Benson Lake — Photo courtesy of Meagan Shamy
Just outside of Portland, Ore. to the east is one of the most scenic drives in the United States: the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway. In fact, it was the first scenic highway in the United States. Just going out to the scenic Columbia Gorge area to see the waterfalls is worth a trip to Portland, even if you do nothing else.
Along the 70-mile route, you'll encounter waterfalls, historic monuments and buildings, fish hatcheries and awe-inspiring overlooks.
To begin, you'll start in historic downtown Troutdale, which is exit 17 off of Interstate 84 East. Here you will find cute boutiques like the General Store and multiple eateries. From there, head along the Sandy River towards the tiny town of Corbett.
It is in Corbett that you will encounter your first panoramic overlook at the Portland’s Women’s Forum. You will want to park and get out of the car to take in the full scope of the beauty before you. You'll be able to see the Vista House below at Crown Point, which is also your next stop.
The Vista House - built in 1917 and located 733 feet above Columbia River Gorge - is open to the public most of the year from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here you can enjoy more breathtaking views of the gorge and see educational exhibits and displays relating to the building. They also have a coffee shop, gift shop and bathrooms.
Fairy Falls — Photo courtesy of Meagan Shamy
Once you leave Crown Point, you're in for a real treat: five miles of waterfall after waterfall. Some of the falls can be seen directly from the highway. Latourell Falls and Shepperd’s Dell Falls may require a brisk walk to see them better, but Wahkeena Falls can be seen quite well from the road. Bridal Veil, on the other hand, is a sloped hike.
Just past Wahkeena Falls is the main attraction of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway: Multnomah Falls. The 620-foot waterfall is the fourth largest fall in the United States. You can park and enjoy lunch inside Multnomah Falls Lodge. You can hike up to a bridge that crosses over the falls, or if you wish, you can actually hike all the way to the top of Multnomah Falls. Many people enjoy visiting Benson Lake as well. It's the small lake next to Multnomah Falls with calm water perfect for canoeing on. Once you're done in this area, you can resume your drive towards the east.
First, you'll arrive at Horsetail Falls, another waterfall you can easily see right from the window of your car. A little further along and you will see Oneonta Gorge, where the temperature is a little cooler and helps 50 species of plants thrive. This will conclude the most scenic portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway.
If you want to continue your drive, you will need to get back on I-84 East, where you will head to the Bonneville Dam. Bonneville Lock and Dam features a fishing area, fish hatchery with massive steelheads, trails and a visitor center. Next, you'll see the Bridge of the Gods and a bit further and you will be at Cascade Locks, home to a Sternwheeler May through October.
Multnomah Falls — Photo courtesy of Meagan Shamy
Next, you'll find yourself in Hood River, a hub of activity for windsurfers. It's a great town with lots of fun shops and restaurants. Just outside of Hood River, you can get on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail here, the five-mile Twin Tunnels segment. This is a bike trail made out of the old US Highway 30.
At the end of the scenic highway, you'll find yourself in Dallas, home to both the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and the Wasco County Historical Museum.