Fall for the Gorge

Washington's side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers myriad of delights during autumn

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 
photo The Beacon Rock Trail provides a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge.
photoThe Cape Horn Trail takes hikers to the edge of the Columbia River Gorge.

The Columbia Gorge

photoClick to enlarge

Gorge activities

Gorge activities

Hiking

Cape Horn Trail, moderate to strenuous, http://www.capehorntrail.org.

Beacon Rock, moderate, http://www.parks.wa.gov/parks/?selectedpark=Beacon%20Rock.

Pacific Crest Trail, strenuous, http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/crgnsa/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid= 29886&actid=50.

Dog Mountain Trail, strenuous, http://www.cityofstevenson.com/DogMountaintrailmap.htm.

Coyote Wall Trail, strenuous, trail loops around a 200-foot outcrop of crumbling basalt that resembles a fence, http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/coyote-wall.

Doetsch day-use area, Milepost 34, easy, 1-mile paved interpretive trail (ADA accessible).

Some autumn group hikes organized by Friends of the Columbia Gorge:

Sunday, Oct. 14, Klickitat Trail to Pitt. Two hikes, easy 4 miles, no gain, or strenuous 8 miles.

Friday, Oct. 19, Cape Horn Loop, strenuous 6.8 miles.

Saturday, Oct. 20, Swale Canyon, moderate 6 miles.

Tuesday, Oct. 23, Columbia Hills, Homesteads, moderate 3 miles.

Friday, Oct. 26, Petroglyphs and Dancing Rock, easy 4 miles.

Saturday, Oct. 27, Petroglyphs and Horsethief Butte, easy 2-3 miles.

Details and registration: gorgefriends.org/hike, 503-241-3762 ext. 103.

Viewpoints

Cape Horn lookout: Milepost 23.

Franz Lake lookout: Between Milepost 30 and 31.

Education

Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center: http://columbiagorge.org.

Bonneville Dam: http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environment/Fishcameras.aspx.

Biking

State Highway 14 http://wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/9D93F041-32D6-4E32-9334-747AF5DA7352/0/columbiagorgebikingguide.pdf.

Windsurfing/kiteboarding

Locations on the Washington and Oregon shore, http://gorgeonline.com/windsurfing/windsurfing.loc.htm.

Fishing sites

Locations, http://skamania.com/columbia-river-gorge/fishing.php.

Picnics

Doetsch Ranch day-use area, Milepost 34.

St. Cloud Day-Use/Picnic Area/Nature Trail, just before Milepost 29. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/crgnsa/recreation/recarea/?recid=29980.

Hot springs

Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa; 1252 E. Cascade Drive, North Bonneville; http://bonnevilleresort.com.

Carson Hot Springs Spa & Golf Resort; 1901 St. Martin’s Springs Road, Carson; http://carsonhotspringresort.com.

Skamania Lodge

http://skamania.com

Washington wines

Klickitat Canyon Winery tasting room, 350 Highway 14, klickitatcanyonwinery.com, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

White Salmon Vineyard tasting room, 63281 Highway 14, WhiteSalmonVineyardWineTastingRoom on http://www.facebook.com, 12:30-5:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, through the end of October, then, by appointment, 509-493-4640.

AlmaTerra tasting room, 208 W. Steuben St., Bingen, http://almaterrawines.com, 3-6 p.m. Thursday, noon-9:30 p.m. with live music Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Evergreens, flecked with the orange and yellow of changing deciduous leaves, converge around the sparkling Columbia River. Rock vistas rise and fall in the spectacular slopes of the Cascade Range. The sound of rushing water seems to come from secret places behind the foliage. The air is crisp; the sun is on borrowed time. It’s autumn in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The Washington side of the Gorge may not boast the fame of its Oregon counterpart, where Multnomah Falls alone draws millions of visitors each year, nor can it draw the traffic accommodated by Oregon’s fast-moving Interstate 84. But there’s no need to cross the state line to see the Columbia Gorge at its best. The Washington side offers a host of lesser-known jewels to explore, from mineral baths in a historic hotel in Carson to the majestic views from the relatively new Cape Horn Trail.

Drive-by scenery

The drive along the Washington shore of the Columbia Gorge follows state Highway 14. There are multiple places to stop to view the spectacular scenery along the highway. The Cape Horn lookout near Milepost 23 offers a panorama of the river and evergreen forests that carpet the Cascades. Farther east, drivers can take a peek at a riparian area in the Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge from a lookout along the highway between Milepost 31. The lookout is one of the limited opportunities to see a close-up of the wildlife refuge, as it’s closed to the public. There’s a chance of catching a glimpse of a great blue heron, geese and other wildlife.

Education

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bonneville Dam is an awe-inspiring example of humans’ manipulation of nature. Drive by and marvel at this human wonder to control the mighty Columbia or stop inside for a free guided tour. Tours include history of the site, dam operations, fish ladders and fish-viewing windows. The Columbia River has the world’s largest population of white sturgeon, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ website. Fewer fish pass through the dam in the fall, but there are still some to see. The dam is about 45 miles east of Vancouver, along Highway 14.

The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson offers a history of the Gorge and exhibits on topics such as native people in the Gorge and transportation. Admission is $10 per person, with discounts for seniors and children.

