16 Top Things To Do In The Columbia River Gorge For A Perfect Day Trip

The Columbia River Gorge is so beautiful and packed with jaw-dropping waterfalls, overlooks, and hikes that they designated it a National Scenic Area.

On top of that, the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway is actually considered one of the most scenic drives in the country.

Along this 70-mile highway, you will have the chance to see several charming towns, historic buildings, monuments, fish hatcheries, and countless numbers of enchanting waterfalls. Not to mention, the hiking and watersports possibilities are endless.

If you are looking for guidance on what to see and do in the Columbia River Gorge, then you’re in the right place. This is our roundup of the best things to do in the Columbia River Gorge on a day trip from Portland.

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!


The western end of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is a destination bucket list item for people all over the world. Seriously, where else can you find back to back to back waterfalls on a historic highway?

From the majestic forests to the magical falls, the Columbia River Gorge day trip offers unparalleled scenery that’s sure to amaze. Aside from the scenic wonders, this region has so much more to offer.

Here, you’ll find some excellent small towns worth visiting featuring art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and shopping.

Thought the Gorge only required a couple of hours to explore? Think again. There are almost TOO many things to do in the Columbia River Gorge.

We recently decided to take a road trip from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge to go hiking, check out some new scenery, explore new towns, and taste craft beers. On our most recent day trip to the Columbia River Gorge, we got as east as Hood River and Lavender Valley, then turned back around for Portland.

I’ve done road trips to the Columbia River Gorge on a few other occasions, and no matter what attractions I visit, I always have such a great time out there—and I still can’t believe it’s right there in Portland’s backyard.

Since you may only have one to two days to explore the Columbia River Gorge, this list is focalized on the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. I’d highly recommend you go back on another occasion if you can because there’s simply so much to see and do here!

If you can spare an extra day, consider doing an overnight stay! You’ll be able to travel slower and see way more of the Gorge attractions (towns, waterfalls, hikes, etc.)!


Honestly, it’s hard to call out the BEST time to visit because each season brings a different kind of magic to the area.

Two of my favorite times of the year are:

  • May to early June: waterfalls are at full flow, wildflowers are still present, but be prepared for potential rain (though rain is starting to fade around this time).
  • Mid-September to October: you’ll find pleasant weather, fewer crowds compared to the summertime, harvest season, and pretty fall foliage

The “best time” to visit the Columbia River Gorge depends on your interests and what you want to see and do. Here’s a breakdown of the best attractions and things to do for each season:

Spring (March – early June)

Spring is a great time to visit the Columbia River Gorge if you’re interested in seeing the waterfalls at their peak flow. The snowmelt and spring rain create impressive displays of roaring water cascading down the cliffs.

Some of the best waterfalls to see during this time include Multnomah Falls, Wahclella Falls, and Horsetail Falls.

Spring is also a great time to see wildflowers in bloom, especially at the Catherine Creek Trail and Dalles Mountain Ranch!

Summer (June – August)

Summer is the most popular time to visit the Columbia River Gorge, with warm weather and long days perfect for hiking, swimming, and boating.

The Gorge is home to several scenic drives, including the Historic Columbia River Highway and the Hood River Fruit Loop — both of which are perfect for that quintessential summer road trip.

Summer is also a great time to explore the Gorge’s wineries and breweries, such as Cathedral Ridge Winery and Full Sail Brewing.

Fall (September – November)

Fall is a beautiful time to visit the Columbia River Gorge, with the changing colors of the leaves creating a colorful backdrop for hiking and outdoor activities. The Gorge is home to several vineyards and orchards, which offer tours and tastings during the fall harvest season.

Some of the best hikes to feel the crisp air and see fall colors include the Larch Mountain Trail and the Dog Mountain Trail.

Winter (December – February)

Winter is a quieter time to visit the Columbia River Gorge, with fewer crowds and a peaceful (but cold!) atmosphere. There are a few months in the winter when ice can be an issue, but even then, the waterfalls are beautiful when they are half frozen over!

Within the vicinity of Columbia River Gorge is several ski resorts, including Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline Lodge, which offer skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Winter is also a great time to visit the Gorge’s hot springs, such as Carson Hot Springs on the Washington side.

