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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.