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The Columbia River Gorge waterfalls are a must-see when visiting Portland, Oregon!
Within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, cascading falls spill over the ledge of sheer cliffs into swift and shallow streams that flow into the impressive Columbia River. The lush forests are crisscrossed by trails and the region is ripe with epic landscape vistas.
Conveniently linked by a historic Oregon scenic highway, it is an easy, beautiful drive from Portland through the gorge to five incredible waterfalls.
How To Plan a Columbia River Gorge Scenic Drive
Driving the Columbia River Gorge is a top Portland activity – and it is fairly easy to plan a Columbia River road trip on your own. If you are waterfall junkies like us, then you will want the details on the best Columbia Gorge waterfalls to see so that you can plan your perfect trip – and we have top tips to share!
Before you start one of the best drives in Oregon, we are going to cover everything you need to know for how to plan a visit to Columbia River Gorge.
In addition to covering the basics and providing the answers to frequently asked questions about the Columbia River Scenic Highway, we also highlight what to see, things to do and what you will need for the Columbia Gorge drive.
To help you plan your trip, we also provide a Columbia River Gorge Itinerary with a timeline so that you can gauge what activities to include on your road trip.
Also interested in tips for what to do and see in Portland? Read our comprehensive Portland Itinerary!
Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls FAQs
Rather than just diving into what to do in Columbia River Gorge, we are going to start by answering a few of the most commonly asked questions.
How Many Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge?
There are dozens of waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge in Oregon – way too many to try to see in one day! In this guide, we are detailing the 5 most amazing waterfalls…that are also incredibly easy to get to on a Columbia River Gorge driving tour.
Additionally, we offer tips on hidden waterfalls that can be reached by hiking trails from each of the top five Columbia River stops.
Where is the Columbia River Gorge?
Located directly east of Portland in the Cascade Range, the Columbia River Gorge stretches for 80 miles from the town of Troutdale east along the Columbia River to the confluence with the Deschutes River.
That said, the most scenic – and heavily visited – section of the gorge is the 30-mile stretch from Troutdale to Cascade Locks. This segment of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is often referred to as the Waterfall Corridor.
We include a helpful map of the Columbia River Gorge at the end of this article.
How Far is the Gorge from Portland?
The distance from downtown Portland to Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (the western boundary) is approximately 15 miles.
If you decide to base yourself in Vancouver, WA instead – like we often do – the distance to Troutdale and the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area is about 19 miles.
How To Get to Columbia River Gorge from Portland?
The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area is easily reached by highway. In fact, Interstate 84 runs right through the Columbia River Gorge. That said, the most scenic route through the region is via the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway 30, which is the route we feature in this guide.
To get to Old Highway 30 from Portland (or Vancouver) make your way to I-84 East. Take the Troutdale exit (Exit 17) and follow the signs onto the Historic Columbia River Highway.
How Long is the Scenic Drive to Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls?
How long it takes to complete the round trip drive along the Oregon scenic route will depend on how many stops you make, how long you spend at each stop, how heavy the traffic is and how far you decide to explore.
For the scenic drive in the Columbia River Gorge that we recommend – from Portland to Bridge of the Gods – the total drive time is about 1.5 hours (45 minutes each way). However, that does not include a single stop…and you are going to want to make stops in order to get the best views of the famed Portland waterfalls!
We recommend allowing 3 hours for a quick trip with short stops. However, if you want to make it a full day trip with time for the best Columbia Gorge hikes and a picnic lunch, plan at least 6-8 hours.
To help you get a better idea of how to plan your day, we provide a detailed timeline in our Road Trip to Columbia River Gorge Itinerary – which is outlined below.
What Car Should I Drive to Columbia River Gorge Falls?
The scenic drive (Portland through the gorge) along the Historic Columbia River Highway is a mostly flat and easy-to-drive route. We had no problem maneuvering a compact car through the area on our Oregon waterfall road trip.
Just be aware, the scenic Columbia Gorge highway is narrow and curving – and the waterfalls along the route are cause for distraction, so it is important to pay attention to the road. We also recommend checking Columbia River Gorge road conditions before starting your journey.
If you need to rent a car for your trip to the falls in Columbia Gorge, be sure to use our tips for getting the Best Car Rental Rates.
Are There More Things To Do in Columbia River Gorge besides Waterfalls?
Yes! There are many Columbia River Gorge things to do! From hiking and biking to river cruises and scenic viewpoints, you can easily fill a day (or more!) with activities in the area.
While the waterfalls are the top Columbia River Gorge attractions, there are plenty of different ways to experience them and explore the region.
