View from the top of Dog Mountain Washington State

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Things To Do In The Columbia River Gorge During A 3-Day Visit

The Columbia River Gorge is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. It’s vast, it’s wild, and it has something for nearly everyone. There are so many things to do during a visit to the Columbia River Gorge it can be overwhelming.

The area is made for exploring; seeing it all would take weeks. If you have only a few days, narrow it down. Here are a few highlights you can experience during a 2-3 day drive (yes, a car is a must in the area).

Mt. Hood from Lost Lake
Mt. Hood from Lost Lake
Day 1 It Is All About Waterfalls and More Waterfalls

We hopped on the historic Columbia River Highway as we left Portland. This is a stunning highway ride along the wild and windy river. The first day is about waterfalls, over 90 in a 30-mile stretch.

Why are there so many waterfalls in the Columbia River National Recreation Area? It’s because the canyon created along the river dividing Oregon and Washington has canyon walls reaching 4,000 feet. And all that Pacific Northwest rain has to go somewhere, so it rushes down the sides into the Columbia River below.

Along this stretch of road, you will have your choice of falls to visit. I’m highlighting my favorites. You can only easily experience some of them in a one-day drive, so pick and choose. Here are my picks as we drive west to each along the river. (Link to a more detailed page on the waterfalls)

  • Latourell Falls
    This 249-foot waterfall might not be the tallest, is a great first stop. I recommend the 2.4-mile LaTourell Falls loop trail. It offers excellent views of both his lower and upper falls.
  • Bridal Veil Falls
    This is a two-part, 120-foot waterfall. You can view it from two vantage points, one above the falls and one below. Of course, we did both, and neither was a disappointment.
  • Wahkeena Falls
    This 242-foot cascading fall is just a short .2-mile hike from the parking lot. This area also offers another 2.8-mile hike along the Wahkeena Trail.
  • Multnomah Falls
    This is the iconic waterfall that is most recognizable. It is estimated that 2.5 million people visit these falls each year. So timing is essential. The parking lot was full on our trip to the falls, and cars were waiting everywhere to grab the next spot. We hate lines, so we skipped it on our drive to Hood River (since we hit this point at around 1 pm). We decided to return early on our return to the Portland area a few days later. We arrived at 8 am, and only about five cars in the lot. So try this on your return trip. But don’t skip it, because it is worth the visit.
  • Horsetail Falls (with a hike to the upper falls and walk behind the falls)
    This is also a very visited stop on the highway. But if you want to escape the crowds, take the 1-mile hike to the upper falls after viewing the lower falls. It’s a steep trail, but you are rewarded with the opportunity to walk behind the falls. A beautiful vantage point.

Hood River was our destination. It’s a great little town with restaurants and outstanding breweries. In the early evening, the riverfront was alive with kiteboarders everywhere. Cool air from the Pacific Ocean is pulled through the Columbia River Gorge producing strong thermal winds from spring to fall. The Hood River sandbar is the central stage for kiteboarding in the area and is near downtown. It’s a great spectator activity. It is not something you can learn with one quick lesson.

Hood River has limited accommodation options, especially if you want more high-end accommodations. We chose to stay slightly outside of town at the Columbia Cliff Villas. The rooms were spacious and clean. The location had a great river view and was convenient for exploring.

Hood River offers a lot of casual dining options. On the first night, we opted for Solstice Wood Fired Pizza. I love pizza and thought this was an excellent thin-crust, wood-fired option. There are few riverfront dining options, but this restaurant has a great patio along the Hood River Waterfront Park.

Day 2 Put On Your Hiking Boots!

Today is all about hiking. With the incredible mountain scenery, you must put on the hiking boots and head upwards. But before you take off, you need fuel, and Bette’s Place is exactly what you need. It’s an old-fashioned diner and not the healthiest pre-hiking fuel option. But if you go, take advantage of the massive Homemade Cinnamon Roll. I’m still thinking about it weeks later!

Today we are spending the day in Washington State. Cross the Hood River-White Salmon Bridge and turn left. In about 12 miles, you will find a parking area for Dog Mountain. This is a strenuous hike, at only 3 miles round trip but with a 1,500 ft. elevation gain. You can do this as a loop trail, but we opted for the out and back. Throughout the hike, you will have excellent vantage points and the welcomed gorge winds to keep you cool. The summit has a spectacular view and is worth the leg and lung-burning climb. We did this climb in the autumn but heard it is incredible in the spring during prime wildflower bloom.

We needed food and a beer post-hike, so we headed to Stevenson, Washington, to Walking Man Brewing. It’s hidden down a set of stairs from the street level. They had great food and even better beer. The patio setting was shaded and casual. It’s the perfect place to rest your tired legs after the hike.

The hike and ride took most of the afternoon. Hood River and found our next beer and dinner at Ferment Brewing Company. The food was casual, with great burgers and some good vegan options. The beer was even better and, coupled with the excellent patio setting, made for a perfect evening after a strenuous day.

Day 3 Get Lost Today

We decided we wanted to experience the Mt. Hood area. The volcano looms over the entire area and beckons you to explore. It’s a vast area, and we had one day to check it out. We decided to visit Lost Lake, about an hour’s drive from Hood River. This was a fantastic choice. The lake offers some short hikes with great views of Mt Hood. But our favorite part was an hour of tranquil kayaking on the lake. We rented our kayaks from Lost Lake Resort, costing $25 per hour for a single kayak. You can also pedal boats and stand-up paddle boards, among other things. This was a highlight of our day.

After lunch, we explored the area and stumbled upon signs for Hood River Lavender Farms, which, unknown to us, was adjacent to Stave & Stone Winery. It was a gorgeous fall day, and Stave & Stone had a wonderful lawn filled with chairs and, more important, a bar serving wine. We toured the lavender fields and drank some wine, the perfect finish to our afternoon.

Dinner was at the Riverside Restaurant, the only riverfront option in Hood River. The food is more expensive, with entrees priced between $25-$36. It’s a great setting, with beautiful views.

Autumn was a wonderful time in Oregon. The skies were clear, and the air was refreshing. We could have spent at least double the time exploring this area, but we will return to finish the job in the future.

For more Oregon travel ideas check out these posts, Perfect Itinerary for the Northern Oregon Coast and Portland Oregon Travel, 1 Day – 4 Fun Things To Do.

Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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