So in a nutshell, here are the best times to visit…

  • For wildflowers: generally in late April through June
  • For waterfalls at full power: May to June
  • For peak bloom of the Hood River Valley / The Dalles orchards: April
  • For the best weather (least chance of rain): late July through August
  • For avoiding hot weather: any month other than July and August
  • For less crowds and fall foliage: mid-September to October
  • For half-frozen falls: December through February



Troutdale, also known as the “Gateway to the Gorge”, is the entrance to the National Scenic Area.

This area has a thriving downtown area with independent stores, art galleries, museums, fine restaurants, and even a premium outlet mall. If you’d like to linger longer here, explore Troutdale’s Glenn Otto Community Park on the banks of the Sandy River.

If you’re looking for a jumping base to start your trip into the Columbia River Gorge, Troutdale makes a great overnight option. You can search for some pretty affordable hotels here.

By far my favorite thing to do in Troutdale is to spend a few hours at McMenamins Edgefield, a historic hotel with a massive property featuring an endless amount of things to see and do in itself (see below).


McMenamins Edgefield is so much more than a historic hotel. This massive property is 74-acres large and located only 20 minutes away from downtown Portland in Troutdale.

Formerly a poor farm during the Great Depression, McMenamins is a wonder to see and explore. It’s so expansive there is even a visitor’s guide and map of the property available to visitors. Seriously, the estate is huge!

You could easily spend a few hours wandering about the extensive gardens (glass of wine or a pint of beer in hand), play golf, visit the glass/pottery shop, distillery, and winery, take a seat and enjoy one of the many bars, eat lunch in the outdoor courtyards, watch a recent-run movie in the theater, listen to live music and explore the gift shop.

It’s such a serene place to spend a few hours or even a night! If you’re a hotel guest here, you can also take advantage of the beautiful soaking pool next to the tea bar.


Oneonta Gorge Waterfall - Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Area
Oneonta Gorge

Off I-84 at Exit 17, you’ll hit the iconic waterfall area along the Historic Columbia River Highway. A couple of stops here is a MUST if you want to experience the magic of the Columbia River Gorge!

Twist and turn down the highway to find a variety of waterfalls worth stopping for, including the iconic Multnomah Falls. Here’s a quick overview of only a fraction of the waterfalls you can choose to explore!

They’re listed in the order they appear from west to east:

  • LAUTOURELL FALLS – a short walk to the falls from the parking lot, but a longer 2-mile loop hike will take you toward Upper Latourell Falls and beyond
  • BRIDAL VEIL FALLS1-mile out and back trail with elevation change and switchbacks
  • WAHKEENA FALLS – 0.5 miles hike, can be seen in conjunction with Multnomah Falls if you want to do a longer 5-mile loop hike (Wahkeena Falls, Ecola Falls, and Multnomah Falls Loop)
  • HORSETAIL FALLS – right by the freeway
  • FAIRY FALLS – can be seen on a 3.1-mile round trip hike with 940 feet elevation gain + Wahkeena Falls
  • WAHCLELLA FALLS2-mile round trip hike, considered easy and is so worth it!
  • ELOWA FALLS2.4-mile round trip hike along McCord Creek
  • ONEONTA GORGE – 1-mile roundtrip hike with a large log jam to maneuver over, as well as wading through knee to chest-deep water (water level can get up to 5ft depending on the time of year)
  • PUNCHBOWL FALLS4.2 miles roundtrip hike from Eagle Creek Trailhead
  • DRY CREEK FALLS4.5-mile out-and-back trail that travels partly along the famed Pacific Crest Trail and leads to a 74-foot waterfall.

That’s a good list of waterfalls to start with, but it’ll be really hard to see them all.

Here’s a breakdown of the falls by level of difficulty to get to, so you can pick and choose depending on what your hiking abilities are and what you have time for.

Easy Waterfall Walks:

  1. Latourell Falls:a short walk to the falls from the parking lot, but a longer 2-mile loop hike will take you toward Upper Latourell Falls and beyond
  2. Horsetail Falls: Right by the freeway, easily accessible for a quick stop.
  3. Wahclella Falls: 2-mile round trip hike, considered easy and is so worth it!