Furthermore, there are things to do in the Columbia River Gorge besides waterfalls. There is also a museum, man-made marvels and local breweries to round out your Columbia River Gorge day trip.
Can I Go Hiking in Columbia River Gorge?
Yes, and we highly recommend it! There are plenty of opportunities for hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. In our road trip itinerary below, we feature some of the best Columbia River Gorge hikes.
Are There Hotels in the Columbia Gorge?
Yes, there are a few Columbia River Gorge hotels where you can stay if you decide to spend longer than a day. We highlight where to stay in Columbia River Gorge area at the end of the post.
What is Columbia River Gorge Weather Like?
You will find that the weather in Columbia River Gorge is similar to the weather in Portland, at least temperature-wise. That said, it can get windy in the gorge. Before taking your trip, we recommend checking the weather and planning ahead for varying conditions.
What is the Best Time to Visit Columbia River Gorge?
Generally speaking, the best time to go to the Columbia River Gorge is early in the morning on a weekday. That said, your experience at the gorge will likely depend on the season.
What Season is Best for Visiting Columbia Gorge Falls?
There are pros and cons to visiting the Columbia River Gorge in every season – so it will come down to what is most important to your experience.
Summer at Columbia River Falls
In the summertime, the weather for the Columbia River Gorge tends to be sunny and dry, which is perfect for hiking, biking and photography. However, summer is also the time of year when the narrow, two-lane road is most crowded and parking can be extremely limited.
Autumn in Columbia River Gorge Oregon
Autumn is a wonderful time of year for a scenic drive through the Columbia River Gorge. The temperatures are slightly cooler (which is great for hiking in Columbia Gorge) and the fall foliage is simply stunning.
Columbia River Waterfalls in Winter
The winter presents some issues – with rain and ice – but frozen waterfalls are a sight to behold! The biggest benefit of wintertime trips is that there are far fewer crowds.
Springtime Columbia River Gorge Scenic Drive
Springtime can be a great time to see the Columbia River Gorge! Wildflowers will be blooming and waterfalls boldly flowing – but rain can put a damper on your road trip and the Columbia River Gorge hiking trails can be a muddy mess.
Which is the Most Scenic Route: Oregon or Washington?
The Columbia River marks the shared state border of Oregon and Washington, and both have scenic highways along the gorge, but the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon features the most magnificent waterfalls.
For our Scenic Oregon Drive Itinerary, we actually recommend driving eastbound on the Oregon Historic Columbia River Highway to see the waterfalls and then looping back to Portland by crossing the Bridge of the Gods into Washington and returning via Washington Route 14.
That said, there are several different routes you can take for a Columbia River Gorge drive. We detail additional options at the end of the article.
How Was the Columbia River Gorge Formed?
The Columbia River Gorge history spans millions of years. The area was formed through shifting tectonic plates, explosive volcanos and floods. During the thousands of years since the river has slowly eroded the rock, carving the deep and beautiful canyon that exists today.
The Native Americans were the first people to settle the area – as the gorge was lush with resources. In 1855, several of those Native Tribes agreed to treaties that allowed the US government to administer the land, while retaining access to the vital resources.
What is the History of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway?
Built between 1913 and 1922, the Historic Columbia River Highway (also called US Route 30) was the first road specifically built as a sightseeing route in the United States. The two-lane Columbia River Gorge highway, constructed to accommodate the Ford Model T automobile, connected The Dalles to Portland – all while focusing on the natural beauty of the area.
Now a National Historic Landmark, the Old Columbia River Highway is a place where travelers can still appreciate the classic All-American Road on an easy day trip from Portland.
Looking for other Pacific Northwest scenic drives? Travel to the coast for the most scenic drive in Oregon! Use our detailed trip guide to help plan your Road Trip on the Oregon Coast.
5 Must-See Waterfalls: Columbia River Gorge
There are an astounding number of Columbia River Gorge waterfalls – over 100 when counting waterfalls on both sides of the river. In fact, the Gorge is one of the highest-density waterfall regions in the United States.
For the purposes of a day trip from Portland, we are detailing the 5 best waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge along Oregon Scenic Highway 30. For the specific location of each, use our Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Map below.
#1 Latourell Falls Columbia River Gorge
One of the most impressive waterfalls along Columbia River Gorge, Latourell Falls streams in a single 224-foot drop from a columnar basalt rock cliff overhang. The waterfall itself is stunning, but the dark rock wall speckled with bright green lichen adds character to the scene.
How To See Latourell Falls
From the parking lot, visitors can take the path to the left of the informational sign up to a viewpoint. However, the better view is from the base of the falls, which is easy to get to via the path to the right of the informational plaque.
