clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
The view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Vista House.

Your One-Day Guide to the Columbia River Gorge

The restaurants, wineries, breweries, and more to visit in between waterfall hikes and photo ops

The Columbia River Gorge.
| ESB Professional/Shutterstock

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

The Columbia River Gorge — known to many Pacific Northwesterners as simply “the Gorge” — is a year round, nature-fueled escape for visitors and residents of Portland, and a road-tripper’s paradise for anyone in the Pacific Northwest. Stretching 75 miles on Interstate 84 in Oregon and Route 14 in Washington, the scenic byway follows the Columbia River, which divides the two states’ borders, dazzling drivers with sweeping cliffside views on either route. And while the rainier months may deter some travelers from passing through, those who venture will be rewarded with waterfalls cascading down these same cliffs.

In between hikes and photo ops, visitors will find options to refuel and recharge scattered up and down I-84. The folks who maintain the Gorge try to preserve as much of the natural landscape as they can, limiting most of the food options to either ends of the scenic byway in Troutdale and Hood River, or in between both towns in Cascade Locks. A myriad of dining styles exist to accommodate these groups; whether they’re in need of the obligatory burger-and-beer at a brewery after a grueling hike, or lingering at a winery that grows grapes within the Columbia Gorge AVA, the region’s options emphasize local sourcing and widely recognizable dishes like wood-fired pizza, fish and chips, and pulled pork sandwiches.

Take 24 hours to appreciate everything this iconic region has to offer, from lush forest landscapes to Columbia River-sourced salmon.

The Mt. Hood Hotel sign hangs above the door to the Hood River Hotel, warmed by a fireplace.
The lobby of the Hood River Hotel.
Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock

What to Know Before You Go

How to get there: The quickest decision a lot of travelers are going to make is to get there by car. In which case, drivers coming from Seattle, Eugene, and Portland can take Interstate 5 both north and south, which connects directly to Route 14 and I-84 East. While a car allows the flexibility to stop and go as you please, you may want to opt for public transit during the summer months. This is the busiest time of the year, when the bustling areas of the scenic byway around Multnomah Falls require advance reservations for cars, and horrendous lines of traffic make it nearly impossible to park after 9 a.m. Consider taking Columbia Area Transit (CAT), which charges $15 for an unlimited day pass to ride the Columbia River Express. Running through Hood River, Cascade Locks, Multnomah Falls, Troutdale, and the Gateway Transit Center (the latter of which is ideal for anyone who is completely car free in Portland), the shuttle goes through all of the towns that are mentioned in this itinerary. Bikepacking is another popular option; a few companies offer guided multi-day tours if you’d prefer some direction.

What to bring: While it may be beneficial to have a set of waterproof hiking boots during the wetter months, it’s possible to bring a pair of versatile sneakers into the Columbia River Gorge if you don’t plan on doing any strenuous hiking (and if you do, trekking poles can be extremely helpful). Another Oregon mainstay is a raincoat, given the weather’s unpredictability — especially in this part of the state. Dress for comfort, but there’s no need to come outfitted in the most cutting edge hiking gear. Stretchy pants and a breathable shirt will get you far in the Gorge, along with a light jacket for occasional high winds.

Where to stay: Hood River is toward the end of I-84’s scenic byway, where you’ll have plenty of options for accommodations. The Hood River Hotel has gotten a modern vintage upgrade since it opened in 1888 as the Mt. Hood Hotel. Perched on a downtown corner, many rooms offer scenic views of the Columbia River; solo travelers are welcome in the hostel-style bunkhouse, which offers private beds, a shared kitchen, and a dry sauna. Alternatively, the Society Hotel is just across the river in Bingen, which has its own café and bar. The Society Hotel offers both hostel-style accommodations and private cabins, along with a resort-style spa that includes a cold plunge, massage services, a warm saltwater soaking tub, and a hot tub — ideal for those cold weather visits to the Gorge.

The view of Latourell Falls from the footbridge.
Latourell Falls.

The Itinerary

Day One

9 a.m.: Start with a smoked cardamom assam latte (and maybe pregame with some outlet shopping just across the street) at Good Coffee in Troutdale. The Portland-based coffee business has six locations and counting throughout the city, but it roasts its beans at the Troutdale location — so expect extra aromas pumping out of this cafe. You’ll find a case full of locally sourced pastries here, but for something more substantial, Le Petit Café is just down the street, which sells a variety of paninis, wraps, and croissant and bagel sandwiches.

10 a.m.: If you’re traveling here from out of town, Multnomah Falls has probably been on your bucket list for months. If you live here, you likely consider it to be equivalent to the Statue of Liberty, crowd-wise — so you avoid it at all costs. Regardless of your reasons for visiting the Gorge, you have plenty of outdoor options that go beyond this landmark along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The Vista House rewards travelers with 360 views of the area and an indoor observation deck with a museum. After a quick view-and-selfie, drive down the highway to Latourell Falls, a breezy 2.4 mile loop hike at the start of the scenic byway. Those who are less interested in hiking and the potential traffic jam might appreciate Rooster Rock State Park, where locals flock during the summer to float in inner tubes and lounge on the nude beach.