Hiking

The newest addition to the Gorge’s plentiful supply of hiking trails is the Cape Horn Trail loop, near Milepost 26. The trail takes hikers on a nearly 7-mile loop to the edge of the Gorge, where they can see Beacon Rock, Multnomah Falls and Crown Point. Two pedestrian tunnels allow hikers to cross Highway 14 without contending with vehicle traffic. The hike can be strenuous, with a 1,400-foot elevation gain. The lower trail, demarcated by a sign at the trailhead, isn’t suitable for families with young children due to some sharp rocks and switchbacks. The reward is hiking under a waterfall. The upper trail is less challenging and takes just 1.5 miles to Pioneer Point, which features an uprooted tree, and another mile to the Nancy Russell Overlook, where there are places to sit and rest.

The most-frequented hike is up Beacon Rock, a 848-foot basalt column that formed the core of an ancient volcano. The hike takes 1.6 miles round-trip and ascends to the top of the column. The hike offers vantage points of the Gorge and Bonneville Dam. The hike requires a Discover Pass.

The pass can be purchased for $10 per day per vehicle or $30 per year at various stores along the Gorge. Vendors such as the Chevron on Cascade Drive in North Bonneville may charge a dealer fee, and some accept only cash. To pay with credit card or debit card, visit the green kiosk in front of the Beacon Rock trailhead or buy the pass from the ranger station across from Beacon Rock on Highway 14.

Imagine the possibilities of a cross-continental hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail, which spans from Mexico to Canada, meanders to its lowest point along the Washington riverbank. The Bridge of the Gods connects the trail between Washington and Oregon. The bridge’s junction at Highway 14’s Milepost 40 marks where the trail picks up in Washington.

Biking

Highway 14’s moderate traffic levels allow bicyclists to share the road along the Gorge. The highway, however, is often two lanes with no or a limited shoulder and no bike lanes. The Washington Department of Transportation offers a biking map with preferred routes, interpretive sites and points of interest. Stay on Highway 14, or try the Bike Route Loop in Stevenson, which crosses over Rock Creek.

Hot springs

To warm up from the cold or shed some stress, visit one of the Gorge’s hot springs in Carson and North Bonneville.

Carson Hot Springs Spa & Golf Resort, about 50 miles east of Vancouver, offers an hourlong mineral bath and wrap for $20 in the former St. Martin Hotel, built in 1901. Portland naturopathic physician Elise Schroeder, who visited Oct. 7 with a friend, said the soak and wrap are relaxing and detoxifying. The waters, pumped from the riverbed of the Wind River, provide potassium to regulate heart beat, sodium to balance fluids, osteoporosis-preventing calcium, magnesium for metabolism, sulfates for healthy nails and hair, ammonia and phosphate, according to the hot springs’ website.

Picnics and dining

Schroeder followed that up with a lunch of organic greens on a sun-bathed picnic table by the Stevenson Landing cruise ship dock, visible from Highway 14 in the city of Stevenson. The landing offers a view of the river, and on the right day, a flock of kiteboarders look like giant butterflies on the water. There’s also a 1-mile hiking trail and interpretive signs along the water’s edge for an easy stroll.

One of the Gorge’s best picnic spots is in the Doetsch Ranch day-use area in Beacon Rock State Park. On Highway 14 from Vancouver, swing a right onto Doetsch Ranch Road near Milepost 34 into the day-use area and go to the area’s boat dock and launch at the end of the road. Perched on the shore is a picnic table with a priceless close-up view of Beacon Rock.

A Discover Pass is required to park in the day-use area.

Another dining option with a gorgeous view of the Columbia Gorge is at the CXXX Bar & Grill, 130 Cascade Ave., right next door to the Stevenson Landing. The restaurant has a wind-guarded patio overlooking the river. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and offers dishes from $3 to $5 with a one-drink minimum.

The Skamania Lodge in Stevenson at 1131 S.W. Skamania Lodge Way offers breathtaking views of the river and a good example of Cascadian-style architecture. Escape the rain and dine in the lodge’s restaurant with a view of the Gorge.

Wineries

The Columbia Gorge is wine country. Sample some of its bounty at the Klickitat Canyon Winery tasting room at 350 Highway 14 in Stevenson. The wines are extra-dry, sulfite-free and organic.

Continue east 22 miles to the White Salmon Vineyard tasting room at 63281 Highway 14 in Underwood. Visitors to the White Salmon tasting room can sip wine while looking at the river and Mount Hood.

“It’s a pretty cool location,” said Faye Brehm, vineyard owner. “Especially at the end of the day, it’s so quiet.”

On Friday nights, there’s free live music at the AlmaTierra tasting room at 208 W. Steuben St. in Bingen.

Water sports

The Washington riverbank offers some windy locales for windsurfing and kiting. There are no places to take lessons on the Washington side. Cross over to the Oregon side for lessons at The Hook near the Port of Hood River, exit 63 off Interstate 84. For the experienced surfer or boarder, Home Valley at Milepost 50 offers free parking and an easy-to-difficult ride. More difficult options are in Swell City at Milepost 61 and The Hatchery, four miles west of the Hood River Bridge.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.