Latourell Falls Hiking Trail and the Upper Latourell Falls
In addition to the Lower Latourell Falls, there is a second waterfall, Upper Latourell Falls – which is a two-tiered waterfall nestled in a small canyon.
To get to the upper falls, visitors take the 2.4-mile Latourell Falls Loop Trail. The path ascends through forest and rocky terrain to Upper Latourell Falls. While rated as easy, the trail does have an elevation gain of 625 feet.
Latourell Falls Amenities
Access to Latourell Waterfall is fairly easy. There are small parking lots on both sides of the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway. The Latourell Falls State Park – a short walk from the base of the falls along Latourell Creek – has a picnic area. There are vault toilets in the south parking lot.
#2 Bridal Veil Falls Columbia River Gorge
Bridal Veil Falls is one of the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge that is situated deep in lush, green nature. The two-tiered waterfall tumbles down two perpendicular rock walls. The angle of the water flow makes the falls look like a bridal veil.
How To See Bridal Veil Falls
It takes a little effort to see Bridal Veil Falls – but, trust us, it’s worth it! To get to the falls, visitors take the path to the right of the informational sign.
The hike down to the falls is a descending 0.3-mile forest trail. After crossing a bridge, it’s a short walk to the viewpoint. Visitors can also scramble down to Bridal Veil Creek, but the best waterfall views are from the elevated viewing area.
Bridal Veil Falls Hiking Trail to the Columbia River Gorge View
From the Bridal Veil parking lot, a second half-mile looping trail veers to the left toward the river. The easy, flat trail offers stunning views over the river gorge and features informational plaques about the area.
Bridal Veil Waterfall Amenities
The parking lot at Bridal Veil Falls is on the north side of the Historic Columbia River Hwy. While there are no picnic tables, there is a large, grassy lawn where visitors can spread out a blanket. There are flush toilets at the trailhead.
Across the highway is the historic Bridal Veil Lodge Bed and Breakfast – which dates to the year 1926.
#3 Wahkeena Waterfall Columbia River Gorge
Rather than a long plunging waterfall (like other waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge), the beautiful Wahkeena Falls is a 242-foot-long cascading waterfall that weaves and tumbles its way down the mountainside.
How To See Wahkeena Falls
The base of Wahkeena Waterfall is visible from the road – but there is a better vantage point.
To get to the Wahkeena Falls viewpoint, visitors need to cross the highway from the parking lot and embark on a short hike. The gently inclining 0.2-mile trek along the Wahkeena Falls Trail #420 leads up to a point where it crosses the most spectacular portion of the falls.
Wahkeena Waterfall Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge
There is a network of hiking trails that either start or intersect with the #420 Trail at Wahkeena Falls.
Continuing past the waterfall viewpoint on Wahkeena Falls 420, a series of switchbacks leads to Lemmons Viewpoint – which provides a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge.
Visitors who are up for a longer and more strenuous Columbia River Gorge hike can continue on past Lemmons Viewpoint to Fairy Falls (a small, but dazzling waterfall).
From Fairy Falls, trails break off and loop around the mountain – including a route to Multnomah Falls. The moderate Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop Hike is a total of 4.9 miles and has an elevation gain of 1600 feet.
Return Trail #442 is a separate trail that runs parallel to the highway and is accessed at the base of the falls on the east side. The half-mile trail is mostly flat and connects Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah.
Wahkeena Falls Amenities
Parking at Wahkeena Falls consists of a small, roadside lot…and a much larger, nearly hidden parking area. The big parking lot is accessed on the west end of the roadside parking lot. In the lower lot, there are picnic tables and vault toilets.
#4 Multnomah Falls: The Best Waterfalls Columbia River Gorge
Of all the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah is the most famous. In fact, the waterfall is so popular that it sees more than 2 million visitors a year – so even though it is a natural wonder, it can feel a little Disney-esque. During the peak summer season, tickets may be required for entry to Multnomah Falls. Be sure to check before your visit if advanced tickets are required.
Multnomah Waterfall is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, with a two-tier drop of 620 feet. The Benson Footbridge, which was built in 1925, crosses at falls at an elevation of 105 feet.
Although it can get congested, the Multnomah Waterfall is a Columbia River Gorge must-see sight!
How To See Multnomah Falls
One of the great things about visiting Multnomah Falls is that the best vantage point is at the base of the falls.
The paved entrance provides easy access to the large viewing deck. From the deck, a footpath winds through the forest to Benson Bridge for another amazing view of the falls.
Multnomah Falls and Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Hikes
Beyond Benson Bridge, the hiking trail at Multnomah Falls – officially named, Larch Mountain Trail #441 – continues for several miles. Around the first bend past the bridge, visitors are greeted to an incredible view across the gorge. From there, eleven switchbacks take hikers up to a spur trail and observation deck of the top of Multnomah Falls.
