Family hike at Lyle Cherry Orchard. (photographer: Kate Lindberg)
Be a Gorge Hero
Take steps to leave the Columbia River Gorge better than you found it
Everyone can take steps to help protect the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Here are some ways that you can show your love of the Gorge and be a steward of this place we all treasure.
- Leave no trace by packing out your trash and picking up litter you find. Make sure you return home with everything you brought, including sandwich bags, wrappers and other debris. Better yet, carry a trash bag with you and use it to pick up litter you find along the trail. This, along with other Leave No Trace Principles, is a simple way to have a huge impact.
- Protect vital habitat by staying on designated trails. Shortcuts and side trails can be very inviting, but veering off-trail is damaging to the forest floor, causing erosion and creating an eyesore on the landscape. Stay on designated trails. Also, avoid widening trails by stepping aside when you encounter other users on the trail.
- Stop the spread of invasive species by using a boot brush. Noxious weeds are overly aggressive and difficult to manage, and can be carriers or hosts of serious insects or diseases. In most cases, noxious weeds have a direct, negative impact on native plants. Historically, humans have been the chief vector (transmitter) of noxious plants. The U.S. Forest Service, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Skamania County Weed Board have installed boot brushes at numerous trailheads around the Gorge. Please check them out and use them before and after using the trail. Take the pledge.
- Support a local nonprofit, or better yet, volunteer. Encompassing 293,000 acres, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is home to dozens of nonprofits that are working to protect the public resources we love. These resources include U.S. Forest Service trails, state parks, national wildlife refuges, Native American cultural resources, historic structures, scenic viewpoints, Wild and Scenic rivers and more. Here’s a great article written by Laura Foster, author of Gorge Getaways, about nonprofits in the Gorge.
- Stay a while - Get to know the communities of the Gorge. While you can explore part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in a day, you would be missing out on countless experiences to be had in the area’s 13 hospitable towns. From the historic downtowns of Stevenson and The Dalles to the waterfront parks of Cascade Locks and Hood River to the farm stands, wineries and galleries spread throughout the region, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll want to stay a few days. Use the resources on this page to plan your trip, or pick up a copy of Gorge Getaways.
- Do you know a Gorge Hero? Please share your pictures and stories of Gorge stewards on social media by tagging your post with #readysetgorge.
Photo: Friends of the Columbia Gorge stewardship volunteers celebrate a day of removing invasive plants along the teail to Angels Rest. This trail remains closed to the public due to safety concerns.
June 28, 2018
Help Keep the Columbia River Gorge Green
Take these precautions to help prevent forest firesEstablished in 1986, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (CRGNSA) protects nearly 293,000 acres of trails, forest, waterfalls, parks and historical sites across a spectacular 80 miles. Throughout history, forest fires have been common in this part of the state, although typically more common in the eastern Gorge (east of Hood River and White Salmon), which gets an average 10 inches of annual precipitation compared to 100 inches of annual precipitation in the western Gorge.
Many forest fires are naturally occuring, yet the latest research shows that more than 80 percent are human caused. In 2017 alone, human-caused wildfires burned around 228,000 acres of forests in Oregon, according to Keep Oregon Green. Those fires, including the Eagle Creek fire, were almost entirely preventable. If you’re visiting Oregon for the first time, or you’ve moved here from somewhere else, the seriousness of forest fires might be completely new. Here are some tips to help you stop the spread of forest fires.
- Avoid or eliminate certain activities during wildfire season. Most human-caused
- wildfires are started accidentally by people with fireworks, firearms, cigarettes, campfires and burn piles. Even sparks from chainsaws and automobiles can ignite wildfires during the hot, dry months of July, August and September. Go here to learn what precautions to take.
- Enjoy campfires in designated areas only where permitted. Campfires are only allowed in designated campgrounds within the boundaries of the National Scenic Area. During extreme conditions, special restrictions may prohibit campfires even in the designated sites, so check information kiosks or ask camp hosts.
- Before going to sleep or leaving your campsite, thoroughly put out your campfire. Drown the coals with water, stir with a shovel and drown it again until it is completely extinguished. If it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.
- Don’t drive over dry grass. Dry vegetation, high temperatures and strong winds make landscapes more vulnerable to wildfires starting and spreading.
- If you see somebody else not acting fire-safe, say something. Report unsafe activities to the U.S. Forest Service or local authorities.
- If you spot a fire, get yourself to a safe location and call 911.
Note, fireworks are prohibited at all state and federal parks and on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. In Oregon, most fireworks are illegal. In Washington, fireworks are legal but regulations vary by city and county. Go here for more information.
Photo Beej Jorgensen, Creative Commons
June 14, 2018
Travel the Columbia River Gorge Car-Free
Access popular trails by public transitLong before the National Scenic Area designation was established for the Columbia River Gorge, it was a popular destination for day trippers looking to take a scenic drive. Since the days of Model T’s, this stunning landscape is attracting hikers, bikers and other recreationalists from all over the world. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery without having to drive? Luckily, you can take the Columbia Gorge Express (CGE) seven days a week to access some of Oregon’s top attractions.The Dalles Connection
This bus service runs between Portland’s Gateway Transit Center and Hood River, offering stops at Rooster Rock State Park, Multnomah Falls and the town of Cascade Locks. Each bus can carry up to three bikes.
