25+ Pictures that will Make you Want to Visit Columbia River Gorge

When I stepped off the airplane in Portland, Oregon, I was already tired. After being up until midnight the night before, we’d risen at 4 am to catch an early flight out of Boston, got caught in a traffic jam and nearly missed our plane, sat on the runway in Chicago for over an hour waiting for bad weather to pass, and waited in an interminable line at the car rental counter only to receive a car that wasn’t what I had reserved. But I knew in many respects, our day was just starting. We were headed off for a mother-daughter trip to Sunriver in Central Oregon, much-welcomed after a three and a half week period apart for summer camp. Our plan was to explore the Columbia River Gorge before the three hour drive through the Mt. Hood area to Sunriver, and while I try to be flexible about plans, this is one that I didn’t want to change. I’d waited too long to see this part of the country and I wasn’t sure when I’d have the opportunity again. And, as you will see, it was totally worth it! 

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area runs for 85 miles and spans southern Washington and northern Oregon, encompassing 13 state parks, along with 40 waterfalls in Oregon and 13 in Washington State. The are 218 miles of Forest Service hiking trails throughout the Columbia River Gorge, including parts of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. Within the Gorge you can find 800 varieties of wildflowers, 44 species of fish, 200 types of birds and other wildlife including beaver, deer, bobcat, and black bear. It is an outdoor, nature-lovers paradise!

The best way to start exploring is along the Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway. Located just a short 20 minutes from the Portland Airport, we hopped on the Columbia River Highway off of Exit 17 of Route 84 in Troutdale. Here the river is close and shallow, and I would have loved to get our feet wet, climb over the stones, or float in a tube for a while, but I didn’t want to miss the Columbia River Gorge’s crown jewel, Multnomah Falls. Once we left the interstate, we followed the signs and began to wind our way through the gorge, making stops along the way at the Women’s Forum Overlook, which offered spectacular views of Vista House; Crown Point Vista House; and finally, Multnomah Falls.

Entering the Columbia River Gorge Region

View of the Crown Vista House on the Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River in Oregon

Crown Point Vista House on the Columbia River Gorge

Crown Point Columbia River Gorge

Peeking out over the Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge from Crown Point Vista House overlook

Route 84 and the Columbia River from Vista House look out

Columbia River Valley

Multnomah Falls is the second tallest, continually flowing waterfall in the United States, with a height a 620 jaw-dropping feet. The most popular attraction along the Gorge, Multnomah Falls receives over 2 million visitors each year. Yet, surprisingly enough, we didn’t have any trouble finding a parking spot in the relatively small lot at the foot of the falls on a late Tuesday afternoon in August. Many visitors just take in the falls from the fully-accessible observation deck, while others walk up to the Benson Bridge that offers stunning views of the falls. We were feeling adventurous, and recharged by the beauty around us. So, since we weren’t held back by acrophobic Daddy, we decided to hike the 1.2 miles, through 11 fairly steep switchbacks, to the top. It was worth the trek as the air coming off the water cooled us down, as did a quick splash in the stream at the top. From the platform at the top, we could get a close look at the falls and gaze out at the Columbia River Gorge stretched out below.

HIking Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon

Multnomah Falls

Lower Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon

Multnomah Falls Bridge

Multnomah Falls Bridge

Multnomah Falls Bridge

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

Do not enter sign at Multnomah Falls

Top of Multnomah Falls

Top of Multnomah Falls

Top of Multnomah Falls

Lookout platform from the top of Multnomah Falls

Stream at the top of Multnomah Falls

Water going over the top of Multnomah Falls in Oregon

Water streaming over the top of Multnomah Falls

Playing in the water at the top of Multnomah Falls

Tips for Traveling through the Columbia River Gorge and Hiking Multnomah Falls
  • It would be helpful to print a map of the Historic Columbia River Highway before you go so you can plan out where to stop and see how far it is from point to point.
  • If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, you should also print out a map of the Hiking Trails around Multnomah Falls.
  • Bring binoculars and/or a camera with a zoom lens to get a good look at the gorge from the various look out points.
  • Multnomah Falls has a lodge with a restaurant, a snack bar, and full bathrooms.
  • Hiking boots aren’t necessary, but they are helpful.
  • There is a fully accessible lookout point at Multnomah Falls but to get onto the bridge that spans the falls, you’ll need to do some walking.
  • The hike from the lodge up to the Multnomah Falls overlook is about 1.2 miles, most of it is gravel path. About 1/2 mile of it is steep switchbacks that can get strenuous, especially on a hot day.
  • It is much cooler at the top of the falls, where you feel the air coming off the water.
  • At the top of the falls, you can walk in the stream and cool off, but be careful — there is nothing stopping you or your kids from losing their footing and being swept along, so if you do it, do it far back from the edge of the falls under strict supervision.
  • There is an overlook with a railing at the top of the falls looking back at the small waterfall before the water tumbles over the edge of the falls, and all the way down to the parking lot below.

I wish we had more time to spend in this area, as I feel like our brief visit barely did it justice.


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15 Comments on “25+ Pictures that will Make you Want to Visit Columbia River Gorge

  1. Gorgeous photos, breathtaking! Thanks to you and your co-adventurer, I have a place to add to my travel wishlist!

      Thanks Jenn!! That is the danger of travel blogs, always finding a new place to go. It is truly gorgeous and I hope to go back and explore more.

    Used to live in Portland, so that was a fun reminder of the amazing beauty. Multnomah Falls was my go to for all out of town visitors.

    wow – those pictures certainly sell it as somewhere to visit! That house on the top of the hill – I would love to stay there, incredible 360 degree views!

    I love that part of the US, Oregon is definitely one of my favourite States. I have always thought that Multnomah Falls looks like they would belong in Japan, I think it’s because of the bridge and the lush greenery

      Katie, I never thought about it before but I can definitely see the connection.

    Ooh I love the gorge, I went there in April. Definitely a lot cloudier than the day you went! You should also go hiking to the other trails in the gorge, there are SO many waterfalls (like 70) and the hiking is fabulous!

      I would love to go back and spend a few days hiking in the gorge.

    I loved this drive when I did it earlier this year, even though it was rainy and gray. Multnomah Falls was definitely my favorite stop. I wish I could have done the hike to the top but the bridge had been damaged by a bolder just before I went. I’ll have to do it next time – those views from the top are awesome!

      Yikes, I read about that bolder incident. Bummer that it prevented a hike but honestly the view from the bottom is the best.

    wow, absolutely beautiful photos! I’ve been hearing a lot about this area recently and am now dying to visit. Looks like a perfect weekend getaway spot.

      It was nice that Multnomah falls had a wheelchair accessible viewing platform too.

    The gorge looks amazing! Thanks for all of the great hiking tips.

      Thanks Grace, and thanks for sharing. It is such a beautiful place. I would love to go back and do more hiking, there are just so many waterfalls.

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