Continuing along the Larch Mountain Trail #441, however, leads to more waterfalls – and, eventually, it intersects with Wahkeena Trail #420.
Multnomah Falls Parking
One of the downsides to visiting the most-popular natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest is that the parking is horrendous – especially when you are taking a scenic Columbia River Gorge road trip on Historic Highway 30.
The parking lot on the north side of the historic byway is very small and is often closed at peak times. Do not block the road to wait for a spot, and cause even more congestion. When traveling eastbound (the direction we recommend in our itinerary), there are limited places to turn around past the Multnomah Falls parking lot – which can make it all very stressful.
Visitors have two alternate options to parking at Multnomah Falls. The first option is to continue driving east on the historic highway for 4 miles to where you can access I-84 West. Take I-84 West to Exit 31 where there is a large parking lot for Multnomah Falls. The second – and we think better – option is to leave your car parked at Wahkeena Falls. Rather than drive, hike the half-mile Return Trail #442 to Multnomah Falls.
Believe us, the easy Columbia River Gorge Hiking trail between the two sites is a much better option than attempting to drive and find a parking spot at Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls Amenities
There are numerous amenities at Multnomah Falls – including the Multnomah Falls Lodge and Restaurant, a gift shop, snack bar, the Columbia River Gorge Visitor Center and bathrooms with flush toilets. That said, there is not a picnic area – and with the crowds, we do not recommend trying to eat a picnic lunch here.
#5 Horsetail Falls Columbia River Gorge
A plunging 176-foot-long waterfall, Horsetail Waterfalls in Columbia Gorge is a magnificent sight! The thundering falls cascade into a shallow aqua pool then flow into Horsetail Creek and eventually into the Columbia River. The waterfall is named for the fact that the spouting water resembles the tail of a horse.
How To See Horsetail Falls
Located right on the highway, Horsetail Falls is the easiest waterfall to see. You don’t even need to get out of your car, although, we suggest that you do so that you can relax and enjoy it!
From the parking lot, carefully cross the street for a fantastic view – or walk down to the water’s edge for an even better viewpoint and feel the mist!
Horsetail Falls Columbia River Gorge Hiking Trail to Ponytail Falls
A steep trail, Horsetail Falls Trail #438, climbs up the mountainside via a series of switchbacks to Upper Horsetail Falls – a.k.a. Ponytail Falls. From Ponytail Falls, the trail continues to a rocky bluff overlooking Oneonta Creek. While the trail is considered to be easy, be aware that there are steep cliffs and no barriers.
Just prior to reaching Ponytail Falls is an unmarked spur trail. The route, called Rock of Ages Trail, inclines steeply to a rock arch and an amazing viewpoint of Columbia Gorge.
Note: Much of the area around Oneonta Gorge was affected by the Eagle Creek Fire – which resulted in trail closures. Be sure to pay attention to (and follow the directions on) the signs. It’s always a good idea to check Columbia River Gorge conditions – for both driving and hiking – before setting off on your road trip.
Horsetail Falls Amenities
The parking lot at Horsetail Falls is on the north side of the street – across from the waterfall. Although it is small, people tend to come and go quickly so it wasn’t too difficult to find a spot. Timing is everything!
There is an excellent picnic area east of the falls, but no toilets.
Things To Do: Columbia River Gorge
If you are wondering what to do at Columbia River Gorge besides see waterfalls, we’ve got it covered! We are outlining the best things to do in the Columbia Gorge to help you plan your day.
Columbia River Gorge Hikes
Hiking is one of the best things to do in the Columbia Gorge! Highlights of hiking Columbia River Gorge are the phenomenal views and hidden waterfalls.
In the above Waterfall section, we feature what we think are the best hikes in Columbia River Gorge for day trippers.
Avid hikers staying in the region longer can find detailed information about hikes in the Columbia River Gorge in this highly rated trail guide.
Bicycling the Gorge
Why drive Columbia River Gorge when you can bike it?!
Bicycling is a popular activity in the Columbia River Gorge. In fact, there are ample opportunities to engage in pedal power throughout the region.
Before you set off, be certain to review all the details, rules and tips on road cycling.
Need a bike or want a guide? Join a highly rated Hiking and Bicycling Tour through the gorge.
Columbia River Gorge Viewpoints
The vast Columbia River Gorge is a stunningly beautiful sight. On a day trip to the gorge, we recommend stopping at a few different spots to take in some of the most amazing views.
