Waterfall Wonderland – The Columbia River Gorge

Wahclella Falls

No trip to Oregon would be complete without a visit to the Columbia River Gorge.  The gorge is a deep canyon, formed by the Columbia River, which extends over 80 miles from the Cascade Range in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west.  Most visitors choose to visit the roughly 60-mile stretch between Portland and Hood River, which also encompasses the Historic Columbia River Highway.  One of the main attractions in the gorge is the sheer volume of waterfalls (more than 90 on the Oregon side alone), many of which are easily accessible to visitors.   For most visitors, a visit to the Gorge begins and ends in Portland, and the trip is often a day trip which includes a stop at Mt. Hood and a drive through the famous Hood River Fruit Loop.  However, to really do justice to the area, at least one full day is recommended in order to have time for a few short hikes and not feel rushed while visiting the Gorge’s many attractions.  This suggested route begins in Hood River and ends in Portland, but can easily be adapted to reverse direction or as part of a single-day trip.

Hood River Fruit Loop

Not to be overlooked while in Hood River, even if for a short time, be sure to drive through at least part of the Hood River Fruit Loop.  A brochure is readily available in Hood River which will direct you to the many fruit stands and wineries in the region.  Traveling off the main road will bring you to gorgeous orchard vistas, and you’ll never be far from a glimpse of Mt. Hood.  Stop by a couple of fruit stands and wineries (pinot noir is very popular) to get a good feel for the area.  There are also a couple of beautiful lavender farms in this region; Hood River Lavender Farms has an especially picturesque landscape and a great gift shop.

Bonneville Dam

Start your tour of the Gorge by heading west on I-84 from Hood River.  Cascade Locks is about 20 miles west of Hood River and (if you have the time) you may want to consider a cruise on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler.  Cruises depart from Marine Park in Cascade Locks.  The Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery are at exit 40 and should be your next stop.  Be prepared for a checkpoint on your way into the dam.  The visitor’s center is approximately one mile from the checkpoint, and visitors are directed not to stop on the way in.  The visitor’s center has a wealth of information about the dam and lock.  The dam is actually two dams, one constructed in the 1930s and a second dam which was constructed by widening the Columbia River in the 1970s.  Visitors must be accompanied by a guide to visit the powerhouse (18 generators operate between the two dams), but may wander freely around the rest of the area.  An attraction in itself, the famous fish ladder has both above-water viewing, as well as additional underwater viewing areas.  The ladder was constructed to allow salmon and other fish to journey upstream and avoid getting caught in the powerhouses.  Visitors can also observe the dam’s official “fish counters”, who devote hours a day to counting each individual fish as it makes its way through the fish ladder.

Just under the I-84 overpass, you will find the trailhead for Wahclella Falls, one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the Gorge.  A relatively easy 1 mile trail leads to the base of the falls.  The lower falls are fully visible from the base, while the upper falls are partly hidden by the rocky outcroppings surrounding the falls.  Walking close to the falls feels like entering another world, as the cliffs block the sun for most of the day, and there is a mist surrounding the falls.  After returning to your car, head back east on I-84 just one exit to the turnoff for Eagle Creek Recreation Area (access is only from the eastbound side).  At the end of the road, you will find a parking lot for the trail to Punch Bowl Falls (the trail actually continues for several miles and passes many other waterfalls, but Punch Bowl Falls is the main attraction here).  The 2 mile (one way) trail to Lower Punch Bowl Falls is not for the faint of heart.  In several sections, the trail has been blasted out of the rock wall, and support cables have been added to assist in the narrow sections.  But for those willing to venture in, a beautiful waterfall awaits.  In about 1.5 miles, you’ll come to Metlako Falls (a beauty in its own right!) before reaching the spur trail to Lower Punch Bowl Falls.  The spur trail involves a fairly steep elevation drop to get to the base of the falls.  Once down in the canyon, the trail opens to a rocky beach, a favorite of swimmers and waders in the summer months.  Punch Bowl Falls gets its name because the water cascades over rocks into what looks just like a punch bowl.  Actually seeing the falls involves a little wading, or carefully stepping on exposed rocks, as the waterfall is partially hidden behind a rock wall.

Elowah Falls

After making your way back to your car, you’ll need to travel one exit east again on I-84 to get back to I-84 West.  Travel west to Exit 37, which is the start of the Historic Columbia River Highway.  Just after getting onto Rte. 30, turn left (as if getting onto I-84 eastbound).  Just before merging onto the highway, you’ll see Frontage Road on the right.  Take this approximately 2 miles to the John B. Yeon State Park/Elowah Falls trailhead.  This 1.4 mile (round trip) hike will take you to another beautiful waterfall.  Elowah Falls plunges 289 feet over a sheer rock face along McCord Creek.  This waterfall is a little off the beaten path, so you’ll find more solitude on this trail than on many of the others.

