One mighty river gorge, two scenic routes and umpteen vistas

Fall means rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. However, Thanksgiving Day (last year) promised to be a fairly sunny day albeit a cold one and we took advantage of...
The Historic Columbia River Highway

Fall means rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. However, Thanksgiving Day (last year) promised to be a fairly sunny day albeit a cold one and we took advantage of this respite-from-the-rain and decided to go exploring the region. We were in Vancouver, Washington and our plan for the day was to hit the scenic route along the Columbia River Gorge, which these parts are very proud of.

For those who are not too familiar with the Pacific Northwest, let me tell you that the Columbia River originates in Canada, flows down to Washington State and for a good part, flows in between Washington and Oregon dividing the two states yet bringing them together with an interstate scenic area.

Columbia River Gorge Scenic Route, Oregon I-84
The Historic Columbia River Highway

Another geographical feature that fills the area with pride is the Columbia River Gorge that runs along the aquatic border between these states. This over 80-miles of a gorge owes its existence to the vibrant Columbia River as well as volcanic activity and glacial floods, I hear. A drive along the gorge is nothing but scenic. And better still, it can be done on either side of the gorge – Southern Washington or Northern Oregon.

Our trip started off on the busier and wider side. We took the bridge on 205 to cross into the state of Oregon and then we merged into I-84 (the interstate highway that goes into Boise, Idaho). Now, if you want to do it on the Washington side, your route would be WA SR – 14. We chose to take I-84 one way and drive back westward taking 14.

The first point of interest of that day was a glimpse of snow-capped Mount St. Helens and then that of an equally white and snow-covered Mt. Hood. Once Mt. Hood was behind us, we found ourselves driving just beside the mighty Columbia River.

Columbia River Gorge, WA, OR

 A part of the area along the Historic Columbia River Highway had already been stripped off its Fall colour.  For stretches, trees had gone naked and the rest of them seemed to be on the way to going bare-minimum for the winter months. That did not make the drive less scenic. The skeletal trees had a charm of their own and the mist that had settled on the rugged terrain of the gorge provided quite a scenic landscape. In the middle of all this, the Columbia River that flowed on the left side of the highway seemed to be adamantly holding on it its rightful bright blue.As if taking inspiration from the flowing water that coloured the area, the wooded area started showing some green. And between that, we spotted some snow and some small frozen waterfalls on the exposed rocky patches.

We drove on.

Our first stop on the way was Multnomah Falls.We had came across several hiking trails and state parks on the way but since it was not exactly a good time for long walks for me, we headed straight to US’s second tallest waterfall.

Multnomah Falls along the Columbia River Gorge
 Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River and Columbia River Gorge from the Oregon side

After a wee little hike up the lower half of Multnomah Falls we were back on the road, hoping to cover as much of the scenic route we could on one day. We passed Bonneville and had a glimpse of the dam there (the place seemed closed around that time). We also drove past Bridge of the Gods and stopped to have lunch at a small, sweet-looking town called Cascade Locks. After a very filling Thanksgiving lunch there, we were back on Highway 84 taking in more of what Columbia River Gorge had to show.

the merge into I-84 near, Cascade Locks, Columbia River Gorge

One other stop that was a high point — literally– on the scenic drive was Mitchell Point. This viewpoint made us take an exit from the busy highway and watch it from another level. Should I mention that that ‘Columbia River Gorge POI’ included a panoramic view of the big blue river and its rocky banks?

While we were at Mitchell, we learnt that there used to be an almost-unique tunnel there. The Mitchell Point Tunnel, also known as the Tunnel Of Many Vistas is said to have been a tunnel with windows on its north wall. And these windows are supposed to have let in air and light and views of the Columbia River. Unfortunately, this spectacular road tunnel had to be blasted off to make way for the new and improved Interstate 84. (Alas! I wish I could have seen that.)

Mitchell Point, Columbia River Highway
A view from Mitchell Point

We made one more stop for the day before we headed back. This was at Hood River, one of the bigger cities along this part of the Historic Columbia River Highway with lots of food and shopping options. A part of the town seemed to be a downtown fit  for a stroll on a warm day. It was lined with attractive little boutiques, jewellery shops and and a picturesque waterfront. It looked like a Hill Station with its own B&Bs.

On the way back, we drove onto Bridge of the Gods, crossed the Columbia River and continued our scenic drive along the state on the other side of the river (WA 14).

The Bridge of the Gods, Columbia River Gorge
The Bridge of the Gods

The Washington side of the gorge also had lovely views to show. To me, the best part was the river itself. The sun had begun its descent, needless to say it seemed like it was in a hurry considering it was late Autumn. The sky was a pretty pink-and-orange and the silhouetted leafless trees in the foreground made pleasant picture . The Columbia River that was now flowing westward — the same direction that we were going — was bathed in golden-hour-hues all the way.

 When we drove past Camas, WA, we knew our drive was over. I wish I could be back on the Historic Columbia River Highway once again. Or maybe twice, if I’m not asking for too much — once in early fall to go fall-colour-peeping along the river, and in the Spring or Summer months when the Evergreen State and its neighbour are at their greenest.

