Oregon Scenic Drive: Historic Columbia River Highway

Highlights of the Historic Columbia River Highway

Here's the Columbia River and Beacon Rock, visible from Historic Columbia River Highway.
Here's the Columbia River and Beacon Rock, visible from Historic Columbia River Highway.

The Historic Columbia River Highway leaves the Sandy River and climbs to the top of the cliffs, offering spectacular views of the landscape. The byway was designed to take advantage of the many waterfalls and other attractive sites along the route.

The corridor contains some of the most dramatic views available anywhere in the country, including the Columbia River, with basalt cliffs and canyon walls; Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot, two-tiered waterfall that is the most visited natural attraction in the state of Oregon; the largest aggregation of high waterfalls outside of Yosemite, including Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls, Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Wahkeena Falls, plus numerous small falls; and giant basalt cliffs and monoliths, including Beacon Rock, Rooster Rock, Crown Point (a National Natural Landmark), and Oneonta Bluff.

Begin your must-see tour in Troutdale, the western entry point to the Historic Columbia River Highway. The attractive setting, unique shopping district, and convenient distance from the interstate make this small town a perfect start to your tour of the highway.

Sandy River: The first stop along the tour is Sandy River. An old iron bridge crosses the river at this point. You can even take a side trip to the north to visit Lewis and Clark Park, but be sure to return to the byway to continue your journey east.

Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint: If you want a stunning scenic vista, you must stop at Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint. It is located about ten minutes from Troutdale.

Crown Point and Vista House: Crown Point and historic Vista House are next, about a mile farther east. Take a stroll around the point (carefully -- the road curves around the building here), and enjoy yet another wonderful view of the river and the Columbia River Gorge.

Multnomah Falls: Scattered throughout the next few miles are many waterfalls, each with its own history and qualities. Latourell Falls, Shepherd's Dell, Wahkeena Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls each whet your appetite for the most visited waterfall on the byway: Multnomah Falls. This beautiful double-cascade falls more than 620 feet. Stop and take the hike up to the bridge crossing the waterfall for an up-close view.

Oneonta Gorge: Back on the highway, you shortly encounter Oneonta Gorge. This narrow canyon and its associated stream are a cool, dark, and shady hike. To enjoy it fully, follow the path to the river crossing, take off your shoes, and wade in the chilly stream.

Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks: Continuing east, you rejoin the interstate for a while. The Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks connects Oregon to Washington.

Hood River: The city of Hood River, at the confluence of the Hood River and the Columbia River, is the windsurfing capital of the world. Stop and watch expert windsurfers from the riverside or from vantage points at hotels and viewpoints along the river. Or visit the downtown historic district, and stop by the Hood River County Museum.

State Trail: Take time to leave your car and to walk a portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Hood River and Mosier that has been converted to a state trail. Remnants of the original auto highway and railings may still be seen. Or, if you continue in your car along the main highway instead, look for tunnels and roadbed high above you -- a visible clue to a tremendous engineering feat.

Memaloose Overlook: As you leave the rain forest of the gorge and enter the drier, wide rolling plains west of Rowena and The Dalles, stop a moment at the Memaloose Overlook near the Tom McCall Preserve. Below you, the highway twists in the hairpin turns of the Rowena Loops. This engineering achievement remains remarkable even by today's standards.

Gorge Discovery Center : After you navigate the switchbacks of the Rowena Loops, catch your breath with a stop at the Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Museum. Opened in 1997, this museum offers interpretive exhibits about the human and natural history of the Columbia River Gorge.

The Dalles: End your trip on the Historic Columbia River Highway at The Dalles. You can view the nearby Dalles Lock and Dam or tour the historic district of this city.

What could be better than traveling along a historic landmark that is also naturally breathtaking? The Historic Columbia River Highway has it all.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's Historic Columbia River Highway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: Historic Columbia River Highway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • The Dalles, Cascade Locks, Troutdale: Read about what to do in cities along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Oregon? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.