1 p.m.: Wherever your activities have taken you, it’s time for lunch. Make your way over to Cascade Locks, the “halfway point” of the Columbia River Gorge; Cheryl Strayed fans will recognize the town as the iconic endpoint to her famed voyage on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s also one of the oldest towns on the Gorge, and offers a handful of excellent dining options. The Brigham Fish Market is owned by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, a tribal community that has a long, storied history of protecting salmon habitats in Oregon waterways. Visit the market for fish and chips and po’ boys, made with sturgeon and salmon straight out of the Columbia River. Take a clam chowder and po’ boy out to the backyard tables, which offer picturesque views of the Bridge of the Gods. Thunder Island Brewing next door serves its beers with bowls, salads, and burgers and sandwiches with toppings like peanut butter sauce and kimchi sauerkraut. If the patios at either of these spots are full, Gorges Beer Co. across the street boasts similarly impressive views, and slings modern American classics like crispy Brussels sprouts and blackened salmon sandwiches. If you have room for dessert, the Eastwind Drive-in is a legendary diner for banana shakes and butterscotch ice cream.

The tasting room at Hiyu Wine Farm.
Hiyu Wine Farm.
Kara Stokes/Eater Portland

3 p.m.: After lunch, it’s worth checking out a winery in one of the United States’ most up-and-coming wine regions. The Columbia Gorge AVA complements the nearby Willamette Valley wine country well; the region’s range in climate and geological variance makes for an eclectic variety of styles and varietals, from cabernet sauvignon and syrah to pinot noir and gamay. Although there are dozens of wineries dotted throughout the Gorge, Marchesi Vineyards is an easy one to knock out given its accessible location just off I-84. Winemaker Franco Marchesi comes from a long line of winegrowers in his hometown of Piedmont, Italy, having also spent decades as a sommelier in California before moving to Oregon. At Marchesi, patrons can drink Northern Italian varieties like dolcetto, nebbiolo, and barbera white sitting on the patio surrounded by vines.

For natural wine nerds who, somehow, are still hungry, it’s worth it to splurge on a tasting at Hiyu Wine Farm, where chef and Portland expat Jason Barwikowski uses produce and animals from the farm and region for food pairings with the estate’s nationally renowned wines — think: beet tarts with citrus marmalade and tahini, or nasturtium leaves perched on sliced beef tongue with chile oil. The wines themselves are truly special — desert-grown zinfandel, white blends with grapes from regenerative farms, whole cluster pinot noir that spends two years on lees. Those really looking to splurge can stop here for a dinner, a $250 feast on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights with several courses and plenty of wine.

Those who don’t drink can check out another waterfall, minus the exertion. Keep driving down I-84 to Starvation Creek Falls, an easy stop just a few steps from the water.

5 p.m.: You’re either starting to wind down or burn out — luckily for you, you’re at the other end of the Gorge in Hood River. If you’re here in the summer, you’ll marvel at the sheer number of kite boarders who can exist in one place at the Hood River Waterfront Park, which happens to be one of the country’s top spots for windsurfing and kiteboarding. You’ll also be right nearby Solstice Wood Fire Pizza, who tops its pies with pineapple chutney and Canadian bacon, all with a waterfront view of the action.

Perhaps you’re really looking to celebrate after a long day of fun. In that case, two options immediately come to mind: Votum, a fairly new seafood restaurant, offers a flurry of a tasting menu with things like Tillamook cockle ceviche, crab risotto with sorrel-hazelnut pesto, or Hawaiian barramundi with cantaloupe sprouts and caviar. Otherwise, Celilo serves Oregon-raised meat and house-made pastas alongside Hood River Valley produce, for dishes like Anderson lamb leg with Oak Rose Farm frisée and carrot romesco, or rye flour and beet spaetzle over herb goat cheese with fava tops.

Broder Ost Opens in Hood River, See Inside Its Historic Venue
The counter at Broder Ost.
Mattie John Bamman/Eater Portland

Day Two

8 a.m: If you’re looking for a quick bite before the next adventure, grab a bagel sandwich at Freshies. Freshies boils everything bagels every morning with Pacific Northwest-sourced wheat, and tops them with comfort classics like avocado, pepper bacon, and Alaskan-sourced lox alongside pressed juices.

If you plan to linger, get a table at Broder Ost, whose Hood River outpost is an extension of a Portland favorite for Scandinavian brunch. Delicate Danish pancakes arrive topped with lingonberry jam and a side of house-made lemon curd, while the breakfast boards provide a dose of Scandinavian-influenced charcuterie — think: smoked trout, rye crisps, and various fikas.

What’s next? If you decide to stick around the area, Hood River Valley’s Fruit Loop is the base of winery and pick-your-own paradise, while the drive back down I-84 will give you the chance to catch anything you might’ve missed. Sugarpine Drive-in will welcome you back at the other end of the route, where you can reward yourself with a pulled pork Reuben and blondie-topped sundae. If you decide to take the Washington side back to town, Route 14 is a quieter ride home, where you can stop at Loop de Loop, which welcomes visitors to taste its high-altitude wines out of the reservation-free tasting room. You can also keep the party going and head east to Maryhill, in pursuit of peaches and Rodin.