The Columbia River Highway
This historic byway offers a picturesque driving alternative to traveling the Columbia River Gorge with easy turnouts for waterfalls and big views
The handful of times I’ve driven through the Columbia River Gorge on I-84, the color palette was an uncompromising steel gray, the wind gusts produced white caps on the water, and the rain blew horizontal to the road. So it was nice to see this landscape in different weather and from a different vantage point when we set out for a short day trip along the Columbia River Highway. We took I-84 out of town before jumping on the old highway, a two-lane road built at the beginning of the automobile era in the 1910s. It winds thoughtfully through the forest, past waterfalls and all the most dramatic views. The old stone guardrails still hug the curves and vintage bridges still span the streams. All told, a much more pleasant drive than the interstate below.
Any research on this stretch of road immediately produces a number of old photos of cozy buildings with wide-plank floors, field stone fireplaces, paned windows, and spacious porches. Should this kind of architecture combined with the natural surroundings charm you, any further research will promptly reveal that most of the buildings are sadly gone. Many burned, others demolished. Some still stand, like the gorgeous (and mobbed) lodge at Multnomah Falls and the Bridal Veil Lodge, now a B&B.
We took a short hike at Latourell Falls, where the trail comes so close to the base of the falls that you get a pleasant misting from the crashing water. Follow the trail a little further and you walk below the highway, down the hill, and into a park in what I believe is the ‘town’ of Latourell—a few little houses including this abandoned beauty and that’s about it.
Our day ended in on the banks of the Columbia in Cascade Locks at what I’m going to call a beer garden. The Thunder Island Brewing Co. had their garage doors opened up to the beautiful day and everybody was outside enjoying the breeze and the views across the water.
Photography and illustration by Rebecca Silus for the Field Office