By VALERIE MELLEMA
A visit to Oregon’s Great Outdoors is only complete when you’ve visited the Columbia River Gorge. For those who enjoy the outdoors, this is one of the most beautiful locations to spend your time, though there is much more than just outdoor recreation here.
The Columbia River Gorge is a unique place and you can attribute that to the immense beauty of the landscape around you. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is about 80 miles long and is as deep as 4,000 feet, making it an impressive impasse. The Columbia River Gorge separates Washington from Oregon.
This area is not only known for its unique outdoor activities but also for its luxury hotels and resorts, arts and museums, as well as luxurious dinning experiences and shopping. As you travel the Gorge – you can drive on either the Washington or Oregon side of the river – you’ll encounter charming, unique towns with names like Hood River, the Dalles, Goldendale, White Salmon, Stevenson and many more. Not to mention, of course, the big city of Portland which is only a short drive from the best of the Gorge scenery.
One of the most amazing features of the Gorge is that it is a piece of protected history. It is the only sea-level passage that will take you through the Cascade Mountain range. Much of the region has been a work in progress over the last 10,000 years and still it continues to change and grow. Multnomah Falls are located here, which is a large 620-foot waterfall that is just one waterfall of several that can all be seen in the Columbia River Gorge area.
Outdoor fun at its best
One of the best places to start when talking about the Columbia River Gorge is that of the many outdoor activities you will experience. Start by going hiking through the many well-established trails that take you throughout the landscape. Then, add in some biking, perhaps of the same trails or new ones. You can enjoy a fun day of golf on a number of the courses, both private and municipal. Or you can enjoy a thrill ride with one of the local companies offering white-water rafting down the White Salmon River, considered one of the Northwest’s best rivers for rafting.
Other activities include:
Windsurfing: Various parts of the Gorge offer opportunities for windsurfing at its best. All the equipment you will need, including training and guidance is available when you arrive.
Kayaking: For those who want to experience some of the best kayaking in the state, the Columbia River Gorge is one of the best places to be. Equipment, including safety gear is available for rent for your use here.
Skiing: Both downhill skiing opportunities and cross-country skiing is available here, with the various Mt. Hood ski areas within a short drive of towns like Hood River.
These are just some of the many outdoor activities that you can enjoy when you visit Columbia River Gorge.
What else you will find
But that’s just the beginning. A number of attractions exist throughout the region, ranging from hydroelectric dams to historic sternwheelers to spectacular hotels and lodgings. Here are a just a few attractions to get you started:
Bonneville Lock and Dam Visitors Center: It is a unique look at the history of the area as well as the lock system in the Gorge and beyond. It is a great option for those who want something to do outside of the water.
Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler: At Cascade Locks, Oregon, you can get a ride on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler and learn about Lewis and Clark and their expedition into the west. The boat is a triple-deck paddle-wheeler that offers an excellent opportunity to see the Gorge at its best. You can take sightseeing cruises and meal cruises.
Maryhill Winery: For those who want to do some wine sampling, this winery near Goldendale, Washington, is an outstanding location to visit. Here, you will not only taste wines but also see how they are made and enjoy the many unique challenges that winemakers have enjoyed for some time. All of this overlooks the landscape, which is one of the best views of the Gorge you will find.
Museums: A stop at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum in the Dalles, Oregon, will allow you to learn more about this unique area and it will give you a unique take on the true environmental conditions that allowed this marvel to happen. Also stop by the Maryhill Museum of Art near Goldendale where you’ll find sculptures by Rodin, American and European paintings, international chess sets, Native American artifacts, Romanian Icons, Faberge artifacts, and much more.
There are many great shopping opportunities found throughout the region as well. Stop in at Columbia Gorge Premium Outlets in Troutdale, Oregon, for a number of shopping outlets that offer name brand products at discounted prices. Stop at any of the local farmers markets and country stores you find as well. Some of the unique shops are those that are owned and operated by local artisans, all of which provide fine handmade craftsmanship that is incredibly beautiful.
For accommodations and dining needs, you will find a number of hotels, lodges and even campgrounds throughout the region. Accommodations come in all shapes and sizes and you’ll especially enjoy some of the major resorts located in the region such as the Columbia Gorge Hotel and the Skamania Lodge. For a truly unique experience, rent a cabin in the wilderness areas of the location. You will enjoy the breathtaking sounds of the Gorge and the amazing sunrise each morning.
The Columbia River Gorge provides pretty close to everything you need to enjoy the outdoors. From luxurious resorts to some of the best camping and outdoor activities, there is no doubt you will find a unique experience here perfect for your tastes. Once you do, chances are you will be back repeatedly because the location offers so much scenic beauty, education and pure relaxation.
The Columbia River Gorge, as seen from Beacon Rock, photo courtesy of ZooRaft.com