Just an hour away from the busy city life of Portland, Oregon is the majestic Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its beautiful waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, hiking trails, and wineries – all with Mt. Hood hovering in the backdrop. This guide will answer everything you need to know for planning the perfect weekend trip to the Columbia River Gorge.
In the heart of the Gorge is the laid-back backpacker town of Hood River. You’ll find the best Columbia River Gorge wineries, outdoor activities, breweries, and waterfalls near Hood River all with gorgeous Mount Hood in the backdrop.
Brief History of the Columbia River Gorge
Just an hour away from the busy city life of Portland, Oregon is the majestic Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its beautiful waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, hiking trails, and wineries all with Mt. Hood hovering in the backdrop.
In the heart of the Gorge is the laid-back backpacker town of Hood River. You’ll find the best Columbia River Gorge wineries, outdoor activities, breweries, and waterfalls near Hood River all with gorgeous Mount Hood in the backdrop. This guide will answer everything you need to know for planning the perfect weekend trip to the Columbia River Gorge.
Getting to the Columbia River Gorge
If you’re traveling by air, Portland Airport (PDX) will be your closest airport to the Gorge.
It’s only an hour drive to the Gorge from the Portland Airport, and I highly recommend renting a car. The Columbia Gorge has some of the best views in the U.S., and the drive from Portland through the Columbia River Gorge is part of the adventure! Having a car makes it so easy to pull over and explore something new on your own schedule.
When to Visit the Columbia River Gorge
With so many activities outside, it’s best to visit the Gorge when the weather is at its best! The only time I would avoid is November-March best this is when you’ll have the most amount of rain and chances of snow. Summer and fall are fantastic seasons to plan your trip with a higher chance of sunnier weather and excellent conditions for hiking. The fall foliage along the Columbia River Gorge is stunning.
How Long to Stay in the Columbia River Gorge
A long weekend in the Gorge from Friday to Sunday is perfect! Once you visit you’ll find yourself wanting to return back! There’s no way you can cover everything in a weekend, but two full days will give you the feeling of what life is like this beautiful region of the Pacific Northwest.
Things to Do in the Columbia River Gorge
Checkout the Views at Visa House Crown Point
Your getaway to the Gorge begins with your first stop at the panoramic viewpoint at the Vista House Crown Point. You’ll find some of the best panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge here! It’s also the perfect place to pick up a free map to get familiar with the area.
Hike to Gorgeous Waterfalls
The state of Oregon has over 200 waterfalls! It would take you years to cover them all. Lucky for you, some of Oregon’s best waterfalls are in the Gorge along the Historic Columbia River Highway. These three waterfalls are my recommendation if you’re short on time, and want to see the best waterfalls in the Gorge.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is a bit of a hike down, but these waterfalls were beautiful. This falls gets its name from its appearance, as the water is split into two levels that get progressively wider towards the bottom, giving it the look of a flowing bridal veil.
Photo Tip: The best photo of Bridal Veil Falls is on the wooden lookout point that’s built at the end of the trial.
The gem of Oregon and the waterfall you cannot miss is Multnomah Falls. Multnomah Falls is the number one visited landmark in Oregon, and it’s absolutely breathtaking!
It’s no surprise it’s also one of the most crowded waterfalls on the scenic highway – especially during the summer months. Due to its popularity, they have several overflow parking lots nearby along with maps and security guards available for questions. Plan to visit early morning or late afternoon on weekdays. If possible, try to avoid summer weekends if you want less crowds. After the Eagle Creek Wildfire, trails around the falls have reopened slowly, but the upper trails are still closed to hikers.
The last waterfall along the Historic Columbia River Highway is Horsetail Falls. This one is easy to get to because all you have to do is park your car and walk less than 50 steps and you’re there! It’s the perfect waterfall to end with after a long day of hiking and sightseeing. Similar to Bridal Veil, Horsetail Falls earns its name because of its skinny shape and a slight bend halfway down, similar to a horsetail.
Try WindSurfing or Kiteboarding in Hood River
Hood River is one of the best places for kiteboarding and windsurfing in the United States. Winds are continuously blowing from the Columbia River Gorge, and the high winds are perfect conditions for wind sports from May to September. If you’re not a kiteboarder, or a windsurfer just yet then Hood River is the perfect place to learn! Checkout one of the many schools in town, including Cascade Kiteboarding, Gorge Kiteboard School, Brian’s Windsurfing, Kite The Gorge, or New Wind.
