Enjoy the Columbia River Gorge for its natural beauty and temperate rainforest
Along its banks, the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon invites you to get close to nature with its mighty waterfalls and majestic views.
On a recent drive to Lake Louise, we had the opportunity to see the Columbia River, the largest river of the Pacific Northwest, at two distinct points: close to its source at the Kicking Horse vantage point, and again in Revelstoke. The 2,500-kilometre (1,553-miles) river begins in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia; it flows northwest and then south, marking the state line between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean near Portland, Oregon.
A must-stop viewpoint for photographers
When you head east from Portland on Interstate 84, look out for the Historic Columbia River Highway (Highway 30) near Corbett, which is known for its many waterfalls. It is also a popular destination for hiking, biking, sightseeing, fishing and watersports. This side road winds through forests, old country homes and viewpoints, most notably the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint. This place is a photographer’s dream! Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge on a cliff, it transports onlookers into a 19th-century English oil painting by J.M.W. Turner.
To the left of the viewpoint parking lot, there is a lovely short trail that takes you through a forest of evergreens and wildflowers. More than 725 kilometres (450 miles) of the Pacific Crest Trail wind through Oregon, including 20 hiking trails in the Columbia Gorge.
Vista House—an architectural masterpiece
A few kilometres from the Women's Forum Viewpoint, you will find Vista House, an architectural masterpiece located at Crown Point, a promontory with a panoramic view of the Columbia River. The three levels of the house allow for different, but equally spectacular, views. On the bottom floor there is a small but interesting museum and a gift shop.
At gorgeous Multnomah Falls east of Troutdale on Interstate 84, an impressive two-tiered, 190-metre (623-foot) waterfall, the air is filled with the damp smell of the surrounding trees and rocks as you approach the observation area. The Benson Footbridge spans the lower falls, allowing visitors to cross above the lower cascade and providing an expansive view of the upper falls. Other noteworthy waterfalls in the area include Horsetail Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
If you go to the Gorge during the spring, you will be blessed with a fabulous display of rhododendrons full of fragrant blossoms along the roads. All the colours of the rainbow are present, from hues of yellow and pink, to shades of blue and purple.
View the Bridge of the Gods from land or sternwheeler
For a trip back in time, have breakfast at the Bridgeside restaurant in Cascade Locks on the banks of the river, next to the Columbia River Inn. Their tasty waffles are so crispy yet tender in the middle! The building is a wood structure with vaulted ceilings and beams. Western-style artifacts, from a time when sculptures of ships, boats and wild animals were the ultimate trend, line the walls.
The restaurant is where you will get the best view of the Bridge of the Gods, a cantilever bridge that spans the river between Cascade Locks, Oregon, and Washington state near North Bonneville. The bridge is a favorite of mine since I come from Quebec City where the Pont de Quebec, a cantilever bridge, has been a famous landmark since its opening in 1917.
One morning, we saw an impressive paddlewheeler gliding under the bridge. The imposing American Empress sails from Portland for an all-day adventure on the Columbia and Snake rivers, including the Gorge. We opted for a serene two-hour dinner cruise upriver on board the smaller Columbia Gorge sternwheeler, which operates from May to October from Cascade Locks.
After visiting the Columbia River Gorge, you will want to come back again and again. It is difficult to resist the lure of the dense forest, country roads, plunging waterfalls, and all the activities connected to the great outdoors!