Moderate Waterfall Hikes:

  1. Bridal Veil Falls: A 1-mile out-and-back trail with elevation change and switchbacks.
  2. Wahkeena Falls: A 0.5-mile hike. Can be part of a longer 5-mile loop hike if combined with other falls.
  3. Fairy Falls: Can be seen on a 3.1-mile round trip hike with 940 feet elevation gain when combined with Wahkeena Falls.
  4. Elowah Falls: A 2.4-mile round trip hike along McCord Creek.
  5. Punchbowl Falls: A 4.2-mile roundtrip hike from Eagle Creek Trailhead.
  6. Dry Creek Falls: A 4.5-mile out-and-back trail along part of the Pacific Crest Trail, leading to a 74-foot waterfall.


  1. Oneonta Gorge: A 1-mile roundtrip hike with obstacles like a large log jam and wading through water. There are multiple hikes/routes to get there.

Check out the best tours to Columbia River Gorge waterfalls

Wahclella Falls


The Vista House at Crown Point was built in 1917 on one of the most beautiful scenic points on the historic highway, as not only a comfort station for travelers to rest and refuel as they drove the highway, but also as an observatory of the Columbia River Gorge and a memorial to Oregon pioneers.

The 100-year-old building is an attraction in itself, and the views of the Columbia River are AWESOME! Parking can be annoying here as there are always visitors, but just be patient because people are constantly coming and going after they take in the views.

Be sure to go inside the Vista House to appreciate the beauty of the building too! Head upstairs and take in some views of the river from a higher elevation.


It’s likely you’ve visited or at least heard of this popular waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge before. If you haven’t, well you’re in for a treat, because it’s a must-see as you travel along the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway!

Multnomah Falls is a quick stop off the highway and you can walk right up to marvel at the falls without even breaking a sweat. Talk about bang for your buck!

Do note, due to its recent popularity, timed reservations are likely going to be required during the summer season (June to September). You can find the latest info here.

There’s an interpretive center and a gift shop here, perfect for lingering around after you enjoy the falls. You can also grab lunch, ice cream, coffee, and other refreshments onsite as well.

Be sure to use the restrooms here before moving on to the next stop!

Tip: The only parking area for the site is the Interstate 84 parking lot at Exit 31. Commit this exit to memory, in case you start driving and lose cell phone service as I did. Do not continue driving to Multnomah Falls on the historic highway. There is no parking available and you’ll have to flip a U or drive extra miles to get back on the freeway to turn around.


Just up the road from Multnomah Falls is another very impressive waterfall called Wahkeena Falls.

Did you know you can visit both falls at once, as well as more than four other falls by hiking the Wahkeena-Multnomah Falls Loop Trail? That bridge you see in the photos of Multnomah Falls—you can actually walk on that during this hike!

If I had to pick just one hike to do in the Columbia River Gorge, it would be this one. This 5-mile loop trail starts at Multnomah Falls on the Return Trail #442 located on the west end of the parking lot to the right of the lodge.

As with all Columbia River Gorge hikes, check here for the latest trail conditions and potential closures. There are often closures due to wildfires, landslides, downed trees, etc.


Cascade Locks is located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge and is home to the famed Bridge of the Gods, a steel truss cantilever bridge that spans the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

The town offers a variety of activities for craft beer lovers, foodies, cyclists, day hikers, and nature lovers!

For a casual but delicious lunch, we recommend the Big River Grill, which serves up salmon in ALL KINDS of ways — in burgers, pastas, salads, and even fried!

For beer lovers, a visit to Thunder Island Brewing Company is a must. This local brewery has a great selection of craft beers and ales, and the outdoor seating area offers fantastic views of the Columbia River.

If you’ve got more time in town, take a ride on the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge, a paddleboat that offers scenic tours of the Columbia River. This is a great way to see the area from a different perspective and learn about the history of the region.

Cascade Locks is also known as an ideal spot for sailing—it even hosts national and international sailboat racing events year-round.


The Dalles - Best Things To Do Columbia River Gorge Road Trip

One of the more off-the-beaten-path things to do while in the Columbia River Gorge area is to explore the sunny and historic town of The Dalles.

This town, despite it being not too far from rainy Portland, only gets 15 inches of rain per year. It is the closest point to Portland with this kind of climate, meaning sunny days and rolling hills for cyclists and explorers year-round!

