Explore the North Bank of the Columbia River Gorge

Mention the words “Columbia Gorge” to Pacific Northwest (PNW) locals, and they’ll almost certainly bring up Multnomah Falls, Vista House, Rowena Crest, or some of the other well-known points of interest on the Oregon side. Not to say these sites are not impressive or lacking in any appeal to visit, but a river does not simply consist of one bank. Hop over instead to the Washington side, and you’ll find an equally scenic, yet oft-forgotten portion of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Extending 80 miles, the National Scenic Area encompasses the area roughly from Camas to east of Dallesport on the Washington side, with myriad options for nearly every type of adventurer to explore. 

Hiking in the Gorge

One of the most popular activities in the entire Columbia River Gorge is hiking, and while the Oregon side may command more national notoriety, the Washington side provides an extensive amount of opportunity to work those calves, whether you’re looking for a simple stroll, a great leg-burner high above the river, or are just on an Instagram mission. Some of the most popular hikes include:

gorge flowers

Dog Mountain

The hike that commands local PNW hashtags on social media every spring, Dog Mountain showcases both incredible views of the river gorge, plus a bounty of balsamroot and other springtime flowers that blanket the expansive south-facing slopes. At 6 miles round-trip with 2,800 feet of elevation gain, Dog Mountain is not necessarily for everyone, but the reward is spectacular if you can power through the climb. 

*Note: due to increasing popularity in Spring, the Forest Service does now require a permit on weekends; further, parking is limited and not guaranteed. If you can’t score a permit or a parking spot, another gorgeous wildflower option is Dalles Mountain Ranch, about 45 minutes east, with several loop trails, one of which takes passers by a rusty old classic car out to pasture and surrounded by balsamroot and lupine.

Beacon Rock

Standing 848 feet above the river, Beacon Rock is the remnant core of an ancient volcano. Though the trail is only 1 mile each way, the 600-foot elevation gain, coupled with sheer drop-offs and handrails, make this hike not for the faint of heart! 

For more on Beacon Rock, check out:

Conquering Beacon Rock in the Gorge

coyote wall

Coyote Wall

With a little bit of something for everyone, the trails looping over and along the 200-foot columnar basalt Coyote Wall offer unbeatable views, wildflower meadows, ancient volcanic rock outcroppings, small waterfalls, and numerous options for hiking routes. You might even get lucky enough to hear or spy a Western Meadowlark singing in one of the sporadic pines or along an old ranch fence!

Depending on which hike you choose, you will need either a Washington State Discover Pass or a Northwest Forest Pass. The Columbia Gorge is also tick country, so be prepared with proper clothing and your choice of bug repellent. If you have a four-legged companion, be sure to check if dogs are allowed on a given trail. 

beer

Explore Small Towns

Of course, what would a scenic road trip be without unique small towns to peruse. Starting from the west, you’ll pass through Camas, Washougal, Stevenson, Carson and White Salmon, among others. 

Camas and Washougal

At only 14 miles east of Vancouver, and 176 miles from Seattle, neighboring towns Camas and Washougal are a great starting location. Together they offer three of the most popular Southwest Washington breweries, with Doomsday Brewing slinging some spectacular pizza along with hearty craft brews of many styles. 

If it is not quite happy hour yet, stop by Washougal Coffee Company for a rich and bold Americano, plus a breakfast sandwich on one of the flakiest croissants this side of Paris. 

Both towns also offer picturesque main drags to wander. In Camas, stately deciduous trees bow over the blocks, framing a historic theater, boutique hotel, and numerous shops. Camas Antiques in town, and The Rustic Monkey just slightly east of downtown both provide a treasure hunt for that special find. Washougal also just happens to be home to a Pendleton Woolen Mills factory and store, where you can browse a wide selection of their signature plaid patterns across an array of media, some of which may surprise you.

antique shop
theater

Stevenson

About halfway along the Gorge, Stevenson offers a popular stopover for the night at Skamania Lodge, while Carson is home to Backwoods Brewing Company, host to (in my opinion) the best Pecan Pie Porter in the country, along with several other styles more typically favored by PNW imbibers. If soaking your troubles away is on the docket, a stay at Carson Hot Springs Golf & Spa Resort ought to do the trick. 

White Salmon

One more hop to the east, and only 115 miles from Yakima for the east side travelers, White Salmon includes a couple of must-stop small businesses. Don’t be put off by the line out the door at White Salmon Baking Co. — the wait is absolutely worth it for sandwiches and pastries, no matter what time of day. I am quite partial to their cardamom bun, while my wife gravitates more toward the maple bacon scone.

baked goods
burrito

For a larger meal, plus a great rotating list of craft brews, Everybody’s Brewing boasts a great view of Mount Hood from their patio, plus several savory burrito options. The slopes above the White Salmon area also offer several family-run wineries, many with postcard-worthy views that invite you to sip that cabernet a little slower. 

For more on local breweries and cideries, check out: 

columbia river

Points of Interest

On your drive through the Gorge, make sure you budget a little extra time for the many south-facing viewpoints, as well as some of the other major points of interest, such as the Bonneville Dam, with two visitors centers, a fish ladder, viewing platform of the powerhouse, and a great spot to watch boats navigate the locks. 

Other points of interest will take you farther off Highway 14, but if you have either a couple of extra hours or a couple of extra days, check out the scenic Washougal River Road to Dougan Falls and the Yacolt Burn State Forest, the Wind River Highway north out of Carson, or Highway 141 toward Trout Lake and Mount Adams. For a toll of $2 one-way, you can also scoot over to the Oregon towns of Cascade Locks or Hood River, good jumping-off points for other hikes, breweries and tasty local fare. 

Forgotten as it may be to many PNW locals, the north bank is home to a great array of recreation, shopping, and craft industry opportunities; though it may not command the same national recognition as the Oregon side, countless reasons persist to make the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge your next route through the area. 

Eric Allan

Eric is a lifelong PNW native, realizing his dream as a travel writer, photographer and reviewer. With his wife of 6 years, he currently splits his time between Arlington and Ocean Shores; they are currently progressing toward goals of visiting all 50 states and seeing every National Park. Together they share a passion for independent, local business, especially in the craft food and beverage industries.

1 Comment

  1. Robert Banks on May 31, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Congratulations Eric. I am sure you will do well, and this is a great opportunity. Sue and I recently visited Steptoe Butte and Palouse Falls. We have been hitting the back roads of our state for 55 years, and we are always finding something new, away from the Freeways. Stay in touch. Best wishes to you and your bride (we are 49 years ahead of you) and safe travels. BobBanks

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