Oregon Road Trip: Waterfalls along the Old Columbia River Highway

by Chris on July 11, 2011

Scenes from an Oregon Road trip: checking out many of the state’s waterfalls, as we meander down the old Columbia River Highway.
Old Columbia River Highway

Columbia River Gorge, from Chanticleer Point

Where: Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway, the first planned scenic highway built in the U.S. (back in 1922). You pick it up on the outskirts of Portland, at Troutdale and it goes all the way to The Dalles, about 75 miles east. We took it as far as Hood River.

Waterfalls of Oregon

Bridal Veil falls

When: July 3-4. Despite it being a holiday weekend, the crowds were fairly manageable, save for the quarter-mile back-up at Multnomah Falls (which is so awesome, it deserves its own post).

Old Columbia River Highway

Path to Bridal Veil Falls

Why: In addition to being built specifically to capture amazing views and vantage points of the Columbia River Gorge, the old Columbia River Highway passes right by some of Oregon’s prettiest waterfalls. Time it right and you can hit about seven in one day.

Old Columbia River Highway

Vista House

Fun fact: The Vista House, perched on Crown Point more than 730 feet above the Gorge, was built in 1918 to  “serve as a comfort station for the tourist and the travelers of America’s greatest highway,” according to Samuel Lancaster, supervisor of the original Columbia River Highway project.

Old Columbia River Highway

Vista House

And what a rest stop it is, with floors and stairs built from marble and a view that reaches for miles. Inside, you’ll find historic photos of the Highway and exhibits that outline what roadtrips were like in the dawn of the Auto Age. I particularly liked the packing list from 1914, which admonished drivers to wear their gloves and goggles.

Vista House is a National Historic Landmark and is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through mid-October.

Waterfalls of Oregon

Latourell Falls

Highlights: Many people driving the Old Columbia River Highway may stop quickly and take photos, without getting out to explore. And that would be a mistake, as there are enough short hikes along the road that won’t take too much time, even if you need to get somewhere before sundown.

Waterfalls of Oregon

We stopped at four waterfalls: Latourell, Bridal Veil, Multnomah and Oneonta Gorge. All of them were worthwhile, in their own way, and we did just enough hiking to make our day entertaining (of course, avid hikers could spend the entire day exploring them all).

Old Columbia River Highway

Oneonta Tunnel

Munchies? While food and drink is available at Multnomah Falls, we had packed a cooler and picnicked by the side of the road. Many others were doing the same.

Waterfalls of Oregon

We wish we knew: To bring water shoes for Oneonta Gorge: while scrambling over the rocks in the narrow slot canyon looked fun, we weren’t ready to have our feet get soaked.

Old Columbia River Highway

Details:The Historic Columbia River Highway is also known as Historic US 30. If you take I-84 east from Portland, look for brown signs marking the scenic waterfall route.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex Berger July 11, 2011 at 8:32 am

As a huge waterfall guy, these are absolutely spectacular. Definitely just added all of them to my list of a must see/do ASAP. Thanks for the great shots!

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Sophie July 11, 2011 at 8:48 am

Looks very nice. The first photo reminds me of the Danube Bend.

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Gene Bowker July 11, 2011 at 9:01 am

Love the waterfall pics. Need to get back out there to photograph

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Sherry July 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Waterfalls are so dynamic! I just love watching the awesome power of water. I admit, I always skip pass this trek for fear of the large crowds that I see heading that direction. Maybe I’ll have to try again and be more open minded. Looks like a great drive.

The last shot is fabulous – the most quintessential shot of the Columbia river in Oregon (at least in my mind).

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Kent @ NVR July 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm

This is the kind of post we were talking about on Friday :) What a treat.

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Angela July 11, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Love the pictures, waterfalls are always fascinating.

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Cam @ Traveling Canucks July 11, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Looks like a fun road trip – we’ll have to add this the next time we head south (love the Oregon Coast!)

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Jenn July 12, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Oh wow–I so want to come visit there…those waterfalls are magnificent!! Thanks for sharing this awesome post!

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Don Faust July 13, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Thanks everyone for the comments. It was a very nice highway drive to the waterfalls, all of which I like.

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twoOregonians July 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I just worked this past year on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail Plan for the Wyeth to Hood River segment!

They’re planning to reconnect the original Highway Route to accommodate bike and pedestrian traffic along the full 73 miles, in particular providing continuous access to many of the great campgrounds and waterfalls and scenic overlooks.

For a peek at the trail and trailhead locations, you can sift through the documents up on the state website:
http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/HCRH/trail.shtml

I’m excited to one day take my [future] kiddos biking along the trail and point out some of my work!

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Chris July 24, 2011 at 8:24 am

What a fantastic project to work on! I really loved the old highway, and I’m glad to hear that more pedestrian and bike access is on the way. Thanks for sharing!

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Nomadic Samuel August 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm

This looks like quite the road-trip – lovely scenery!

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Joe September 2, 2011 at 5:02 am

Love this area! I’ve stopped at all of these waterfalls and lookouts every time I leave portland. Not many places in the world are as beautiful!

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Sam@GreenGlobalTravel September 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Great Pics and I love your fun facts/tips throughout

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