Crown Point State Park and Vista House
The Vista House at Crown Point offers one of the best view of Columbia River Gorge. The viewing deck and Vista House are located right on Old Highway 30.
The Vista House, a historic octagonal structure, was built in 1917 and today welcomes visitors with educational displays and informational tours.
The Vista House Museum has an onsite gift shop stocked with souvenirs and an espresso bar for coffee, snacks and refreshments.
Chanticleer Point Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint
The small Portland Women’s Forum lookout is a favorite Columbia River Gorge viewpoint – and it is easily accessed via the scenic byway. From the Chanticleer Point observation deck, the easterly view showcases the grandness of the gorge – and encompasses the Vista House, as well.
Perhaps one of the most epic viewpoints in the region, Sherrard Viewpoint is a must-see for mountain lovers. From the Sherrard Viewing platform, visitors nearly have a 360-degree view over the Cascade Range – including awesome views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson.
Located within Mt Hood National Park on top of Larch Mountain, Sherrard Viewpoint is a bit of a detour from the Historic Highway 30, but on a clear day the 14-mile detour up Larch Mountain Road is worth it!
Note: There is plenty of parking at Sherrard Viewpoint, but there is a required $5 park fee (or you can display an Interagency Pass if you have one). It is necessary to climb a long staircase to reach the viewpoint. A picnic area and vault toilets are located near the parking lot.
Bridge of the Gods
The modern Bridge of the Gods is a cantilever bridge in Cascade Locks that spans the Columbia River, connecting Oregon and Washington. The bridge is part of the famed Pacific Crest Trail.
Bridge of the Gods was constructed in 1926 as a toll bridge and measures 1,858-feet-long. A faded but interesting mural is painted on the bridge foundation on the Oregon side.
One of the fun Columbia River Gorge activities is to drive across the marvelous Bridge of the Gods – and to do so, you will need $2 cash.
Note: Before crossing over the bridge, consider a stop at Thunder Island Brewing, a craft brewery with a full food menu, beer to go and stunning Columbia River views in Cascade Locks!
Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum
Visitors interested in learning more about the geology of the gorge and the civilizations that have resided in the region should stop at the Columbia River Gorge Museum. The museum, which features historic exhibits and artifacts, gets rave reviews from patrons.
The museum is located on the north side of the Columbia River in Stevenson, Washington – not too far from the Bridge of the Gods. A ticket is required to enter the museum.
Boat Tours Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge boat tours offer a unique vantage point and a memorable experience. Hop aboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler paddlewheel replica boat in Cascade Locks for a fun Columbia Gorge river cruise! Temporarily Closed, Check for updates here.
Columbia River Gorge Tour
We visited the gorge on our own – but you can opt for a convenient, no-hassle day trip to Columbia River Gorge from Portland with a professional guide.
In the height of the summer tourist season, we would recommend leaving the driving to someone else – so that you can focus solely on the picturesque scenery.
The oh-so-popular half-day waterfalls tour from Portland is a top pick among fellow travelers. In addition to making stops at 4 waterfalls and 2 viewpoints, participants have an on-board guide to narrate the sights of the day. Reserve Your Spot!
Alternatively, Portland visitors can embark on a Jetboat trip from the city, under the bridges and up the Columbia River to see Multnomah Waterfall. Find out more!
Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Trip Itinerary
Now, let’s put it all together! We wrap up the top things to do in Columbia Gorge in our road trip itinerary with a timeline that you can use to plan your perfect Columbia River vacation.
The timeline works best with minimal-to-moderate traffic. If you are making the trip in the summer on a weekend, the scenic drive to Columbia River Gorge will likely take a lot longer than what is listed. Remember, it is always best to get an early start to avoid the crowds.
8:30am – Depart Portland (or Vancouver, WA)
Take I-84 East to Exit 17 to Troutdale. Follow the signs for the Historic Columbia River Highway.
9:00am – Arrive at Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint
Make a quick stop at the viewpoint for your first incredible view of the gorge. Spend 5 minutes at the observation deck snapping photos.
If the weather is clear – and only if it is clear – detour onto Larch Mountain Road a half mile east of Portland Women’s Forum Viewpoint. Enjoy the forested scenery along the 14-mile Larch Mountain Road to the Sherrard Viewpoint.
9:30am – Arrive at Sherrard Viewpoint in Mt Hood National Park
Hike up the stairs to the monumental Cascade Mountain peak viewing platform. After you take in the views, don’t linger too long – because there is a lot to see in the gorge!
Complete the drive back down the mountain and back onto the Historic Columbia River Hwy heading east. Once on the road it is just a short drive to Crown Point.