As soon as you hop out of your car, you’ll feel that you’ve been transported back in time. The Dalles is steeped in history, and it definitely shows in the architecture.

Many of the historic buildings are working businesses, so visitors can take a step back in time while enjoying the modern shops and restaurants housed in them.

If you’re a history buff, head to the Wasco County Historical Museum and the Fort Dalles Museum to learn more about the settlement of the American West.

There’s also plenty of opportunities for sipping wine, just head to the Sunshine Mill, where you’ll find Quenett and Copa Di Vino tasting rooms.


If you’ve made it to Hood River, great job! Now you’re going to need a few hours (even a whole day or two) at minimum to really explore the town and enjoy all the activities it offers.

Hood River is known for a whole slew of outdoor activities, including mountain biking, hiking, skiing, rafting, and most famously, windsurfing.

Be sure to check out the historic downtown, where you’ll discover an elective mix of independently-owned boutiques, coffee shops, distilleries, breweries (try Full Sail Brewing), and wine tasting rooms.

In terms of shopping, you can expect clothing shops, home decor shops, kite and hobby shops, gourmet food shops, and outdoor gear shops, just to name a few.

Hood River Waterfront Park on Portway Avenue will bring you to the bank of the Columbia River, where you can beach, swim, eat, and grab a beer under the sun.

If you like art, you can take the 2.65-mile self-guided BIG ART walking tour, showcasing 15 outdoor sculptures by local artists. A few other hidden gems include the Western Antique Airplane and Automobile Museum, Ruthton Park, and driving the Cider Route (see below). During the months of May to November, the Hood River Farmers Market comes to town every Saturday from 9am to 1pm.

Got more time here? Head to Lost Lake, a southwest drive away, for classic views of Mount Hood while you engage in recreational activities including hiking, swimming, boating and camping.

Tip: Hood River is the epicenter of river activities. Hit the water on one of the 8 rivers near Hood River, including Columbia, Deschutes, Hood, John Day, Klickitat, Sandy, White Salmon, and Wind Rivers).

🗺️ Enjoy Hood River, Mount Hood and other picturesque landmarks!

Admire morning views of the Columbia River Gorge, enjoy the Cascade Mountains, visit Oregon’s famous waterfall Multnomah Falls, discover Hood River and other not less beautiful landmarks in this Mt. Hood Day Tour with pick-up from Portland.


Looking for an overnight stay in Hood River, OR? I’d recommend the ever-so-charming Inn at the Gorge or the historic yet sophisticated Hood River Hotel!


The Hood River County Fruit Loop is a scenic 35-mile self-guided driving route through Hood River County. It features various fruit orchards, including pears, cherries, and apple orchards.

The tour suggests stops at over 30 orchards, farms, cider rooms, and wineries. If you’re making the drive, be sure to try a huckleberry milkshake! Some things to look forward to by season:

  • Summer season: huckleberry milkshakes, fresh-picked apples, berries, 1st apple pies of the year, cherry milkshakes, fresh local cherries, hand-rolled cherry pies, cherry scones, and jams.
  • Fall season: fresh-picked local pears, fresh pear pies, scones, cookies, and huckleberry and pumpkin milkshakes.

If you’re looking for fruit products and gifts to bring home, it doesn’t get much fresher than this!


Lavender Valley Lavender Farm, Oregon - Travels With Elle

I love this little off-the-road travel attraction! There’s nothing better than visiting a lavender farm during the summer season and going to annual lavender festivals.

At Lavender Valley Farms (located a short drive from Hood River), you can wander the lovely lavender fields, cut and pick your own lavender, and explore the little gift shop after you’ve enjoyed your stroll through the grounds.

The view of Mt. Hood is as intoxicating as their fragrant fields! No lie, the view by far is the best thing here and certainly does not disappoint.

UPDATE: As of 2023, Lavender Valley Farms is closed.

If you’re looking for an alternative, there are other lavender farms in the area including Hood River Lavender Farm.


Still have time to hit up another town on the way back from your trip into the Gorge? If so, why not head over to Washington? Camas, located on the Washington side in the Gorge, is only 15 minutes away from the Portland airport.

If you choose to visit but only have a couple of hours, we recommend you start at Downtown Camas.