Multnomah Falls

Continuing your journey west, you will find many waterfalls within a few steps of the main road along the Historic Columbia River Highway.  The first, Horsetail Falls, is a wispy waterfall, aptly named as it looks like a long horse’s tail.  The next major stop on your journey should be Multnomah Falls.  This is perhaps the iconic waterfall in the gorge, and has been featured on many a postcard and brochure promoting the area.  One of the most memorable parts of this waterfall is the bridge that has been constructed between the lower and upper falls.  A short (.25 mile) hike will take you to the bridge and another perspective from which to view the falls.  Adjacent to the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, a perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner while in the Gorge area.  Past Multnomah Falls, you will come to Bridal Veil Falls, again right next to the road, and again aptly named as the falls are reminiscent of a bride’s veil.  The final falls of note on this portion of the scenic highway are Latourell Falls.  Unfortunately, construction on the road in this section of the highway has made Latourell Falls inaccessible at this time.

Before heading back to Portland, there are two stops worthy of your time.  The first is Crown Point, home to the famous Vista House, an observatory originally built in 1918.  From the roof of Vista House, you’ll have views as far as Portland and Vancouver (WA) to the west.  About a mile further west, you will come to perhaps the most beautiful view of the Columbia River Gorge at the Portland Women’s Forum.  From this vantage point, you will have a clear view looking east through the Gorge, with Crown Point and Vista House in the distance.

Crown Point from the Portland Women’s Forum

With so many waterfalls in such a small space, it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy spending time in the Columbia River Gorge.  Though one could easily spend days and not experience everything the Gorge has to offer, a visit to even a few of the gorgeous waterfalls will make a lasting impression and leave you looking forward to your next visit!

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The Central Oregon Coast – Yachats and Cape Perpetua

Rocky Coastline – Yachats, Oregon

While the northern Oregon coast tends to attract day trippers and weekenders from Portland, the central Oregon coast is a bit more removed from the big cities and has a much more laid-back feel.  But spend a few days along the central Oregon coast, and you’ll find it has a charm and character all its own.  Yachats (pronounced “yah-hawts”) is a perfect base for exploring the central Oregon coast.  There are several small inns and hotels along the coast in this area, and while not “built up”, the town is large enough to have several quality restaurants and shops.  Best of all, Yachats is just a short drive from Cape Perpetua, a true gem of the Oregon coast.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

If you’re driving to Yachats from the northern coast, you’ll want to be sure to stop in Depoe Bay (the whale watching capital of the Oregon coast) and at Yaquina Head Lighthouse on your drive south.  Depoe Bay has a Whale Watching Center right on Hwy. 101, where you can grab a pair of binoculars and try to see if you can spot one of the area’s resident grey whales spouting just off the coast.  Depoe Bay also boasts the world’s smallest harbor (just 6 acres in size!), where boats often have difficulty making it through the narrow passage which separates it from the Pacific Ocean.  A few miles south of Depoe Bay is Yaquina Head Lighthouse, part of the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, managed by the Oregon/Washington Bureau of Land Management.  The lighthouse sits on a rocky headland, jutting out into the Pacific just north of Newport, Oregon.  The lighthouse is open for tours during posted hours, and visitors can climb the 114 steps to the top to learn about the history of this still-active lighthouse.

Cape Perpetua

The town of Yachats itself is quite charming, and you’ll want to spend some time looking around in the shops and visiting the Log Church Museum.  But the real treat in this area lies just 2 miles south of Yachats.  Cape Perpetua is in a world of its own when it comes to scenic beauty.  Driving south, you’ll first come to Devil’s Churn, a long crack in the rocky cliffs which allows water to thunder against the cliffs, especially during high tide.  A short distance further is the turn off to the road that leads to the top off the 800 foot high Cape Perpetua.  Driving to the top, you’ll be driving through forested land on a curvy road which deposits you in a small parking area.  But it doesn’t take many steps from the parking area to realize the beauty of the view from here.  There is a short loop trail at the top, the Whispering Spruce Trail, which leads to an historic rock shelter overlooking a dramatic stretch of coastline.  Take a few moments to savor the view.  This is what people are imagining when they think of the rugged beauty of the central Oregon coast.

Cape Perpetua Tidepool

Overlooking the breathtaking coastline from the top of Cape Perpetua is a remarkable experience.  But beneath those endless waves and rocky shores lies another world which draws many to the Cape Perpetua shoreline.  At low tide, residents and visitors alike flock to the rocky coast to participate in one of the Pacific coast’s most popular activities: tidepooling.  If you’re like me, a tidepooling novice, be sure to look for the park rangers who are more than happy to show you some of the more interesting features of the tidepools, and to point out all of the living things beneath the surface.  Green anemones, purple sea urchins, and sea stars of varying colors are the most easy creatures to spot, but look closely, and you will discover a whole world of tiny living organisms beneath the surface of the tide pools.

Just south of the tide pool area lies another of Cape Perpetua’s many attractions, the Spouting Horn.  At high tide and during ocean storms, water rushes into the rocky crevice and forces water to shoot high into the air from the horn.  Just offshore lies Thor’s Well, a large hole in the rocky shoreline which fills with water during high tides and drains in a dramatic fashion.  Both of these sites are a short walk from the Cook’s Chasm parking area along Hwy. 101.

