The Columbia River Gorge was easily my favorite place we visited during our trip to Portland, Oregon — it’s a must-visit attraction during any trip to the Pacific Northwest!
Though the Columbia River Gorge is only a 30-minute drive from Portland, visiting feels like you’ve been whisked away into a new world filled with majestic waterfalls, stunning hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, family-owned farms, and relaxing wineries. You could easily spend multiple days here, but if you’re pressed for time — planning a Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland is totally doable!
Follow the Columbia River Gorge itinerary below to see all the best attractions along this scenic highway during your day trip from Portland.
What Is the Columbia River Gorge?
The Columbia River Gorge is a massive river canyon that separates Southern Washington from Northern Oregon. The Columbia River Gorge was named a National Scenic Area — the largest in the country — in 1986, and since then, has been “wowing” visitors with its breathtaking beauty and stunning waterfalls.
Columbia River Gorge Day Trip Itinerary
During your day trip to the Columbia River Gorge from Portland, we recommend taking the Historic Columbia River Highway. This highway will take you right past all the sites in the Columbia River Gorge and makes it easy to pull off to see the waterfalls. If you’re driving from Portland, the highway starts in Troutdale and Corbett.
We recommend getting as early of a start as possible to enjoy the best of the Columbia River Gorge. Leave Downtown Portland between 6 AM – 6:30 AM to arrive at the Columbia River Gorge between 6:30 AM – 7 AM, if possible.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls should be your first stop when you arrive in the Columbia River Gorge. Bridal Veil Falls State Scenic Viewpoint opens at 6 AM, so you should be able to stop here regardless of how early you leave Portland. The waterfall gets its name from its two-tiered shape that widens toward the bottom, mimicking a flowing bridal veil.
Though there are two hikes available at Bridal View Falls, I recommend taking the 0.6-mile out-and-back hike to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. The views of the falls are best from the wooden platform at the end of the hike, and the hike itself is not challenging.
- Hike: 0.6-miles
- Viewpoint: Yes
- Restrooms: Yes
- Day Pass Required: No
Multnomah Falls Lodge
Next, it’s time to stop for some breakfast. And what better place to stop than at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge? Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s most famous waterfall, and the Multnomah Falls Lodge rests at the waterfall’s base, complete with a gift shop and restaurant.
The Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant serves a delicious breakfast Monday – Sunday, starting at 8 AM on weekends and 9 AM on weekdays. If you’re seated at a table near the lodge’s tall windows, you can see the tumbling falls outside while enjoying your meal!
You can order Northwest Favorites, like Wild Salmon and Eggs and Hazelnut Crusted French Toast. They also serve breakfast cocktails, like a Multnomah Mimosa and Hot Apple Pie, and regular juices, coffees, and teas. I ordered the Hazelnut Crusted French Toast and loved it.
After you’ve fueled up with a delicious breakfast, it’s time to see the iconic Multnomah Falls up close and personal. There are two viewpoints for Multnomah Falls — one at the base of the lower falls and one that’s a short walk uphill on the Benson Bridge.
It’s smart to arrive at Multnomah Falls as early as possible because it gets busy in the late morning and early afternoon, and the parking lot fills up quickly. If you’d like, you can hike the 2.6-mile out-and-back Multnomah Falls Trail, but I wouldn’t recommend this moderately challenging route for a day trip — there are plenty of other attractions to see!
Note: If you’ll be visiting the Columbia River Gorge from late May through early September, timed reservations are required to visit Multnomah Falls for $2.00 a ticket from 9 AM to 5 PM. If you’re visiting from late September through early May, reservations are not required, and entry to the falls is free.
- Hike: 2.6 miles
- Viewpoint: Yes
- Restrooms: Yes
- Day Pass: No
As you continue east along the Historic Columbia River Highway, you’ll see another popular waterfall — Horsetail Falls. This waterfall gets its name because it’s tall and skinny and has a bend in the falls about halfway down, like a horsetail.
Though there is no hike required to enjoy this gorgeous waterfall, there is an option for hiking to Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail Falls), which is only a short 0.6-mile trek. The hike begins to the left of Horsetail Falls and offers gorgeous views of the Columbia River Gorge. You’ll be able to hike behind the waterfall, which is a cool and unique experience!
- Hike: 0.6 miles
- Viewpoint: Yes
- Restrooms: No
- Day Pass: No
Wahclella Falls was easily my favorite hike and waterfall along the Columbia River Gorge. Because this stop requires a day pass or daily use fee of $5 per vehicle, many tourists skip it in favor of more accessible falls — but that’s a big mistake! You won’t want to miss this stop on your Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland.
This 2.4-mile out-and-back hike takes you past creeks and rivers through a canyon until you arrive at the 350-foot, two-tiered Wahclella Falls. This waterfall splashes into an enormous pool, and if you’re lucky, you may see salmon spawning at the base of the falls during the autumn.