Here you can enjoy the fine shops, art galleries, brewpubs, and eateries among the small-town charm! Check out the Liberty Theatre, a historic movie theater that has been restored to its original 1920s glory. Truly, all the historic charm you need in your life is in Downtown Camas.

If you’re in town on a Wednesday afternoon during the summer months, be sure to check out the Camas Farmer’s Market. This local market features fresh produce, handmade crafts, and live music.

If you’re looking to spend some time outdoors, you can either head to Lacamas Lake Regional Park for a relaxing walk around the lake or kayaking/paddleboarding in the water, or do the Lacamas Creek Trail, a 4-mile lollipop loop trail that runs along Lacamas Creek and offers beautiful views of the lush forest.

Really, Lacamas Creek Park is such a beautiful and serene hiking spot!

In the springtime, head to the Camas lily fields at Lacamas Lake— they’re a spectacular sight to see! While you’re at Lacamas Lake, don’t miss the various waterfalls, walking trails, and picnicking areas.

It’s all about the picturesque scenery in Camas!


Best US Cities For Beer Lovers - TravelsWithElle

We mentioned a couple of places to try locally-made brews earlier, but this can be a whole activity in itself in the Columbia River Gorge! The Columbia River Gorge is home to many fantastic breweries that beer lovers should not miss. 

For starters, let’s start with Full Sail Brewing. Full Sail Brewing Company, located in the windsurfing mecca of Hood River, is one of the Northwest’s top microbreweries. It’s known for its award-winning premium lager, seasonal IPAs, and amber ales.

For cider enthusiasts looking to refuel after a long day of sightseeing, hiking, or water sports, Double Mountain Brewery and Cidery (also in Hood River) is a must-visit. The pizza here is also delicious!

There’s also pFriem Family Brewers, another local brewery that has won numerous awards for its Belgian-style beers, IPAs, and pilsners.

And if you can manage to tear yourself away from Hood River and all it’s beer-y goodness and willing to take a 20-minute drive from Hood River to Cascade Locks, Thunder Island Brewing Co. is definitely worth a visit!

With a menu full of burgers, sandwiches, salads, bowls, and specialty plates, you can indulge in some tasty food as you enjoy your drinks at one of their many picnic tables.


If you’re interested in watching salmon swim upstream, head to the Bonneville Hatchery. During September and October, visitors can witness salmon returning from the oceans to the rivers to spawn! This is a sight that most people never get to witness in their lives!

As the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s largest facility, the hatchery has a diverse fish production program. Even if you’re not visiting during the salmon spawning season, you can still enjoy the display ponds featuring rainbow trout and white sturgeon.

Traveling with younger children? The kids will love the opportunity to feed the trout!

Best time to visit: All year for display ponds. September – October for adult fall Chinook and coho salmon spawning.


After seeing the fish, make your way to the Bonneville Lock and Dam for a moment of engineering marvel and history.

Completed in 1938 by the Army Corps of Engineers, the lock and dam was built to improve navigation on the river and provide hydropower to the Pacific Northwest.

The dam is an impressive sight to behold, with a height of 180 feet and a length of over a mile. Visitors can take guided tours of the dam to learn more about its history and operation. To learn more about this important structure, visit one of the visitor centers located on Bradford Island or on the Washington Shore.


Columbia River Gorge might look like just scenic beauty, but did you know it’s also partially wine country? The Gorge is home to more than 90 vineyards and 1,300+ vineyard acres, as well as close to 50 wineries and tasting rooms between Troutdale, Oregon and Maryhill, Washington.

The gorge’s oldest winery, Hood River Vineyards and Winery, has been producing wonderful reds and ports for more than 30 years.

Cathedral Ridge Winery is another popular winery, featuring an award-winning Pinot Noir as well as numerous other varietals that have received high marks from the likes of Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator.


If you’d love to experience what the Columbia River Gorge has to offer but are limited on time, one great way to experience it is via an organized tour. This is a great way to hit all the best sights in the area AND not worry about planning your route or driving.

If waterfalls are what you’re mostly after… you’ve got lots of half-day tour options!


Staying overnight in the Columbia River Gorge is a great way to fully experience all that the area has to offer. While a day trip can be enjoyable, there’s so much to see and do in the Gorge that it can be difficult to fit it all in!