10:20am – Arrive at Crown Point and Vista House
Take in the view from the Crown Point Columbia Gorge observation deck and step inside the Vista House for the exhibits or to grab a coffee. Spend about 15 minutes at this stop.
From Vista House, the road snakes down into gorge – and it is only 2.5 miles on Oregon Historic Route 30 to Latourell Falls.
10:45am – Latourell Falls
At Latourell Falls, take a leisurely walk down to the base of the falls (going to the right of the information sign). Enjoy a moment savoring the views from the bottom of the falls.
Note: If you got an early start (or skipped Sherrard Viewpoint), consider taking the 2.4 mile loop trail to the upper falls.
Back at your car, continue driving east on Historic Route 30 under a canopy of trees. It’s just a 2-mile drive to Bridal Veil Falls.
11:10am – Bridal Veil Falls
Spend a half hour hiking down the forested trail to see Bridal Falls. If time allows, spend 10 minutes walking the Gorge Loop Trail and reading the informational plaques displaying Columbia River Gorge facts.
Three miles further down the scenic byway is Wahkeena Falls. Drive east and access the larger parking lot by turning sharply into the driveway at the west end of the street-side parking spaces.
12:00pm – Wahkeena Falls
At Wahkeena Falls, bring your packed picnic lunch and plenty of water. After walking up to the waterfall viewpoint, continue trekking up the switchbacks to Lemmons Viewpoint. Eat your picnic lunch here (you’ll have to stand at the viewpoint – but find a place to sit along the wall when hiking up the switchbacks or if you prefer there are picnic tables in the parking lot).
Note: Depending on your schedule and hiking level, you could continue hiking the Columbia River Gorge trails to Fairy Falls and then on to Multnomah Falls.
For a less strenuous hike (and to fit our timeline schedule), retrace your footsteps back down the mountain to the base of Wahkeena Falls. Instead of crossing the road and getting into your car, hop on Return Trail #442 and make the 15-minute, relatively flat walk to Multnomah Falls.
1:00pm – Multnomah Falls
Follow the signs – and the people – to the base of Multnomah Falls. As these are the most impressive falls, plan on spending at least an 1 hour at Multnomah Waterfall.
After taking your photographs, embark on the short hike up to the Benson Bridge. Continue past the bridge for a gorgeous trailside Columbia River Gorge overlook. Then, trek up the inclined switchbacks to the Top of the Falls.
Note: If time allows – and you have the energy – continue a mile further to see a few more Columbia River Gorge waterfalls (Dutchman Falls, Wiesendanger Falls and Ecola Falls) before turning around and heading back down to the base of the falls.
Retrace your steps on Return Trail #442 to your car at the Wahkeena parking lot. Drive 3 miles east, passing Oneonta Gorge and Tunnel to Horsetail Falls.
Top Tip: If you didn’t bring a packed lunch, grab something from the café or – if you have time – sit down at the Multnomah Lodge Columbia River Gorge restaurant.
2:45pm – Horsetail Falls
Park your car and spend just 5 minutes viewing the Horsetail Waterfall, unless you are bursting with energy and want to scamper up the steep trail to Ponytail Falls!
Driving east after Horsetail Falls, you have the option to get onto I-84 West toward Portland.
However, we suggest that you continue your day trip on I-84 East to Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods (which is just 8 miles further).
3:05pm – Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks
Pull into the parking lot at the bridge’s foundation and take a few minutes to snap photos and gaze at the impressive structure. When you are ready, pay the toll and cross the Bridge of the Gods into the state of Washington.
Note: While in Cascade Locks, you may consider taking one of the Columbia River Gorge cruises or grabbing a fresh growler of beer to take with you for later at Thunder Island Brewing.
3:10pm – Begin the Drive to Portland on Washington State Route 14
Part of the Lewis and Clark Trail Scenic Byway, WA SR 14 follows the Columbia River west to Vancouver, WA and connects to I-5, which leads to Portland.
We prefer to take this route back to Portland so that you can see the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, too.
The drive on Route 14 in Washington from Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River Gorge to Portland takes about 50 minutes – getting you back to Portland at around 4:00pm…but you might want to make some stops along the way.
Sights To See on Washington State Route 14
Consider making a few stops as you make your way back to Portland.
Beacon Rock and Beacon Rock Trail
Embark on a mile-long trail of switchbacks to the top of the 848-foot-tall Beacon Rock – an iconic rock formation along the Columbia River Gorge. The hike offers dazzling views of the gorge every step of the way.
Skamania General Store and Beacon Rock Cafe
A classic roadside general store and café serving burgers and fries.
Cape Horn Lookout
A small, roadside pull off with terrific views over the Columbia River Gorge.
