking gear to enjoy the sights. You can take a leisurely driving trip including a stop for lunch that will take you less than a day.
The Historic Columbia River Highway (Historic Route 30) turns 100-years old this year. It’s still used daily by those exploring the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.
Exit I-84 at Troutdale (exit 17) and drive through the town’s quaint gallery district and across the Sandy River via a one-way bridge and turn right. Soon you’ll be on the old highway and entering the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The Sandy River is a popular place year ‘round. You may see people fishing or picnicking on the riverbanks. You’ll pass two riverfront restaurants, Tad’s Chicken and Dumplings and Shirley’s Tippy Canoe, both popular with locals. On this itinerary, you’ll be backtracking so you can stop for an early lunch on your way or a late lunch or early dinner on your way back from the Gorge. Because the parking lots at Multnomah Falls can fill up as the day progresses, you might want to save the restaurant stop for after your tour.
As you drive along the route you’ll see farmers’ fields with Mt. Hood in the distance.
The historic highway takes you toward the Women’s Forum Overlook at Chanticleer Point, which will be the first stop. The stunning view looks out over the massive Columbia Gorge and Vista House. Often it is windy but is a must-see no matter the weather.
Next, follow the signs and drive down the hill toward Crown Point and Vista House, another viewpoint stop. In the distance are mountains and down below, the Columbia River. If Vista House is open, it is well worth exploring to admire the architecture and stained glass windows. There are displays and a book and gift shop. Since 1918, the view from Crown Point and the observatory building, Vista House has impressed visitors from around the world. From its surrounding vantage point 733 feet above the Columbia River you’ll be able to look far up the Gorge and across the river into Washington State.
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And then it is off down the hill to explore some waterfalls. In winter they will be absolutely gushing with water and in summer, still flowing. If you stick to the falls which are immediately accessible from the highway you’ll be able to enjoy three waterfalls before you reach the impressive Multnomah Falls and Lodge. There are picnic areas and restrooms at several of these stops. Our waterfall itinerary will lead you to even more Gorge falls.
Your first stop will be to see LaTourell Falls plunging 224 feet over the cliff face. You’ll be able to see the falls as you drive across the bridge over LaTourell Creek. As with most falls viewpoints, you can enjoy the falls from the parking lot area or take a short hike to get closer. Either way, you’ll have great photo ops of the lovely, high falls.
Next, stop to see Sheppards Dell Falls. The falls are tiered with the upper falls cascading 35 to 50 feet and the lower 40 – 60 feet. The two tiers of this falls can be seen from the bridge crossing at Sheppards Dell State Park. There is also a short trail to a viewpoint. And, before you reach the “falls of all falls,” enjoy the beauty of Wahkeena Falls, a 242-foot cascading waterfall.
At the bottom of the hill you will reach a major tourist attraction. Multnomah Falls drops in two steps, split into an upper falls of 542 feet and a lower falls of 69 feet, with a gradual 9-foot drop in elevation between the two. The total height of the waterfall is listed as 620 feet. Beautiful Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. Visitors come from around the world to see the falls. In winter, you may even see a small secondary waterfall to the right as there is so much water.
There is a beautiful stone lodge with restaurant and gift shop. Most enjoy a short hike up to the bridge in the middle of the falls. However, from the lodge, you can follow the whole 2.4 mile (RT) trail that climbs approximately 600 feet to the top of Multnomah Falls. This trail provides great views of the falls and the Columbia River Gorge but, believe me, is full of steep switchbacks.
Although there is a restaurant at Multnomah Falls Lodge, you may decide to have lunch along the rushing Sandy River and bypass the crowds. So then retrace your route along the Historic Columbia River Highway seeing the waterfalls from a different direction and arrive at Shirley’s Tippy Canoe in very short time.
Shirley’s Tippy Canoe, once visited by Guy Fieri and featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, is an interesting place. It has a fisherman vibe, a long bar, several dining rooms and a summertime patio. I recommend going there for the food. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. They pride themselves in making foods from scratch and you can find some local delicacies there like Yaquina Bay oysters.
This day trip is ideal if you can get away on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Winter is an ideal time to take the drive as the waterfalls are overflowing.
Columbia River Gorge: Exploring the Washington Side … Hiking, wine tasting and history from Vancouver to Maryhill