When we stayed overnight in the Columbia River Gorge, we were able to take our time and really explore the area at our own pace. (Sometimes, we like to relax and explore like turtles!)

We hiked at several waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls and Wahclella Falls, and were able to take in the scenery at our own pace and stopped at multiple towns for snacks and drinks whenever we liked. We also visited several local breweries and wineries, which was a lot of fun because we weren’t rushing to get home!

One of the highlights of our overnight stay was watching the sunset over the Columbia River. We found a quiet spot along the riverbank and just sat and watched as the sky turned pink and orange. It was a truly magical experience that we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy on a day trip.

Another benefit of staying overnight in the Gorge is that we were able to avoid the summer crowds! Many of the popular trails and attractions can get quite busy during the day, but in the early morning and late evening, we had them all to ourselves.



Hood River or its surrounding towns are a great place to call your turnaround point.

BUT! Before you call it a day, turn around and head back for Portland, consider an overnight stay in Hood River to truly experience the magic of the Columbia River Gorge.

Hotels In Hood River

Our favorite stylish hotels in the Hood River area include:

Hood River Hotel – the oldest hotel in Hood River, yet is extremely stylish and modern.

RubyJune Inn – a bed and breakfast offering an exceptional breakfast; located on the Washington side of the Columbia River, just 10 minutes drive from Hood River.

Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa – boasts lavish amenities including a serene spa and fine dining options.

Sakura Ridge the Farm & Lodge – offers a luxurious escape with complimentary breakfast and an upscale, indulgent experience (definitely more of a splurge stay!)

Hotels In Cascade Locks

If you want to stay closer to Portland within the Gorge, or if you need to call it a night because you took your sweet time exploring the Gorge (and are too far from Hood River), stay in Cascade Locks:


  • Cell phone service can be spotty in the National Scenic Area, especially if you have T-Mobile as I do. Make sure you download or print out a map of all the falls you want to visit, and take note of their mile markers.
  • The Columbia River Gorge and the towns in the area can get super windy, so don’t even think about leaving the house without a windbreaker.
  • Oregon winters can be very cold, and some roads in the Columbia River Gorge may not be accessible due to ice/snow. And since this is Oregon, be prepared for rain at any time!
  • Check with the USDA Forest Service for the most up-to-date information on trail closures. Many of the trails in the Columbia River Gorge were damaged by recent fires over the years, so before heading out, check to see if your destination/hike is open or not.
  • Some attractions, such as Multnomah Falls, may have parking fees, while many others, like Horsetail Falls, might have limited but free parking. For places that DO charge for parking, fees can range from $5 to $10 (unless you have a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Annual Pass/America The Beautiful National Park Pass, in which case parking is free for you!). For a full list of spots that charge for parking, check out the USDA site here.
  • The Columbia River Gorge draws a lot of tourists, especially in the summertime. Start your trip before 9 am to beat the crowds. You can also travel against the grain (east to west).
  • The parking areas for the waterfalls can fill up fast. Head to the waterfalls early in the day so you can avoid having to fight for parking spots — you’ll also be able to get great photos without the crowds.
  • Allow plenty of time while visiting the gorge — there’s SO much to see. To really make the most of your time at the Gorge, you’ll ideally need two to three days. If you don’t have that kind of time, pick and choose the towns, hikes, and falls that pique your interest the most!
  • Leave no trace. Respect nature and pack out what you pack in.
  • The night before your road trip, pack up water, snacks, and maybe even a picnic lunch for the next day. That way, you can head out quickly once you wake up, get an early start, and have extra hours to experience the Gorge!
Columbia River Gorge, OR


If you don’t have a car or don’t have a reliable car you trust to get you out of Portland (or wherever your starting point is) and back in one piece, I suggest you pick up a rental car for your road trip.

Need a rental car for your trip? To find cheap rental cars, I recommend using Rentalcars.com. Their search tool is one of the best I’ve found!


Right before your trip, check Google Maps or TripCheck (by the Oregon Department of Transportation) before you hit the road.

We actually like TripCheck a little bit more for this exercise, because not only does it provide you with live road condition information, but it also gives you live weather alerts as well. There are even live cameras you can check out to see exactly how snowy a mountain pass may be or how bad the traffic is in the city. Though not as detailed as within Oregon, the highway condition information even extends to nearby states!