Explore the Hood River Fruit Loop
Hood River Valley in the Columbia River Gorge has so many of wineries, fruit orchards, and lavender fields. This is where having your own car comes in handy! Spend a driving along the Hood River Fruit Loop and make stops wherever your heart desires!
Don’t miss the local wineries and lavender farms. Many of the wineries are open all year. Most of the fruit stands open seasonally during harvest time, which varies every year. No matter where you go, the shop owners you meet are friendly, and they’re always glad to share a piece of history of this region.
A list of the open shops and hours in the Hood River Fruit Loop are listed here.
Sip on Craft Beer
Get to know (and taste) all of the great craft breweries in this region! On a sunny day you’ll find locals and visitors sitting outside with flights beer. In Hood River, I love the ambiance of Thunder Island Brewing Co. Thunder Island sits next to the Columbia River with great sunset views and a laid back atmosphere. Order whatever beer is on tap that day (it’s all good!), and enjoy the delicious food all made with local ingredients!
Visit a Lavender Farm
I love the relaxing and refreshing smell of lavender! I couldn’t resist the chance to breathe it all in at the Hood River Lavender Farm, an organic lavender farm selling the purest, chemical-free lavender in the Gorge along the Hood River Fruit Loop.
You can pick your own lavender bouquets from June through September, or stop by their store to browse their handcrafted items for sale, including bath products, culinary items, and 100% natural lavender essential oil. You can also ask to visit their lavender gardens behind the store!
Go Wine Tasting
Take a day off from hiking and treat yourself to an afternoon wine tasting around Hood River. Hood River Valley has several charming family owned wineries with spectacular views of Mt. Hood. I was only able to make it to two wineries, but I enjoyed them both!
Mt. Hood Winery (Best Views!)
With stunning views of Mount Hood, a relaxing outdoor patio, and such a large selection of wines, Mt. Hood Winery is the perfect place to begin your wine tasting afternoon.
Take a tour through the vineyard and enjoy the taste of the crisp mountain air with the peak of Mount Hood always in your view. The tasting fee is $15.
Hood Crest Winery (Best Food!)
Just outside the town of Hood River is Hood Crest Winery. Their winery has a cozy tasting room with high ceilings, gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, and best of all a delicious farm to table food menu.
I highly recommend one of their wood-fired pizzas with pesto, artichokes, feta, olives, parmesan, and pine nuts atop their homemade dough! It was salty, Mediterranean perfection with each bite! The tasting fee is $15.
Bonus! Visit Mt. Hood National Forest
On your way back to Portland from the Columbia River Gorge, make a quick stop at Mt. Hood National Forest for a picnic and absolutely breathtaking views of Mt. Hood. You can pickup picnic snacks from Hood River from local markets.
Have a Picnic at Trillium Lake
The best viewpoint of Mount Hood is Trillium Lake. It’s an easy drive into the park, and you’re able to park for free. For those interested in staying the night, the campground is perfect for tents or RVs. Rustic sites with only a picnic table and fire pit make it the perfect place to relax.
Glamping in the Columbia River Gorge
Glamping is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The perfect mix of “glamorous” and “camping,” glamping brings the comfort of a hotel into the great outdoors. If you haven’t ever been glamping before, Oregon is the perfect place to see what all the hype is about!
This artistic AirBnB glamping experience in Stevenson, Washington is just ten minutes across the bridge from Hood River. The details here are stunning with an 18 foot tipi, plush bedding, a fire pit, hot shower, and best of all stunning views of the Columbia River.
This AirBnB has wonderful hosts who will create a memorable experience for you with so many thoughtful touches! This is the perfect glamping experience that couldn’t be more dreamy!
If it’s your first time using AirBnb, use my link here for a free credit off your stay!
Final Thoughts on the Columbia River Gorge
A trip to Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is the perfect vacation. During the summer months you’ll have plenty of sunshine with fantastic weather May to September. I promise you that anytime spent wine tasting and hiking in the Gorge will leave you feeling relaxed and recharged.
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