Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area: Our Recommendations for Places to See
Another Pacific Northwest Gem Worthy of Your Visit
The river canyon known as the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington/Oregon border is one of only nine National Scenic Areas within the United States. Stretching from Portland and Vancouver in the west, all the way to Wasco and Klickitat counties in the east is the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Passed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, this became the second scenic area of its kind. The 292,500-acres of land contain a wealth of history, gorgeous landscapes, and interesting places to see and explore. This is one road trip you do not want to miss!
Attractions of the Gorge
We spent three days exploring only a handful of the many attractions in and around the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do in this beautiful region. From museums to monuments and parks to petroglyphs, there are so many interesting places to discover. We highlighted some of our stops below, and we hope you will find something deserving of a visit.
Just east of Portland is the nearly 100-year-old Vista House on Crown Point. The drive to it is along the Columbia River Gorge Highway, which itself is a scenic stretch of road. You can expect to spend 30-45 minutes here learning the history of this site and using the roof-top access for spectacular views of the river and nearby Reed Island.
More info: Friends of Vista House
From Vista Point and eastward there are many waterfalls easily accessible from the highway. Some of these were just a quick stop off the side of the road; others required a short hike to reach. We made time to view five of them: Latourell Falls, Shepperd's Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and the popular Multnomah Falls.
More info: columbiarivergorge.info
Just beyond the eastern boundary of the National Scenic Area lies Maryhill Stonehenge, a full-sized replica of the intact original. Samuel Hill built this wonder as a memorial to WWI veterans from Klickitat County. Hill himself is buried just below the structure in an area which provides a beautiful view of the gorge.
More info: Maryhill Stonehenge Memorial
One of the many highlights of Columbia Hills Historical State Park is Tsagaglalal (She Who Watches.) This pictograph is the largest of the many others along the Rock Art Trail. Near the start of the trail are many petroglyphs on display which have been recovered and moved here from various places in the area. Access to the trail is by guided tours only on Fridays and Saturdays in the months of April - October. Each tour is limited to 25 people so make reservations ahead of time.
More info: Columbia Hills Historical State Park
Horsethief Butte, in a nearby area of the same park, is popular with rock climbers. If you are not into rock climbing, no worries; a short hiking trail wraps around the west side of the butte and leads to fantastic views of the Columbia River.
More info: Columbia Hills Historical State Park
From the website of Washington State Parks, "...this unique state park heritage site houses one of the nation’s largest, most accessible public telescopes." Goldendale Observatory offers a daily Solar Show at 4 PM and an Evening Show at 8:30 PM every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Admission is included with your Discover Pass.
Both shows were fantastic and educational. The solar show takes place in a small classroom-like setting and teaches you about the sun and the rest of the universe. The evening show takes place in the dome and allows you to walk the step ladder to view through the telescope's eyepiece to see whatever object is of topic for that night. During our visit, it was the moon and Jupiter.
The observatory is undergoing renovations and upgrades throughout this year and 2018. They do not plan on closing down entirely, but their schedule will be affected so please see their site for updates.
Adding to our list of Washington State Parks to visit (we plan on visiting all of them) is Maryhill State Park. This beautiful park is edged right up against the Columbia River and provides a beach for swimming, camping sites, large green lawns, and many more water activities. This would be an ideal location to set up camp for 2-3 days while you explore the nearby attractions.
More info: Maryhill State Park
Originally intended to be Samuel Hill's home, the structure was converted into a museum and opened to the public in 1940. Located just a few minutes from Maryhill State Park, Maryhill Museum of Art is a must see! There are ten permanent collections, which include works by Auguste Rodin, objects from Queen Marie of Romania, and the history of Samuel Hill. The museum, garden and grounds, cafe with outdoor seating, and views are excellent.
More info: Maryhill Museum of Art
Baldwin Locomotive #2507 is on display in the nearby town of Wishram. According to the plaque, "This Baldwin Locomotive No. 2507 was presented to Klickitat County in 1962 by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway Company as a lasting memorial to the days of steam locomotives and the men who operated them." Next to the park is a monument to the pathfinders and pioneers who passed through this place on their explorations.
More info: Great Northern 2507
Doug's Beach State Park is a day-use only park and is located along a stretch of the Columbia Gorge's premier windsurfing areas. We briefly visited here and took in the views of the gorge and the many wildflowers.
More info: Doug's Beach State Park
Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery and Spring Creek Hatchery State Park border up to one another about 30 minutes west of Doug's Beach State Park. During spawning season, the hatchery provides self-guided tours on the weekends. The state park, like the last one, consists of a small day-use area next to the river.
More info: Spring Creek Hatchery State Park
Beacon Rock State Park is a popular park which consists of many activities. One of those activities is the trail which leads to the top of Beacon Rock. Henry Biddle (who purchased the rock for $1) and his son, over the course of three years, constructed a mile-long trail to its summit. This trail consists of 52 switchbacks and 22 steal bridges, making it a fun hike for the whole family.
More info: Beacon Rock Trail
As you can see, there is a lot to see and do in and around this beautiful National Scenic Area. We hope some of the places we mentioned will be intriguing enough for you to make your way to them. Hopefully, while planning out your trip, you will find many more sights and attractions to explore.