4:00pm – Arrive in Portland
Complete your road trip back in Portland in the late afternoon or early evening. If you need tips for things to do in Portland, use our helpful Portland Itinerary.
Map: Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls
Our Columbia River Gorge Map highlights the top destinations on the scenic driving route.
Use this link to Google Maps for an interactive version of our Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Map. When you open our map of Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls, click on the icons for more information.
Scenic Drive Columbia River Gorge: Alternate Suggestions
Above, we detailed the best route to see Columbia River Gorge. Our itinerary for the Columbia Gorge historic highway drive encompasses what we think are the best viewpoints and waterfalls. However, there other ways to plan a trip on the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway.
Multnomah Falls Scenic Drive
If you are short on time and only want to see the biggest and best waterfall – Multnomah Falls – then there is an easy way to do it. Simply take Interstate 84 to Exit 31. At the Multnomah Falls exit, there is a large parking lot and it’s just a short walk to the waterfall.
While the drive is not nearly as beautiful as the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway, it is quicker (and still pretty).
Alternatively, you can complete a Columbia River Gorge loop drive utilizing the Old Columbia River Highway and Interstate 84. Drive the Multnomah Falls scenic route along the historic Columbia River highway on the way to the waterfall and then hop on Interstate 84 for a quicker drive back to Portland.
Same Route, More Hikes, More Waterfalls
We featured the top waterfalls to see when driving Columbia River Gorge historic highway from Portland to the Bridge of the Gods. However, there are many more waterfalls you might want to seek out on your Columbia River drive. In fact, there are two more highly rated Columbia River scenic highway waterfalls that visitors can access via hikes: Eagle Creek Falls and Dry Creek Falls.
Eagle Creek Falls and Trail
One of the most popular trails in the Oregon Columbia River Gorge, Eagle Creek Trail follows Eagle Creek to some of the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge – including Metlako Falls, Punch Bowl Falls and Tunnel Falls. The hike is about a 4-mile roundtrip trek.
Dry Creek Falls
Nestled deep in a crevice in the gorge, it takes a little effort to the Dry Creek Waterfall via the Dry Creek trail, but it’s a gorgeous hike! Note: The location of the trail is incorrectly labeled on Google Maps; park at the Bridge of the Gods trailhead and follow signs for the Pacific Crest Trail to the south. The hike is about 4.5 miles roundtrip.
The Gorge Oregon: Portland to The Dalles
As we mentioned, The Gorge in Oregon stretches from Troutdale to the confluence of the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers – which is near The City of The Dalles. One of the oldest settlements in Oregon, is best known as marking the end of the famed Oregon Trail (because the terrain was too rugged at that time to venture further west).
Visitors who want to travel the complete length of the Columbia River Gorge from Portland should aim for The Dalles. It is possible to drive nearly the entire route on the historic Highway 30, the first scenic highway. Along this route there are a few more things to do along Columbia River Gorge – such as the Mosier Twin Tunnels, the Tom McCall Preserve (known for epic landscapes and wildflowers) and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.
Mt Hood – Columbia River Gorge Loop
An alternate way to complete a Columbia River Gorge road trip is to drive all the way to Mount Hood and the Hood River. Then, rather than back tracking, from Hood River, hop on the Mount Hood Scenic Byway via OR-35 and US-26 to get back to Portland.
The Mt Hood Scenic Loop takes travelers through dense forests and fruit valleys and around the southern side of the iconic Mount Hood. Impressive mountain views and vivid natural landscapes are highlights of this drive.
The Hood River Scenic Drive distance is about 100 miles. To get from Hood River to Portland could take as little as 2 hours, but drivers should actually plan for a 3- to 4-hour road trip – which is in addition to the time it takes for the Columbia River scenic drive.
There are two ways to complete this route: Make the entire drive in Oregon or cross over to Washington for part of the journey.
Drive to Mt Hood via Columbia Gorge Oregon Side Only
Drive from Portland to the Gorge via the Old Columbia River Highway – then continue driving past Cascade Locks to the city of Hood River.
Along the Portland to Hood River drive, one of the top sights to see after the Bridge of the Gods is Starvation Creek Falls. A short, easy trail from Starvation Creek State Park quickly takes you to the base of the Starvation Creek Waterfall. Adventurous trekkers can hike through a thick forest to nearby Viento State Park or in the opposite direction to Cabin Creek Falls. It is also possible to hike up the side of the falls for a viewpoint from the Oregon Gorge into Washington State.
Once past Starvation Creek, continue to Mount Hood and loop back to Portland on the Oregon scenic highways, OR-35 and US-26.