Unlike the other waterfalls listed above, I really felt like we had Wahclella Falls all to ourselves to enjoy. This was also the closest that we were able to get to a waterfall — I could feel the water spraying me from the pool below!
- Hike: 2.4 miles
- Viewpoint: No
- Restrooms: No
- Day Pass: Required
Hood River Fruit Loop
Even though the Columbia River Gorge runs to Biggs Junction, I recommend spending the rest of the day exploring the Hood River Fruit Loop. This loop is a collection of local farms, orchards, and wineries set in front of the scenic backdrop of Mount Hood.
The Hood River Fruit Loop is especially fun to add to your Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland during the summer and fall when you can go fruit and flower picking at the local orchards! The following stops are all a part of the Hood River Fruit Loop.
First, head to Grateful Vineyard to grab some lunch. Grateful Vineyard brews their own wines, beers, and ciders, but they also serve salads, small plates, and artisan pizzas. I highly recommend grabbing a pizza — they are delicious! You can choose from cheese, pepperoni, margarita, meat lovers, pear, seasonal veggie, or chicken pesto.
I recommend trying one of the hard ciders since you’ll be wine-tasting later. The views are also stunning — grab a seat under the tent on the patio and enjoy!
Mt. View Orchards
Next, spend some time picking whatever fruit is in season at Mt. View Orchards — named for the orchard’s stunning view of Mt. Hood! Grateful Vineyard is actually on the orchard’s property, so after lunch, you can walk over to the farmstand and get started with u-pick fruit.
Mt. View Orchards opens in July with u-pick cherries and offers other berries, like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, at the farmstand. August offers u-pick peaches, as well as plums, nectarines, and berries at the farmstand, and starting in September, you can pick 125 varieties of apples and 15 varieties of pears. In October, you can pick the remaining apples and pears and enjoy cider, donuts, and hayrides, as well as purchase pumpkin, squash, carrots, beets, and corn from the farmstand. The orchard closes in November until the following July.
We loved apple picking at Mt. View Orchards in early October! Most of the apples were pretty picked over at this point, but we were still able to find some delicious apples to bring home with us. As a bonus, Mt. View Orchards provides wagons you can wheel around to put your fruit in, so you don’t have to carry it in bags.
Check out these other orchards in the Hood River Fruit Loop if you have more time:
- Draper Girls Country Farm — Draper Girls Country Farm offers pick-your-own apples, peaches, and cherries (depending on what is in season) starting in July from 10 AM – 4 PM daily. They also brew their own hard cider and offer fabulous views of Mt. Hood.
- Hood River U-Pick — Hood River U-Pick offers u-pick cherries starting in July and u-pick apples during September and October. They’re open from 9 AM – 4 PM daily until they sell out. They also have cute goats and pigs you can pet while you’re there!
Hood River Lavender Farms
There are several lavender farms throughout the Hood River Fruit Loop, but one of the most popular is Hood River Lavender Farms. They’re open from June to October and sell tons of lavender products, including lotions, soaps, bath bombs, teas, salts, and more.
You can also u-pick your own bundle of lavender from June to September. The lavender begins blooming in late June and is in full bloom by the second week of July. We were bummed that our trip in October was just a bit too late for lavender picking season, so we didn’t get the chance to stop here, but I hope to stop here next time we’re in the Columbia River Gorge.
Wine Tasting in Hood River
After taking a lap around the Hood River Fruit Loop, you’ll end up in Hood River — a small town along the Columbia River Gorge with dozens of fabulous wineries surrounding it. Spend the late afternoon wine tasting at one of the following highly-rated wineries:
- Mt. Hood Winery — Mt. Hood Winery is designed in a Northwest lodge style, featuring a cozy custom stone fireplace, so it’s a great place to visit on a rainy day! The tasting room offers glasses and flights and is open from 11 AM – 5 PM from March to November.
- Marchesi Vineyards & Winery — Marchesi Vineyards & Winery is open from 11 AM – 6 PM daily. They have a lovely patio that is first come, first served, and dogs and children are welcome. This gorgeous winery offers Italian wines, including whites, reds, and bubbly wines.
- Phelps Creek Tasting Room — Phelps Creek Tasting Room is a quaint winery and tasting room is open from 11 AM – 5 PM daily and offers a seasonal tasting flight and glasses. They also host fun events, like Taco Tuesday and Jazz Thursday.
We, unfortunately, didn’t have time for wine tasting during our day trip to the Columbia River Gorge (we spent another day wine tasting in the Willamette Valley instead). However, if you have the chance to check out a few of these beautiful, laid-back wineries, you’ll have to let me know what you think!
Thunder Island Brewing Co.
Before heading back to Portland, make one more stop along the Columbia River Gorge at Thunder Island Brewing Co. for dinner. They offer sharables, salads, soups, rice and noodle bowls, burgers, and sandwiches. And, if you opted to skip the wine tastings earlier, they also offer locally brewed beers, including the Glacier Lily Golden, Dog Track Amber, and Ya Ya Ee Juicy IPA.