Cape Perpetua

Whether you’re looking for lofty vistas, long sand beaches, or hundreds of tide pools to explore, the central Oregon coast is sure to exceed your expectations!

From Astoria to Pacific City – Exploring the Northern Oregon Coast

Haystack Rock at Sunset – Cannon Beach, Oregon

“…the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed,                        in front of a boundless ocean…”  -William Clark

Where can you find rugged coastlines, secluded beaches, and stunning vistas, all in one area?  If your answer involved the Oregon coast, you’re correct!  The Oregon coast has long been known as one of America’s most beautiful and scenic coastlines, and it’s easy to see why.  Around every bend, there is seemingly one beautiful vista after another.  Add to this the fact that the majority of the Oregon coast is comprised of small coastal villages scattered amidst miles of beaches, and you have the perfect recipe for a seaside vacation.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Begin your tour in Oregon’s northern neighbor, Washington.  Just across the border from Astoria, Oregon, lies Cape Disappointment State Park, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.  Though not technically in Oregon, the park offers a good introduction to the coastline, and some equally gorgeous views.  There are two lighthouses to visit while at Cape Disappointment.  The North Head Lighthouse is located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the lighthouse is open to visitors during posted hours.  Also in the park is the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, which is at the mouth of the Columbia River.  While it is possible to hike to the lighthouse, a better view is afforded from Waikiki Beach, where you can see the lighthouse perched high above on a cliff.

Heading back to Oregon, be sure to visit the Astoria Column (where ambitious visitors can climb the column’s 164 steps for a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean, Columbia River, and surrounding area) and Fort Clatsop, where the Corps of Discovery had their winter encampment from 1805-1806.  Continuing south, you’ll pass through Seaside (worth a visit, with its many souvenir shops and restaurants) before arriving in Cannon Beach.

Ecola State Park – Cannon Beach, Oregon

If you’re only planning to stay in one place along the northern Oregon coast, make it Cannon Beach.  This quaint beach town is much quieter than Seaside, but has plenty of restaurants and shops to keep you occupied when you’re not at the beach.  For one of the most beautiful views of the Oregon coast, head to Ecola State Park, at the north end of Cannon Beach, and make your way to the main overlook, just past the gatehouse.  Take the short walk out to the tip of Ecola Point, and you’ll understand what makes this area so special.  From here, you have a gorgeous view all the way down Cannon Beach, including the iconic Haystack Rock.  Also at Ecola State Park, driving another 2 miles beyond the viewpoint will bring you to Indian Beach.  The beach is reached via a short trail and is a popular spot for surfers.  Make sure you plan your visit to Cannon Beach to include a stop at Haystack Rock for sunset.  This is the spot to be.  And if you’re staying on the beach, you can take part in the Cannon Beach tradition of making a bonfire on the beach and roasting marshmallows at sunset.

Arcadia Beach State Park

Continuing south from Cannon Beach on Hwy. 101, you’ll pass several state parks.  The 15 minute walk to the beach at Oswald West State Park is well worth the effort.  The trail traverses through dense forest, and opens onto a beautiful beach, with a waterfall cascading into the ocean on the north end.  In this same area are Arcadia and Hug Point state parks, both easily accessed from Hwy. 101.  The largest town you’ll pass through as you head south is the city of Tillamook, home to both the Tillamook Cheese Factory and Blue Heron French Cheese Company.  Though very different, both offer samples of their cheeses and small cafes to have a bite to eat.  Tillamook also offers their famous ice cream and fudge, while Blue Heron has a wine tasting room.

Leaving Tillamook and heading south, your best option for beautiful scenery is to take the Three Capes Scenic Loop.  The route is well-marked leaving Tillamook, and takes you around Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda.  Be sure to stop in Oceanside and make your way to the beach.  As you face the ocean on the main beach, look to your right and notice a small cut-out in the rocky ledge at the north end of the beach.  As you get closer, you’ll see that this is actually a small tunnel which takes you to a secluded section of the beach.  If you’re looking for a quiet spot, this is it!  Further south, you will come to Cape Lookout.  It is well worth the 2.4 mile (one way) hike to the tip of the cape.   You will be rewarded with what seems like an endless view of ocean, and whales can often be spotted just off the cape from this spot.  The final cape on the Three Capes Loop is Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City.  The draw here is the famous fleet of dory boats which call Cape Kiwanda home.  It is the only place in the country where you can see dory fishing boats being launched directly from the beach into the open ocean.  Boats generally leave in the morning and return in the afternoon, but the schedule is mostly tide and current dependent.  Cape Kiwanda also has its own Haystack Rock (actually taller than Cannon Beach), and the northern end of the beach is great for exploring tide pools at low tide or climbing the tall sand dunes which make up the cape.  As a bonus, Cape Kiwanda is one of the few places along the Oregon coast where it is possible to drive your vehicle right onto the beach!

Cape Kiwanda – Pacific City, Oregon

Few places in the country can compete with the beauty of the Oregon coast.  From the busy towns of Seaside and Tillamook to the more secluded Manzanita and Pacific City, a visit to the northern Oregon coast is one you’ll not soon forget!