One of the most scenic road trips anywhere in the world is on the Oregon side of the Gorge, on the Columbia River Highway (I-84), between Portland and the Dalles. Besides a smooth drive on the freeway, an excellent diversion here is to head up the old Historic Columbia River Highway, a narrow road that twists its way through the mountains and cliffs, past dozens of waterfalls, including the beautiful 620-foot (190 m) Multnomah Falls.
The Columbia River is one of North America’s longest, at 1200 miles (1930 km) long, starting in southeastern British Columbia, Canada. The Columbia River Gorge was carved by glacial floods (especially the Missoula Flood) thousands of years ago and is the only sea-level passage through the Cascade Mountain range. The Gorge is a cliff in many places, with walls as high as 4,000 feet (1200 m).
Native American Indians settled in the Gorge at least 10,000 years ago. Europeans are relatively new to the area, the first being famed explorers Lewis & Clark, who boated down the Columbia River to the nearby Pacific Ocean. Oregon Trail pioneers followed, then railroads, sternwheelers and hydroelectric dams. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was established in 1986 and is the largest national scenic area in the United States. They’ve done a good job of balancing the Gorge’s natural assets (which ranging from temperate rainforest to desert) while cautiously expanding economic opportunity for those communities that exist in the Gorge.
Besides driving and sight-seeing, there’s no end to the list of activities you can participate in at the Gorge. Hikers have dozens of great trail options; climbers have mountains and cliffs they can scale. Because of air pressure differences, wind is often strong through the Gorge making it very popular with wind-surfers, kite-surfers and sailors. Fisherman and kayakers can find sheltered spots to enjoy the river, and there’s great bird-watching, golfing and biking along the amazing Columbia River. Camping is an option, but there’s fine inns and hotels, some quite historic.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)