As long as the weather is nice and you still have daylight, I recommend sitting on the patio, so you can enjoy the gorgeous views of the Columbia River. When you’re done, it’s time to head back to Portland and reminisce about your amazing day exploring the Columbia River Gorge!
Tips for Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Before your Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland, here are some important things you should know:
When is the best time to visit the Columbia River Gorge?
The Columbia River Gorge is best enjoyed in the late spring, summer, or early fall months.
- Summer guarantees the best weather, longer days for fitting in more sightseeing, and fruit, flowers, and lavender in-season for picking on the Hood River Fruit Loop. However, it’s also the most popular (and busy) time in the Columbia River Gorge.
- Fall is a great time to visit the Columbia River Gorge — especially in September and October. The leaves will be changing, the weather is usually still dry, and you can go apple or pear picking on the Hood River Fruit Loop. Plus, the summer crowds are gone!
- Spring offers beautiful wildflowers but not much in the way of fruit picking and more unpredictable, rainy weather. However, you could totally luck out with great weather!
- Winter is not an ideal time to visit the Columbia River Gorge. Cold, rainy, and snowy weather may keep some of the trails closed, there aren’t any fruit or flowers to pick, and it’s not enjoyable to sit out at the wineries, breweries, or cideries.
What is the best way to get to the Columbia River Gorge from Portland?
I highly recommend renting a car to explore the Columbia River Gorge — and greater Portland in general. The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most scenic drives in the United States, and being able to stop at the waterfalls, hikes, and scenic viewpoints that interest you along the way is part of the experience (and most of the fun!).
That said, if a rental car is out of the question, I still recommend carving out a day of your trip to Portland to explore the Columbia River Gorge. There are several fabulous half-day and full-day tours of the Columbia River Gorge that include round-trip transportation. Here are some of the best tours to book to explore the Columbia River Gorge if you won’t have a car:
- Columbia Gorge Waterfalls Tour from Portland — This half-day tour includes round-trip transportation from Portland and stops at Crown Point Vista House, Latourell Falls, Horsetail Falls, and Multnomah Falls along the scenic Historic Columbia River Highway.
- Mt. Hood Day Tour from Portland — This full-day tour with round-trip transportation from Portland includes stops at Multnomah Falls, Hood River for lunch and wine tasting, Rowena Crest, Mount Hood, and Timberline Lodge.
- Columbia Gorge Waterfalls and Mt. Hood Tour — This full-day tour with round-trip transportation from Portland in a luxury passenger van includes stops at Crowne Point Vista House, Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls, Hood River, Hood River Fruit Loop, Mount Hood, and Timberline Lodge.
Where should I stay for my Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland?
If you’re doing a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge from Portland, staying anywhere in Portland is convenient. The Columbia River Gorge is only a 30-minute drive from Downtown Portland, so it’s a quick drive. These are some top-rated hotels in Portland:
- Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel — This elegant hotel offers rooms, suites, and apartments in a riverfront setting overlooking the Willamette River. You can also enjoy refined dining and complimentary wine hours, and a fabulous happy hour.
- Canopy by Hilton Portland Pearl District — This chic and modern hotel in Portland’s hip Pearl District offers a restaurant, rooftop gym, and spectacular city views. Guests have commented that the staff and amenities are exceptional.
- Woodlark Hotel — This boutique hotel is in the center of the city and offers a refined restaurant, cocktail bar, and event spaces. Their coffee shop in the lobby, Good Coffee, is also one of the best coffee shops in Portland!
Is there anything else I should do to prepare for my Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland?
- Weather — Before heading out on your Columbia River Gorge day trip from Portland, check the weather to ensure you bring the right clothes (like a rain jacket, if necessary).
- Road & Trail Closures — Read up on trail closures and road conditions, especially from November – March. Some hikes will close in rainy weather or the winter, so if you have your heart set on a specific trail, it might be better to postpone your day trip.
- Hours — Before you hit the road, double-check the hours of all your stops. Though you should be set if you follow the itinerary listed above, several wineries, orchards, and local businesses change their hours depending on the day of the week, season, etc., so give them a call or check the website for updated hours.
- Reservations — If you need to make reservations for Multnomah Falls or grab a day pass to hike Wahclella Falls, purchase them before your day trip to ensure you’ll get the desired times for your day trip itinerary.
- Pack — Bring good hiking boots, sunscreen, water, a rain jacket, snacks, a phone, a camera, a portable charger, and plenty of layers with you during your day trip to the Columbia River Gorge from Portland.
Marvel at the Natural Beauty During Your Columbia River Gorge Day Trip from Portland
The Columbia River Gorge is honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and offers so much to do — from hiking and waterfall spotting to wine tasting and fruit picking. You absolutely won’t be disappointed during a trip to the Columbia River Gorge!
Which of these activities along the Columbia River Gorge are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments below!
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Save This Columbia River Gorge Day Trip from Portland Itinerary for Later
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