Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway

Details

  • DesignationAll-American Road (1998)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric, Scenic
  • LocationOR
  • Length70 miles
Byway Visitor Information
USDA Forest Service
Statewide Byway Partners
Oregan Byways Map
Travel Oregon
A small island rests on the border of Washington and Oregon in the middle of the Columbia River near Memaloose State Park
Public domain. Photo

Overview

The Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway in Oregon is a breathtaking route that winds through the picturesque Columbia River Gorge, offering travelers a glimpse into the natural beauty and rich history of the region. This iconic roadway, constructed in the early 20th century, provides stunning vistas of cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and the majestic Columbia River itself. Along the way, visitors can explore various recreational opportunities, including hiking trails, viewpoints, and historic sites such as Vista House. The highway not only showcases Oregon's diverse landscapes but also serves as a testament to early engineering feats and the importance of preserving scenic treasures for future generations to enjoy.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

Nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, the Historic Columbia River Gorge All-American Road is a scenic gem that has captured the hearts of travelers and nature enthusiasts for generations. This remarkable stretch of roadway, which winds its way through the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, is more than just a path between two points; it's a testament to nature's grandeur, human ingenuity, and the importance of preservation.
Natural Beauty Abounds
One of the most compelling aspects of the Columbia River Gorge All-American Road is its unparalleled natural beauty. As you embark on this journey, you'll be treated to a sensory feast of lush forests, towering cliffs, and the awe-inspiring Columbia River. The gorge is a geological wonder, sculpted over eons by the powerful forces of ice age floods, and it now boasts an astonishing diversity of ecosystems, from arid desert landscapes to temperate rainforests.
Waterfall Wonderland
The Columbia River Gorge is often referred to as a "waterfall alley," and for a good reason. Along the All-American Road, visitors are treated to a cascade of waterfalls, each more captivating than the last. Iconic waterfalls like Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls provide picturesque stops for travelers to witness nature's artistry. These falls, formed by ancient lava flows and erosion, are a testament to the enduring power of water and time.
A Journey Through History
While the Columbia River Gorge is renowned for its natural beauty, it also has a rich cultural and historical heritage. The construction of the Historic Columbia River Highway, designed by Samuel C. Lancaster and completed in 1916, was an engineering marvel of its time. The highway's graceful curves and well-planned viewpoints were intended to harmonize with the gorge's natural landscape, ensuring that travelers could savor every moment of their journey.
Iconic Landmarks and Vista House
As you travel along the Historic Columbia River Gorge All-American Road, you'll encounter several iconic landmarks. Perhaps the most famous of these is Vista House, a historic observatory perched atop Crown Point. Built in 1916, Vista House offers panoramic views of the gorge, serving as both a stunning architectural marvel and a symbol of human appreciation for the natural world.
Outdoor Recreation and Adventure
Beyond the scenic vistas and waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge provides a wealth of recreational opportunities. Hiking, biking, and exploring the numerous trails that crisscross the area are popular activities for outdoor enthusiasts. The diverse ecosystems here make it a paradise for birdwatchers, and water sports like windsurfing and kayaking are also favorite pastimes.
A Testament to Preservation
In 1986, the Historic Columbia River Highway was designated as a National Historic Landmark, underscoring its cultural and historical significance. Moreover, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986 established measures to protect and conserve this precious landscape for future generations, ensuring that its unique attributes remain intact.

The Historic Columbia River Gorge All-American Road is a living testament to the harmonious coexistence of nature and human endeavor. Its natural beauty, waterfall wonders, historical significance, iconic landmarks, and recreational opportunities make it a truly special destination. As travelers traverse this magnificent route, they are not only immersed in a world of awe-inspiring beauty but also reminded of the importance of preserving these treasures for generations to come. The Historic Columbia River Gorge is not merely a road; it's an experience, a legacy, and a testament to the enduring majesty of the natural world.

Driving Directions

In order to travel the Byway itself, follow the keystone signs from Troutdale east to Dodson and from Mosier east to The Dalles.

Points of Interest

  • Multnomah Falls

    Multnomah Falls in Oregon is a breathtaking natural wonder and an iconic symbol of the Pacific Northwest. Cascading from a height of 620 feet, it is one of the tallest year-round waterfalls in the United States and is renowned for its ethereal beauty and lush surroundings. Located in the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls entices visitors with its majestic two-tiered cascade, surrounded by verdant forests and accessed via a picturesque footbridge. This beloved attraction not only offers a glimpse of nature's grandeur but also provides opportunities for hiking and exploration, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in Oregon's stunning landscapes.

  • Bridal Veil Falls

    Nestled along the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon, Bridal Veil Falls is a captivating natural gem that enchants visitors with its delicate and picturesque beauty. This serene waterfall, named for its resemblance to a bridal veil, tumbles gracefully from a mossy cliff, forming a shimmering curtain of water. Accessible via a short and scenic trail, Bridal Veil Falls offers a tranquil escape into the lush Columbia River Gorge landscape. Its proximity to other iconic waterfalls and viewpoints along the historic highway makes it a cherished stop for travelers, providing a perfect opportunity to bask in the splendor of Oregon's natural wonders.

  • Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint.

