Monday, March 7, 2011

The Columbia River Gorge

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

Just before Tracy landed her job (the day before to be exact!), we took a drive through the Columbia River Gorge. We woke up to a relatively clear and sunny day which we thought would make for a beautiful backdrop. We've learned that you need to take advantage when you see the sun because you never know when you'll see it again! The forecast was for cooler temperaturates and a little wind, but we figured the sun would counter balance that.

The gorge from the historic highway

So off we went. Little did we know that when the weatherman predicts wind, the gorge is not the place to go! Apparently, there are atamostopheric wind differentials on the east and west sides of the Cascades, which effectively make the gorge a wind tunnel. It's a very popular place for windsurfing and we now understand why. In other words, if you go to the gorge, expect wind!

Latourell Falls, 249 ft drop

The Columbia River separates Oregon from Washington so we decided we'd drive the Oregon side on the way out and the Washington side on the way back. There are only a few places where you can cross the river, so we had to keep that in mind as we meandered along.

Wahkeena Falls, 242 ft drop

We drove along the historic Columbia River Highway (historic route 30). It's the oldest scenic highway in the U.S. The highway was completed in 1922 and was an engineering achievement in its time. It was a main thoroughfare back then, but was eventually replaced with I-84. The highway has been restored to resemble what it looked like back in the 20's and 30's.

Bridal Veil Falls, upper falls 100 ft drop, lower falls 60 foot drop

It's a beautiful drive through the forests and along the cliff sides, with several overlooks and numerous waterfalls along the way. We stopped at most of the pull offs and walked a few short trails. Unfortunately, the wind was brutal, even among the trees, so we found ourselves staying outside just long enough to snap a few pictures. Like many of our adventures this winter, we'd like to return in the warmer weather to do some more serious hiking.

Multnomah Falls, upper falls 542 ft drop, lower falls 69 foot drop
This is the tallest falls in Oregon and the 3rd tallest year-round falls in the U.S.

After taking in so many awesome waterfalls, we headed out of the forest and to the gorge to visit the Bonneville Dam. The Dam was built in the early 1930's as part of the New Deal program. It's main functions are river navigation and generating hydroelectric power.

Bonneville Dam

By the time we reached the town of Cascade Locks, about 30 miles down the highway, we pretty much felt beaten down by the wind. The next river crossing was another 15 or 20 miles further east and it was getting late enough that we decided to start heading back towards home. The drive on the Washington side wasn't nearly as scenic and was a bit of a disappointment compared to the historic route. There weren't many stopping points and it quickly veered away from the gorge so there wasn't much to see. But our alternative would have been to return via I-84 which we didn't want to do, so we still enjoyed our drive.

Bonneville Dam from the Washington shore

The Columbia Gorge was high on our list of places to visit while we were here and even though it was a chilly day, we had a great time. Another check on our list!


  1. Thanks for taking us along. Great pics. Can't wait to visit it.

    Travel Safe

  2. We visited Bonneville Dam last year for the first time. It was interesting, especially the fish ladder viewing windows! The best part about the tour, it's all inside and away from the windy gorge! Enjoyed your photos and narrative. Stay warm and dry, and safe.

  3. Too bad about the wind. The gorge is a beautiful place to visit. Hope you get another chance before you have to leave the area. The scenic cruises out of Cascade Locks are a nice way to enjoy the river as well.

  4. That is a beautiful area, but I'm with you on the wind - it just wears me out. It's just not my thing. But to be there on a nice, sunny, calm day would be wonderful.

  5. Love the gorge! Great photos, and I'm glad you got to go. I don't think I have ever been there when the wind wasn't blowing, but all those sailboarders at Hood River love it!

  6. Those waterfalls are amazing - nice pics. We visited the Bonneville Dam last year and loved that area. We stayed in Cascade Locks.

  7. What a fantastic day! Great pics too!


  8. Odel and I have volunteered at only one place in our travels: the visitor center at the Mosier Twin Tunnels, originally part of the historic highway, now a bike trail, a mile east of Hood River. Beautiful, beautiful spot - and very few days without wind! Loved the hiking, though.

    BTW, the trip west on I-84 is really quite beautiful - we prefer it to traveling the WA side of the gorge (and we usually avoid interstates when we can, especially when sightseeing in the Jeep). We found we like traveling east on the old highway, west on the interstate at river level. I hope you'll have a chance to give it a try on a calm day.