The Gorge II   1 comment

The sunflower-like balsamroot blooms in profusion along the dry rocky terrain of the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

This is the second of two parts on the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.  This part focuses on the sights.  The Gorge is truly a playground, one that everybody in the Portland/Vancouver (WA) area treasures.  We often take it for granted, but we love it and want it to remain as it is.  For a great introduction, you can drive up the Historic Highway, exiting I84 at Corbett and climbing up the hill to Crown Point, the landmark overlooking the west side of the Gorge.  Keep going to Multnomah Falls, and past that, to hike the Oneonta Gorge.  Oneonta Creek can be waded in summer, going a half-mile or so up to a waterfall.  Prepare to get wet.  Just past Oneonta is Horsetail Falls, where you can take a moderate hike to Triple Falls, up Oneonta Creek, to view from above the gorge you just waded.  Keep going, lunching in the town of Cascade Locks, overlooking the Bridge of the Gods at the Charburger (on your left right after you exit).

You can either cross the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks, perhaps taking another shortish hike at Beacon Rock on the Washington side, or simply follow Hwy. 14 back to Vancouver.  At Beacon Rock you can either hike up the rock itself (leave your fear of heights in the car), or up the Hamilton Mtn trail to “pool of the winds”, a waterfall only an easy 3-mile round-trip.  Back on Hwy. 14 westbound, there is an awesome overlook at Cape Horn, but only room for a few cars along the steep cliffside road.  Many think this is a better view of the Gorge than Crown Point.

If you have more time, you can continue from Cascade Locks up to Hood River, crossing the river there to follow Hwy. 14 back down.  Hood River has great brew-pubs, restaurants and an outdoors sports vibe.  If you want to stay, Skamania Lodge on the Washington side is fantastic, if a bit spendy.  There is a hotspring at Bonneville, on the Washington side, if your hike made for sore muscles.

Faery Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Many people just drive up to Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s most popular tourist spot, grab a few pictures, and drive back to Portland.  If you’re short on time, this is fine.  But at least drive the Historic Highway, getting off at the Bridal Veil exit, where you’ll pass both Wahkeena and Horsetail Falls, both gorgeous, along with Multnomah.  And set aside time to hike to the top on the mostly paved trail.  I don’t often do this (too many tourists), but I will do the loop hike from Wahkeena Falls, climbing to the top past a gorgeous little cascade called Faery Falls (image above), taking a left on the tie trail and dropping down to Multnomah Creek.  From here, take another left and descend past spectacular cascades to Multnomah Falls.  I hope you don’t think me a snob, but this way I only experience the tourists hiking in high heels when I’m almost done.

Dramatic clouds pass over the Columbia River Gorge along the Oregon-Washington border.

Another touristy sight that is nonetheless very worthwhile is Bonneville Dam, where you can see huge sturgeon close-up, and watch salmon swimming upstream through the fish ladder.  There is an underground viewing area where you look through glass into the fish passage.  The Washington side has a visitor center on the dam as well, and here you can see more of the inner workings of the dam than you can on the Oregon side.  But here as well, you’ll have a close look at the fish ladders.  If you travel east of Hood River in the Spring, gorgeous flower meadows invite photography at Catherine Creek on the Washington side, and at Rowena Preserve on the Oregon side.  Sunrise is the best time to photograph in these places, and May is the typical blooming time for balsamroot, paintbrush, grass widow and other wildflowers.

A hiking option near to Portland is Cape Horn, which you access by crossing over to Washington on the I205 bridge, then driving east on Hwy. 14 until you pass over the high point at the Cape Horn overlook.  Just past this you will begin to descend; after just a mile or less you will see a gravel pull-off to the right.  Park here and you can do an amazingly uncrowded loop hike that takes you along the cliff edges, with great views down to the river.  Many people head to Angel’s Rest on the Oregon side for a quick hike, and if you follow suit be prepared for a crowd on the weekends.  But allow a bit more time and you can hike the slightly longer but just-as-nearby Cape Horn trail on the quieter Washington side.

At Celilo, native American culture was traditionally and still is today centered around salmon.  At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which explored this region in 1805-6, Celilo was the site of an enormous cataract, and there were rapids all through the center of the Gorge.  The era of dams has changed all that, making the river look more like a long lake than a river.  Other places mentioned by Lewis and Clark are Beacon Rock and the mouth of the Sandy River at the Gorge’s west end.  Here, the explorers mentioned the extremely silty and muddy water pouring out of the Sandy.  It’s now known that Mount Hood had recently erupted, sending mudflows down the Sandy River and into the Columbia.

I hope if you visit the Pacific Northwest that you set aside at least one day for the Columbia River Gorge.  It is really a fantastic opportunity to see a cross-section through the heart of the Pacific Northwest.  You can examine the palisades and columns of flood-basalt lavas in detail, hike fern-draped grottoes where waterfalls thunder, and enjoy fantastic scenery & photography.

Lovely Multnomah Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge takes on a glow just above Multnomah Falls.

One response to “The Gorge II

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  1. You really captured The Gorge. Thanks for sharing.

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