 Columbia River Gorge
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33 Comments on this post.
  • Anu n Sri
    27 November 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Looks awesome, especially the falls! Road trips always have this charm of helping us find such amazing undiscovered places, and natural landscapes!

    • dNambiar
      1 December 2014 at 11:52 am

      Hey Anu,
      Long time…!
      Thanks. 🙂 Oh yeah, that waterfall was the highlight of our trip. We couldn't complete the whole drive that day, coz I was so pregnant — almost 'there.' So had to get home at the end of the day. Whatever we saw along the route was simply Wow!

      Road Trips! Love them and can't get enough of them. 🙂

  • R Niranjan Das
    28 November 2014 at 5:43 am

    Beautiful drive. Multnomah looks gorgeous. A road trip is the best way to enjoy any place.

    • dNambiar
      1 December 2014 at 11:55 am

      It was. I wish I could go back and complete the drive. There was a little more of that route to cover.
      I swear– road trips are the best.

      I've saved the best pictures of Multnomah Falls for a full post on it. Come by and see it, ok (will put it up soon). Have a great week, Nomad. 🙂

  • Prasad Np
    28 November 2014 at 5:53 am

    US countryside is so beautiful..every where you see you can click a beautiful picture… Let us hope it remains like this forever…..

    • dNambiar
      1 December 2014 at 11:57 am

      It really is, Prasad. US on the whole is so geographically blessed. And I have a long, long wishlist. 🙂 I'm sure you have too, DesiTraveler. 🙂

      I know… let's hope US and the rest of the world stays beautiful.

  • Kokila Gupta
    3 December 2014 at 4:06 pm

    awesome pics specially of the fall… the way it goes under the bridge !
    road trips are invigorating … they (in certain conditions) allow us to go, turn and stop,explore and rest as per our wish …. they just prove 'its the journey which holds more charm than the destination '

    • dNambiar
      4 December 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Unique one, that one. I have a plan for a whole post on Multnomah Falls. Come by and see the pics, ok; not because the pictures are great by the waterfall is 😉

      Oh yeah, and I think when we road trip, we 'feel' the place better.

      Thanks a ton, Kokila. 🙂

  • Rajkumar R
    11 December 2014 at 3:46 am

    Looks Awesome!

    • dNambiar
      11 December 2014 at 2:02 pm

      It is.
      Thank you for stopping by, Rajkumar. 🙂

  • Rajesh
    11 December 2014 at 10:17 am

    Beautiful and scenic routes. I would love to drive there.

    • dNambiar
      11 December 2014 at 2:03 pm

      You should, Rajesh. The drive up from California will be a good one. You can see the volcanoes of the Cascade Range.

      Thank you.

  • Mridula
    11 December 2014 at 3:10 pm

    That bridge and the waterfall are truly amazing!

    • dNambiar
      13 December 2014 at 7:10 am

      That waterfall is one of the best ones I've ever seen. It's gorgeous!
      Thank you, Mridula. 🙂

  • Abhijit Ray
    11 December 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Pacific north west so scenic so pretty. Every mountain full of trees, vast ocean, deep river gorges, you name it, they are there. I miss those misty mornings, when fog hangs over the mountain. So nostalgic, so beautiful!

    • dNambiar
      13 December 2014 at 7:13 am

      You lived there, Abhijit? Gosh, yes! it's a beautiful area. The Pacific Northwest is a naturally blessed area. A place to be missed indeed.
      I've got a few more Pacific Northwest posts lined up. 🙂

  • sunaina serna ahluwalia
    11 December 2014 at 6:31 pm

    loved the journey and the pics!

    • dNambiar
      13 December 2014 at 7:13 am

      Welcome here, Sunaina. 🙂

  • Meoww
    11 December 2014 at 11:02 pm

    What a beautiful way to build the bridge! Adds beauty to the waterfalls! Beautiful shots DN!

    • dNambiar
      13 December 2014 at 7:21 am

      Isn't it, Meoww?
      The bridge looks perfect in between those two tiers.

      More pictures coming up 😉
      Thanks a ton, Devi. 🙂

  • Indrani
    12 December 2014 at 4:01 am

    I got stuck gazing at the falls. A great trip for you, very well penned.

    • dNambiar
      13 December 2014 at 7:17 am

      Thank you so much, Indrani.
      It was. I wish I could go and see the whole of the gorge, sometime.

      That IS a waterfall you can keep gazing at. 🙂

  • magiceye
    13 December 2014 at 5:18 am

    Beautiful landscapes

    • dNambiar
      13 December 2014 at 7:18 am

      Is it Magiceye. That's a beautiful area. 🙂

    22 December 2014 at 7:17 pm

    beautiful 🙂

    • dNambiar
      29 December 2014 at 12:19 pm

      So happy to hear that from you. Thank you, Joshi. 🙂
      I hope you had a good Christmas.

  • Saru Singhal
    25 August 2015 at 1:04 pm

    This is awesome. I want to go there and enjoy the scenery.

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