A road trip down the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge parallels the popular (and very busy) waterfall-filled Oregon side. When you hear about the Columbia River Gorge you usually think about that side, lined with waterfalls such as the renowned Multnomah Falls. But on the other side of the river, things are a bit slower and every bit as scenic. It’s just drier as you drive east. The Columbia River Gorge, Washington side begins just east of Vancouver, Washington, part of the greater Portland area. Confusing? Yes. But remember that the Columbia River marks the boundary between Washington and Oregon in this area and Vancouver is just a five-minute drive across the bridge from Portland, Oregon. An orientation map will help you make decisions about your road trip.
This route can be driven one way in two hours (but that doesn’t include any stops) or serve as a destination for a weekend getaway at a scenic lodge. To enjoy the drive, plan at least one day. Come along with me and discover the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge from Vancouver, Washington to Maryhill.
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Entering the Columbia River Gorge Washington
You’ll be traveling east on SR 14 out of Vancouver (also called the Lewis and Clark Highway). Before you enter the official Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, you’ll want to stop and check out the offerings of Camas and Washougal.
Camas has a quaint downtown area. Established in 1883 as a mill town, it has been revitalized to include fine shopping, dining, and services while still maintaining its historic feel. The Camas Hotel, a century-old, beautifully remodeled European boutique-style hotel is located downtown.
On First Fridays, downtown galleries, shops, and restaurants stay open late into the evening. During the summer, Camas has a seasonal farmer’s market.
Just a little farther down the highway, you’ll see Washougal, home to the Pendleton Woolen Mills factory and outlet shop.
Just across the parking lot from the Pendleton factory, you can “hike the dike” along the Columbia. Park at Pendleton and take the pedestrian tunnel to the walking and biking trail. The Columbia River Dike Trail, also known as the Captain William Clark Park Trail and the Cottonwood Beach Trail, follows the Columbia River from Steamboat Landing Park to the border of the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
A great place to stop is the Captain William Clark Regional Park at Cottonwood Beach. There is a structure resembling a native longhouse, dugout canoes, and interpretive signs telling you a bit about Captain Clark’s explorations and travel in the area.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge
You’ll encounter art with your wildlife as you walk the trails of the Steigerwald Preserve. The entrance is just past Washougal on SR 14, on the right. This beautiful preserve used to be a lowland dairy farm. No dogs are permitted at this scenic spot. The entrance is free. Also, at this point, you will be entering the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Stopping at Cape Horn
You must carefully pull over at Cape Horn for an iconic view up the river and Gorge. Cape Horn, on the other side of the road, is a massive basalt cliff outcropping. There are popular forested trails in the area named for the cape.
Beacon Rock State Park is on SR 14 in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area about 35 miles east of Vancouver. There are restrooms and a picnic area. The park is named for Beacon Rock, an 850-foot high basalt volcanic plug. You can hike up Beacon Rock (3/4-mile trail) for an expansive view of the Columbia Gorge. If you do, allow an hour or more for the narrow, steep trail and gawking at the sights when you get to the top. (Washington Discovery Pass needed)
North Bonneville Trails
As you drive along, you’ll nice the sign to North Bonneville. The community of North Bonneville was developed as a construction town next to the massive Bonneville Lock, Dam, and powerhouse. It is still a residential town featuring a golf course and an interesting trail system, with some trails dotted by Sasquatch chainsaw art. Several of the trails link with the Fort Cascades Trail, which is a perfect trail on a warm day. There is a gas station just off the highway at North Bonneville.
The Fort Cascades trail is a pleasant, meandering, flat trail with stops to learn about local history. Fort Cascades was an army fort built in 1855 to protect a portage road around the lower cascades rapids of the Columbia River. The fort burned down in 1856, was abandoned in 1861, and then flooded out in 1894. The Fort Cascades Trail will take you past these historic sites (don’t expect to see remains of buildings), beautiful mossy rocks and woods, and eventually leads into the town of North Bonneville.