    The Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint, situated along the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon, is a place of breathtaking panoramic beauty. This viewpoint provides an awe-inspiring vista of the Columbia River Gorge, offering visitors a sweeping tableau of towering cliffs, lush forests, and the majestic Columbia River below. Named in honor of the Portland Women's Forum, a group of early 20th-century conservationists, this viewpoint exemplifies their dedication to preserving the natural wonders of the gorge. It's a cherished stop for travelers seeking to appreciate the stunning landscapes that define the Pacific Northwest, making it a must-visit destination along this historic highway.

  • Bonneville Lock and Dam

    The Bonneville Lock and Dam, located on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, is a remarkable engineering marvel with profound economic and environmental significance. Serving as a vital transportation link, flood control system, and source of hydroelectric power, it plays a multifaceted role in the Pacific Northwest's infrastructure. The dam's complex system includes navigation locks to facilitate the passage of ships, fish ladders to aid the migration of salmon and other fish species, and a series of turbines generating clean hydroelectric energy. Beyond its utilitarian functions, the Bonneville Lock and Dam also provides visitors with educational opportunities, allowing them to learn about its history, environmental impact, and the intricate relationship between technology and nature in this iconic region.

  • Bridge of the Gods

    The Bridge of the Gods, spanning the Columbia River on the Columbia River Highway, is a spectacular and historically significant structure. This arched bridge not only serves as a crucial transportation link between Oregon and Washington but also carries with it a rich mythological and cultural heritage. According to Native American legends, this bridge was created by the gods themselves, and its breathtaking views of the Columbia River Gorge are nothing short of divine. Beyond its scenic allure, the Bridge of the Gods represents a captivating fusion of engineering prowess and cultural mythology, making it a must-visit landmark along the Columbia River Highway.

  • Rowena Crest & Loops

    Rowena Crest and the adjacent scenic loops along the Columbia River Highway offer travelers an enchanting and panoramic journey through the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. The dramatic viewpoints at Rowena Crest provide breathtaking vistas of the river below, framed by a tapestry of wildflowers and rugged cliffs. The winding loops of the highway that traverse this area are a testament to the road's ingenious design, allowing visitors to savor the awe-inspiring landscape from multiple angles. Whether it's capturing the splendor of the gorge in spring when wildflowers bloom or admiring the dramatic scenery year-round, Rowena Crest and its loops stand as a testament to the region's natural beauty and the artistry of its engineering.

  • The Dalles

    The Dalles, a historic city on the Columbia River Highway and eastern gateway to the Gorge, is a captivating blend of cultural heritage and natural beauty. Nestled in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, it boasts a rich history dating back centuries, from Indigenous tribes to European explorers and settlers. Today, The Dalles serves as a gateway to the stunning gorge, offering visitors a chance to explore its historic downtown, which features charming streets lined with well-preserved 19th-century buildings and museums that delve into the city's past. Downtown murals document its rich 19th-century heritage, first as a Lewis and Clark encampment, then as a staging area for Oregon Trail pioneers readying for the treacherous trip down the Columbia’s rapids. With its strategic location along the mighty Columbia River and its proximity to scenic wonders, The Dalles is not only a cultural hub but also a launching point for adventures into the breathtaking landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.

  • Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

    The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, located in The Dalles, Oregon, is a captivating destination that provides visitors with an immersive educational experience about the natural and cultural history of the Columbia River Gorge. Through interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations, and informative displays, the center offers a deep dive into the geological formations, flora and fauna, and the rich human history of the region. Its emphasis on environmental conservation and appreciation of the gorge's unique ecosystem makes it an educational and inspirational stop for those looking to gain a deeper understanding of the Columbia River Gorge's significance and its role in the Pacific Northwest's natural heritage.

  • Vista House

    Vista House, perched atop Crown Point along the Columbia River Highway, is an iconic architectural marvel and a breathtaking viewpoint that offers visitors panoramic vistas of the majestic Columbia River Gorge. Built in 1916, this historic observatory serves as a testament to both human ingenuity and a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of the region. The octagonal structure's design harmonizes seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, allowing guests to soak in the awe-inspiring beauty of the gorge from its wraparound windows and observation deck. Vista House not only provides a picturesque backdrop for travelers but also serves as a cherished symbol of the gorge's enduring allure and the importance of preserving its scenic treasures.

Itinerary

  • Travel the "King of Roads"

    Starting on the western portion of the Columbia River Highway, head to the city of Troutdale and head east on Interstate 84. As you head east, you can take in the beauty of the Columbia River and witness how powerful its stream is. Along the way, you are going to pass some incredible natural landmarks. Just east of the community of Corbett, you can stop by the incredible Latourell Falls which provides amazing views. After that, stop by the incredibly close Bridal Veil Falls only a few miles east. To partake in some recreational activities, stop by Benson State Recreation Area, which is perfect for swimming and fishing. The natural beauty of the area does not stop there, shortly after the Recreation Area you can visit significant natural locations such as Horsetail Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Ainsworth State Park, and Multnomah Falls. Here is where the western portion of the Highway ends, but after a short drive along Interstate 84, it picks up again for the second park of your journey.

    Beginning right outside of Mosier, the eastern portion of this Highway is just as beautiful and scenic as the western portion. Right away, you can stop at the Memaloose Overlook, which gives an outstanding view of the Columbia River and the surrounding area. From there, you can continue east to Mayer State Park where you can get a great view of Rowena Crest. You can take a trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail, which is a wonderful walking trail that goes parallel to the Highway. Your journey along this Highway ends around here, but there is still so much more to explore!

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