Columbia Gorge weekend trip
Written by Josh Steele
Photos by Josh Steele (outofthewoods) unless otherwise noted
After a long, gray and wet winter nothing sounds better than finding some spring time warmth and sun! A great place to do this is on the Columbia Gorge in between Washington and Oregon where you'll find huge waterfalls and huge flower blanketed hills with volcanos for a backdrop. Continue reading for a great weekend itinerary enjoying this beautiful part of the PNW.
So I've done this trip a number of times now, and usually just over the course of 2-3 days. Depending on where you are coming from it is an excellent weekend trip. I'm coming from Seattle and so normally we head out Friday afternoon right after work or try to ditch out a couple hours early. So to start off lets talk about where you want to sleep while you're there. There are lots of places to sleep from Portland all the way east to The Dalles. Personally I like staying in Hood River, OR. Or maybe just across the water in White Salmon. Hood River and the surrounding area has lots of hotels, AirBnb's and camping options depending on what your budget and desires are, there's something for everyone. The great thing about this general area besides being full of great shops and restaurants is its proximity to great hiking trails and other sights to see that I'm going to list here.
Now for some places to see once you're down here!
The Columbia Gorge is full of incredibly beautiful waterfalls on both the Washington and Oregon sides. Some can simply be driven up to with a quick walk up, others might require just a little bit of hiking. To start out you'll want to hop on the beautiful Historic Columbia River HWY in Troutdale and then you'll be heading east on the road. You'll see a lot of waterfalls just from your car on this beautiful drive, this is also where some of the hikes will start from.
This is a great one because it gives you lots of options. This waterfall can be seen from the road, or you can take a nice short trail that only takes a few minutes to get down to the bottom of the falls.
Here my daughter and I got a little closer to to REALLY experience the power of the fall
This one is a wildly popular stop and with that I would highly recommend getting there early as parking gets taken up very very quick. This waterfall is absolutely worth a stop though if you can find parking. You can enjoy the view from the bottom where this photo was taken, but you can also take the quick trail to cross over the bridge.
Photo by Seth Burkett
Horsetail falls and Ponytail falls
This double feature starts with Horsetail falls right off the road, but then with a small hike you can reach Ponytail falls (pictured) where you'll get the incredible experience of walking behind a waterfall! If you've never done that before then you have to do this hike, you'll love it!
Photo by Seth Burkett
Dry Creek Falls
This one is a bit longer of a hike but at 4.6 miles round trip, and with only 850 feet elevation gained it's honestly just a nice walk in the woods. You should see smaller crowds once you get to this beautiful waterfall surrounded by really amazing textured rock walls.
Photo by Josh Steele (me)
For panther falls you'll then head north a ways into Washington state. Make sure you download a map of the area on your phone as you won't have cell service once you head up to this waterfall. It's a nice drive to the waterfall though and one of my favorite waterfalls to view. This one does require a little hiking but the trail is well made and doable for most.
This photo I took from below the falls, but the main view point is just up on the top right of this image
Now it's time for some great drives and hikes
First lets go to Lost Lake on the NW side of Mt. Hood. You'll want a good weather day to go here to ensure that you get to see this amazing view of the mountain reflected in the water. You'll also find a great resort at this lake that offers camping, cabin rentals and rv hook ups. They are pretty popular though, so reservations are needed pretty far in advance. Even without staying here, this is great place to spend an afternoon or a day. It's a great place to haver a picnic, go kayaking, or take a nice leisurely walk around the lake on the well groomed trail. This is a great spot to watch sunset from as the last light of the day kisses Mt. Hood.
If you want to know the secret on how to take in this view the best, make sure you bring a hammock and find a couple trees in the sun to relax and soak up that sun and mountain view!
This is a great spot for flower viewing, especially in the morning for sunrise. There are numerous trails around here for wandering around with great views of the river as well.
Hood River mountain trail
This is a short trail but it has some of the most amazing views of Mt. Hood. If your lucky with timing of the flowers, it's honestly of the the most beautiful spots around.
Columbia Hills State Park
Finally we come to this huge park. It's full of miles of hiking trails, miles and miles of flowers, some fun gravel roads for some light off-roading and some incredible views of Mt. Hood.
One thing worth noting about this area in particular is that there are a lot of bugs, but the one you really have to watch out for are ticks. I usually will wear long pants to help keep them off my legs. But bug spray also works really well as long as it works against ticks. I have really grown to love the brand Sawyer and their premium Permethrin. There is no deet, which I prefer. But this product works really well, they also have one that you can spray on your clothing ahead of time which I always do, along with using their other products on my actual skin. It's far safer than deet as well.
My wife digging through the fridge looking for the jelly to make some PB&J's
Ok now to the fun part! Everyone loves good places to eat, so I'm going to quickly give you some of my tops most of which are in Hood River.
Riverside- Italian Food
Double Mountain Brewery - Great mix of food including great wood fired pizzas
Full Sail Brewing - Full menu for everyone
Petite Provence Boulangerie and Patisserie - great breakfast spot in the Dalles
The whole area from Hood River to the Dalles has so much to offer. Don't forget if your in the area to drive up to south side of Mt. Hood to Timberline lodge. The view there really is spectacular as is the drive just getting there from Hood river. I do hope you make use of this blog though and plan a trip to the area. It will absolutely be a trip that you and your family won't soon forget about.