Bonneville Dam Visitors Center
Just north of Fort Cascades is the Washington entrance to the Bonneville Dam Washington Shore Visitors Center. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., this complex offers an easily accessible view of the second powerhouse. Inside the fish-viewing building and the adjacent Visitor Orientation building, are exhibits on the history of fish in the area and how the hydropower plant works. (No charge)
Bridge of the Gods
If you want to drive over to I-84 on the Oregon side of the gorge, now is your chance ($2.00 toll). The Bridge of the Gods to Cascade Locks is the third oldest bridge on the Columbia River.
The Bridge of the Gods serves as the link for Pacific Crest Trail hikers to cross between Oregon and Washington. You'll hear about the bridge in Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and the movie, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon.
When in Cascade Locks, lunch with a view is an option at the Bridgeside Restaurant. The burgers are great and if you save room, there are tempting pies. Seasonally, local Native Americans sell fresh-caught salmon in the parking lot.
After your break, head back over the bridge to continue east on SR-14.
Stevenson and Skamania Lodge
Keeping on SR-14 on the Washington side, on the outskirts of Stevenson, you’ll find a sign on the left to Skamania Lodge and the Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center. Skamania Lodge, built in the style of the grand park lodges, has a marvelous view of the gorge, excellent dining, a golf course, and a zip line course.
This is an ideal place to stay if you want to make this drive into a multi-day getaway. They even have “tree houses” will full amenities.
Stevenson is a nice stop for a view of the Columbia River and if you are lucky, you'll see a riverboat docked at the Stevenson Landing Pier. If you are just making this a day trip, lunch in Stevenson would make for another good stop. Walking Man Brewing on SW First Street is an area favorite with a dog-friendly beer garden and weekend live music. Big River Grill on SW Second Street is known for fish and northwest cuisine. It offers a good selection of northwest wines and microbrews.
Columbia River Gorge Washington Winetasting
Continue on with the winding road of SR-14. You’ll see several opportunities to stop and wine taste. One we enjoyed discovering is small and homey with a gorgeous view. Aniche Cellars, with its all-female wine-making team, is located up the hill from the Columbia River at 71 Little Buck Creek Rd, Underwood, Washington. It’s off Cook-Underwood Road and tastings are by reservation.
Hood River Bridge and Windsurfers
From Stevenson east on the Columbia River, you’ll often see whitecaps. It’s windy and that provides good opportunities for windsurfers and kiteboarders. On the Washington side, just before you approach the bridge to Hood River, you may catch the colorful boards with Mt. Hood in the background. A great photo op!
At this point, if you want to visit Hood River, you can take the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge over to the Oregon side and then return to continue on to a fabulous winery with a river and mountain view.
Maryhill Winery and Maryhill Museum
To reach the Maryhill Winery, often the destination of day-trippers, follow SR-14 five miles past the bridge to The Dalles, Oregon (US 197). Maryhill Winery has a 4,000-seat amphitheater, picnicking on the spacious and scenic covered arbor, a self-service deli, and award-winning wines. If you enjoyed time in Vancouver’s Waterfront area, you may have stopped by the Maryhill tasting room there. But this is the actual winery and when you taste, consider picking up a couple of bottles of their red blend to take home with you.
You can also visit the unique Maryhill Museum of Art and Maryhill State Park. A full-scale replica of England’s famous Stonehenge is one mile from the state park. The museum, housed in a gracious Beaux-Arts mansion on 5,300 acres high above the Columbia River, opened to the public in 1940. The museum was founded by Northwest entrepreneur and visionary Sam Hill. Maryhill Museum of Art boasts a world-class permanent collection and rotating exhibitions worthy of the drive to visit.
Returning from the Columbia River Gorge Washington
The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area ends at this point, yet there is much to explore on both sides of the Columbia River. If you want a speedier return to the Portland area, take the bridge at Hood River back to the Oregon side and drive I-84 west.
Recommended Reading for the Columbia River Gorge
Touring the Columbia River Gorge Washington side will treat you to less-visited sights and some surprises along the way. For more interesting tips on visiting Washington and Oregon, enjoy these articles penned by Wander writers.