If you’re traveling in the wintertime, make sure to pay closer attention to road conditions. Road closures tend to be more common in the wintertime.


Q: How much time should I allocate for the drive and exploring the gorge?

A: The amount of time you should allocate for your Columbia River Gorge day trip depends on how much you want to explore and what your interests are. A basic visit to the major waterfalls and viewpoints can take around 4 to 6 hours. If you plan to hike, picnic, or explore the charming towns within the CRG, consider a full day (8-12 hours) or even an overnight stay to truly experience the beauty of the area!

Q: Are there any entry fees or parking costs at the attractions in the Columbia River Gorge?

A: Some attractions, such as Multnomah Falls, may have parking fees, while others, like Horsetail Falls, might have limited but free parking. For places that DO charge for parking, fees can range from $5 to $10 (unless you have a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Annual Pass/America The Beautiful National Park Pass, in which case parking is free). For a full list of spots that charge for parking, check out the USDA site here.

Q: What are some recommended hiking trails for beginners in the Columbia River Gorge?

A: For beginners, consider the Wahclella Falls Trail, (2 miles), Wahkeena Falls Trail (0.5 miles), Latourell Falls Loop (2.4 miles), or Shepperds Dell Falls Trail (0.3 miles). These trails offer stunning views without significant elevation gains or technical challenges.

Q: Is it feasible to visit Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and other waterfalls in one day?

A: Yes, it’s feasible to visit multiple waterfalls in one day, including Multnomah Falls and Latourell Falls. Plan your route, starting early to make the most of your day (and beat the traffic). The Historic Columbia River Highway offers access to several falls and viewpoints within a relatively short drive.

Q: Are there any viewpoints or overlooks where I can get panoramic views of the gorge?

A: Yes, the Crown Point Vista House provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge. The 100-year-old building is an attraction in itself, and the views of the Columbia River are awesome!

Q: Can I bring my dog with me to the Columbia River Gorge attractions?

A: While leashed dogs are generally allowed in some areas of the Columbia River Gorge (like Latourell Falls Loop Trail and Multnomah Falls), it’s important to check the specific rules and regulations for each scenic area.

Some sites may have restrictions on where pets can go, and they often need to be kept on a leash. Be considerate of the environment and other visitors while bringing your pet along.

Q: Are there any unique shopping opportunities or local products to buy in the area?

A: Yes, the Columbia River Gorge area offers several charming towns and markets where you can find unique local products! Look for handmade crafts, artisanal foods, wines from local vineyards, and artistic creations that showcase the region’s creative spirit.

Q: What are the traffic conditions like, and are there any tips for avoiding congestion?

A: Traffic conditions can vary, especially during peak tourist seasons. To avoid congestion, you should try starting your day early to beat the crowds. Weekdays are very likely going to be less crowded than weekends. Additionally, check for any road closures or construction updates before your trip. Utilizing navigation apps like Google Maps can help you find real-time traffic updates and alternative routes should you be faced with traffic on the main highways.

Aside from the activities listed above, there are about a million other things to do in the Columbia River Gorge. What are some of your favorite activities for a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge?

Looking for more Oregon travel tips? Read More:

The Perfect Day Trip From Portland to The Oregon Coast

The Best Road Trip Stops from Portland To Bend, Oregon

The 7 Best Neighborhoods To Visit In Portland, Oregon

The Perfect Oregon Road Trip: Portland To Crater Lake National Park And The Stops In Between

30 Fun and Exciting Things To Do In Bend, Oregon

15 Fun-Filled Road Trips From Seattle, Washington

Photo of author


Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

6 thoughts on “16 Top Things To Do In The Columbia River Gorge For A Perfect Day Trip”

  1. Bonneville Dam, both Oregon & Washington sides have visitor facilities. WA side has a carpeted huge viewing area below water level to WOW visitors with migrating Salmon and Lamprey eels navigate the fish ladder. I’ve even seen a sturgeon thru the thick glass windows. Sea mammals (seals and sea lions) group here to feed on salmon bunching at the dam. Their feeding attracts avian predators (bald eagles and osprey) keen on scraps. My favorite is the WA side. I live here in NOBO (North Bonneville) a tiny town just downstream from the terrific dam.


Leave a Comment