Drive to Mount Hood via Oregon 30 and Washington Lewis and Clark Highway
Start the Columbia River Gorge drive from Portland – and see the 5 highlighted waterfalls on Historic Columbia River Highway. Then, cross over the Bridge of Gods to the Columbia River Gorge Washington side. However, rather than traveling west toward Portland, go east and continue your Columbia River Scenic drive in Washington on the Lewis and Clark Highway.
Visit the Columbia Gorge Museum and Interpretive Center, then continue past Dog Mountain Trail (steep hike, permit required) to Dog Creek Falls. Located on the highway, the Dog Creek Waterfall is just a short jaunt from the parking lot. A fairly intense hike along the creek leads to more waterfalls and pools.
Where To Stay: Columbia River Gorge
If you are planning a Columbia River Gorge vacation, you likely want to find accommodations close to the waterfalls and natural attractions.
Hotels: Columbia River Gorge
If you are wondering where to stay in Columbia River Gorge, we have a few top traveler picks – on each end of Historic Route 30.
Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn
The Best Western Plus Columbia River Gorge Hotel is located in Cascade Locks, just east of the Bridge of the Gods. The hotel, which has an indoor pool and hot tub (great after a long day of hiking!), gets rave reviews from fellow travelers. High points are the included breakfast, microwave/fridge combo and onsite laundromat. Check rates and availability!
McMenamins Edgefield Hotel Troutdale
One of the most unique hotels in Oregon, McMenamins Edgefield is so much more than a place to stay near the Columbia River Gorge. The property, which is situated in a rural setting, is inclusive of multiple bars and restaurants – as well as a soaking pool, golf and movie theater. The downside, however, is that there are no ensuite bathrooms – only shared – and there is no air conditioning. Check the reviews and amenities!
Comfort Inn Troutdale
Recently renovated, the Comfort Inn Troutdale is one of the hotels in Columbia River Gorge that gets excellent reviews. Located just two minutes from the beginning of the Columbia Gorge Historic Scenic Highway, the Comfort Inn features spacious rooms, comfy beds and a good breakfast. Check rates and availability!
Camping: Columbia River Gorge
You can find information about renting cabins and camping in Columbia River Gorge on the official Forest Service website.
What to Bring on Your Columbia River Gorge Drive
Now that you know what to do in Columbia River Gorge and how to plan your Oregon scenic drive, we have a few final tips on what you will want to bring with you!
Once on the Historic Columbia River Highway, there is only one place to buy water: Multnomah Falls. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you – especially if you are planning on hiking.
Oregon Hiking Shoes
Even if you don’t plan on hiking you will want to wear a good pair of walking shoes. Most of the waterfalls require a short trail walk to the best viewpoints – and you don’t want to miss out because you wore the wrong footwear.
Binoculars to Spot Oregon Waterfalls
One of the best things about the Columbia Gorge waterfalls is that you get right up to them! That said, we still recommend bringing a pair of binoculars to see the details at the top of the falls, across the gorge and for nature spotting.
The falls in Oregon on the Columbia Gorge are breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly photogenic! Rather than trying to capture the beauty of the waterfalls with your phone camera, we highly recommend upgrading to a real travel camera.
Have a look at all our tips for finding the Best Budget Camera for Travelers.
Whether you are hiking on the Oregon trails or just taking in the views, it is essential to carry a good day pack.
Inside your day pack you can store your car keys, water bottle, camera, phone, binoculars and other everyday travel items.
In order to be flexible while sightseeing in the Columbia River Gorge, we think it is best to pack a picnic lunch that you can eat whenever you get hungry.
Trail mix and granola bars are good to have on hand, too!
Paper Map of Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls Region
As it true with any road trip, it is a good idea to have a printed paper map for your gorge trip, too. Buy an Oregon Map – like this one – especially if you plan on traveling to other parts of the state!
How To Plan Your Oregon Trip
Visiting Columbia River Gorge is one of the top things to do on a trip to Oregon. However, it is far from the only attraction in the state. In fact, Oregon boasts some of the best outdoor attractions and most stunningly scenic landscapes in the United States. Fellow travelers can use our detailed travel guides to help plan their Oregon trip.
- The Best Things To Do in Oregon
- What To Do in Portland
- Visiting Vancouver, Washington
- Driving the Oregon Coast
- Best Things To Do in Florence, OR (and the Best Hikes!)
- Top Bend Attractions
Trip Planning Organization
As you plan your Columbia Gorge drive and things to do on your Oregon vacation, keeping track of the details is essential! We recommend using a travel planner – like our Printable Travel Planner – so that you stay on top of your trip plans!
We Want To Know: Do you have any tips for sightseeing Columbia River Gorge waterfalls? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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