There's plenty to see — Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, Maryhill Museum — and do — hiking, rafting, windsurfing — on Washington's side of the Columbia River Gorge.
More than 100 years ago Sam Hill, a renaissance man with a passion for roads, lobbied Washington to build a paved highway on the north side of the Columbia River.
When the state balked, he went to Oregon. The Beaver State liked his idea so much it built the Historic Columbia River Highway from Troutdale to The Dalles.
“It could have been on our side,” said Sandra Williams, events manager for the Maryhill Museum of Art, founded by Hill. “Then, who knows?”
Today, Washington has its own highway through the Columbia River Gorge, but state Route 14 is overshadowed by Oregon’s Interstate 84.
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As a result, it can sometimes seem as if the Gorge is Oregon’s rather than a shared recreational wonderland.
“I’d say that’s true because everybody who visits goes to the Oregon side,” said Brian Hinde, owner of Open Ocean Sailboards in Lyle. “It’s the interstate plus there’s no sales tax over there.”
Cindy Park of Northwestern Lake Riding Stables in White Salmon said because of this, the masses flocking to Oregon need a “particular reason” to visit the Washington side.
As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons. Whitewater rafting, fewer crowds and premium launches for windsurfing, to name a few.
“There’s a lot less traffic over here,” Park said. “The Washington side is more undiscovered. There’s plenty to do over here, too.”
Here are 10 highlights, west to east.
Beacon Rock is a 600-foot-tall core of an ancient volcano on the edge of the Columbia River. The hike is short (1.8 miles roundtrip), but almost every step is up on an accessible trail that has more than 40 switchbacks. The trail hugs the edge of the rock and is not for those who fear heights. From the top you can look out over the Gorge and the rest of 5,100-acre Beacon Rock State Park. The rock’s sheer walls also are popular among rock climbers.
Fee: Discover Pass, $10 a day per vehicle, $30 a year.
More info: parks.wa.gov
Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson tells the history of the Gorge and its original American Indian people. The museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits ranging from baskets and historical photographs to logging equipment and a 1959 diesel locomotive. Museum director Sharon Tiffany says one of the museum’s most popular exhibits has little to do with the Gorge: it’s founder Don Brown’s collection of more than 4,000 rosaries, including the one John F. Kennedy carried during World War II. Tiffany says the museum had about 26,000 visitors last year and most take about 90 minutes to tour the facility.
Fees: $10 adults, $8 seniors 60 and older and students, $6 children 6-12, $30 for a family of four.
More info: columbiagorge.org
A dazzling attack on the senses, this 7.3-mile hike has big rewards for those willing to put in the work. You’ll have to climb almost 3,000 feet to reach the top of this peak between Home Valley and Cook. If you reach the top, not only are you rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the Gorge, but Dog Mountain’s upper meadow is often covered with a colorful carpet of wildflowers.
Fee: Northwest Forest Pass, $5 per day or $30 per year.
More info: fs.usda.gov/crgnsa
Park’s family has led guided horse tours since the 1970s, but moved their business from Utah to White Salmon in the ’90s. She says she’s still smitten by the Gorge. “We do a lot of rides through wooded areas,” Park said. “It’s the quintessential Gorge ride. You’ll see great views of Mount Hood and the White Salmon Valley. You’ll ride through oak, maple and dogwood trees and get all that gorgeousness.” Park recommends calling ahead to reserve a horse.
More info: nwstables.com
Rafting The White Salmon
Phil Zoller was a fishing guide on the Toutle River before Mount St. Helens blew its top in 1980, forcing him to look for a new river. He set up shop on the White Salmon River and the family has been there ever since. Today, three generations of his family lead whitewater-rafting trips for Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys. The company guides year-round and offers a wide variety of trips that splash through Class III and IV rapids. “We have something for everybody,” said co-owner Sherri Zoller, Phil’s daughter-in-law. Zoller’s is one of four outfitters on the river.
Fees: $75-$95 with discounts on some trips for groups and children 12 and younger.
The Columbia River is a popular destination for fishermen with an abundance of places to drop a fishing line. “Some of the best fishing is on this side of the river,” Hinde said. Sherri Zoller said trout and salmon fishing are often good on the lower White Salmon River. The lower Klickitat River also offers good salmon fishing, she said. On its website, the city of Stevenson boasts “the Northwest’s best fish stories start in Stevenson.” Fish for sturgeon near the Bonneville Dam, steelhead and salmon in Wind River and Drano Lake. Check Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sports fishing rules before you go.
Fees: Annual freshwater fishing license $27.50 and Columbia River salmon/steelhead endorsement $8.25.
Cycling Near Lyle
The 31-mile unpaved Klickitat Trail runs along the Klickitat River and through the Swale Canyon offering nonstop scenery. The Swale Canyon segment is remote and can be closed in the summer when fire hazards are high. The trail is easily accessed in Lyle from a trailhead at the junctions of state routes 14 and 142. In addition to mountain and cyclotrons bikes, the trail is used by hikers. Only have a road bike? State Route 142 and the nearby roads to Appleton offer winding, scenic routes. Stay alert; the road is narrow in sections.
Fee: Trail use is free.
More info: klickitat-trail.org
Between Skamania and Maryhill there are four state parks — Beacon Rock, Doug’s Beach near Lyle, Columbia Hills near Wishram and Maryhill. All but Doug’s Beach offer camping. Doug’s Beach is undeveloped but is one of the most popular launching areas for windsurfers. Columbia Hills has 7,500 feet of shoreline on the Columbia, rock climbing, more than 12 miles of hiking trails and Horse Thief Lake. Guided tours of native American pictographs and petroglyphs are available at 10 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays but reservations are required (call 509-767-1159). Maryhill is a small camping park with 4,700 feet of shoreline on the Columbia. It’s a common windsurfing launching spot and a base camp for exploring the eastern Gorge.
Fee: Discover Pass, $10 a day per vehicle, $30 a year.
More info: parks.wa.gov
Hinde says the best windsurfing launches in the Gorge are on the Washington side even though the rental shops are on the Oregon side. “It’s because there’s no sale tax,” Hinde said. “They couldn’t compete on the Washington side.” Hinde, who offers some demo boards, recommends launching from Doug’s Beach, Maryhill State Park and Swell City four miles west of the Hood River Bridge. “The Gorge is one of the best windsurfing areas in the world,” Hinde said. But don’t even think about heading out on your own unless you know what you are doing. “That’s like trying to learn to surf on Hawaii’s North Shore,” Hinde said. “You just don’t do it.” He recommends taking a trip to Oregon for a lesson at places such as Brian’s Windsurfing, which also offers kiteboarding and standup paddleboard lessons.
Fees: Lessons at Brian’s Windsurfing are $85-$150.
More info: brianswindsurfing.com
When Sam Hill wasn’t lobbying to have roads built, he made his own. In 1913 he finished work on the Maryhill Loops Road from Goldendale to the river. A winding 2.2-mile section of that road was resurfaced in the 1990s and is a popular destination for longboard skateboarders. Washington’s first paved road is owned by the Maryhill Museum of Art and is open to nonmotorized users. Look out for rattlesnakes and cows who wander on the road, Williams said. Among Hill’s other work in the area are the museum and a life-size replica of Stonehenge, built as a World War I memorial.
Fees: There’s no fee to use the road or visit Stonehenge. The museum entry fee is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors 65 and older and $3 for children 7-18.
More info: maryhillmuseum.org