Multnomah Falls Stop
The CGE will drop you off at the I-84 parking lot. You can walk under the highway to visit the Multnomah Falls Lodge, front plaza and lower viewing platform. Note, all trails in this area, including to Benson Bridge and the upper viewing platform, are closed indefinitely due to damage from the September 2017 Eagle Creek fire.
Cascade Locks Stop
From the CGE stop in Cascade Locks at the corner of WaNaPa Street and School Drive, walk into town for lunch or check out beautiful Marine Park. If you’d like to hike, here are some options:
- Walk about a quarter mile west to access the Bridge of the Gods trailhead, which connects to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) north and southbound.
- If you hike south along the PCT, you can access both the Dry Creek Falls and Herman Creek trails.
- You can walk north across the Bridge of the Gods (which is part of the official PCT) into Washington and carefully cross Hwy 14, where you’ll see a trailhead for the PCT heading north. Go here for a full description of this section of the PCT.
From the transit stop at the Port of Hood River (just north of the Valero gas station), you can take a half-mile walk into historic downtown Hood River. If you’re looking for a longer trek, here are some options:
- Take the one-mile Hood River Waterfront Trail (directly across from the transit stop) east or westbound.
- Hop on the Hood River trolley (free on weekends in the summer) south to the Rosauers bus stop in The Heights. Walk less than a quarter mile north on 12th Street to reach the Dutch Bros Coffee trailhead for the Indian Creek Trail. This easy, two-mile trail meanders back toward downtown Hood River.
- If you have a bicycle, bike about half a mile southeast to the Mark O. Hatfield trailhead along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. From here, bike (or walk) the Mosier Twin Tunnels Trail, a five-mile paved trail between Hood River and Mosier that is closed to motorized traffic. Go here for directions.
Starting Saturday, July 27, a new "Explore The Dalles" bus service will run once a day between Hood River and The Dalles on Saturdays only. The bus departs at 9:50 a.m. from the Columbia Gorge Express bus stop at the Hood River waterfront and returns at 5:30 p.m. in time to catch the last Columbia Gorge Express bus returning to Portland.
- The shuttle will operate five loops a day in The Dalles, beginning and ending at the Chamber of Commerce office.
- Ten stops include the Fort Dalles Museum, three downtown locations, The Dalles Dam Visitor Center and Dam, Sunshine Mill Winery, and The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.
- The Dalles Dam stop will include tours of the dam at no charge.
Download the schedule. Avoid spending the night somewhere unplanned by knowing the route and schedule. Go here to download the Columbia Gorge Express schedule.
Bring money. Most transportation options in the Gorge are pay to ride. The Columbia Gorge Express encourage riders to purchase tickets online to avoid boarding delays.
Research bike-friendly options. In addition to the Columbia Gorge Express, there are private transportation providers such as Amtrak — which stops in Bingen on its way between Vancouver/Portland and Chicago — which can accommodate bikes. Note, the only type of bike that can come off the train in Bingen are folding bikes.
For information about privately run transportation options in the Gorge, go here
Photo: Dry Creek Falls, Oregon by Yeng Tang
May 4, 2018
Hiking Checklist for the Columbia River Gorge
Simple steps you can take to have a safe and fun experienceOn Sept. 2, 2017, hundreds of people ventured out for a day hike on the popular Eagle Creek Trail. None of them expected to spend the night along the trail or hike 13 miles to Wahtum Lake to get out. But that’s exactly what happened to 150 people who became trapped when a wildfire ignited below. Making international news, this very public incident made people aware that hiking comes with risks. “Anything can happen, whether you’re out for a short hike or an overnight trip,” says Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “So it’s important to take some very basic steps to be prepared.”
What are the most important things to do before leaving home?
Pack the 10+ Essentials. This is a list of things that you want to have in your pack if the unthinkable happens—such as having to spend the night in the woods. It’s good to have the 10 Essentials regardless of the time of day or year, length of your hike, or difficulty of the terrain. Always bring more food and water than you need. Go here for the full list of the 10+ Essentials.
Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be home. It’s a simple task and, but if someone knows approximately where you are, it can save search and rescue volunteers hours of time if they have to come looking for you. It’s as simple as sending someone a text before you leave home (while you have cell service) or leave a note on your car. Go here for tips about what information to share.
Don’t take shortcuts. If it’s late in the day, you might be tempted to start bushwhacking, or go off-trail, as a way to more quickly return to your car. Even for experienced navigators, it can be challenging to hike off-trail. This is one of the top reasons that people give to search and rescue teams who end up having to help them navigate their way out.
Know when to call it a day. There’s always one more viewpoint, one more ridge, one more waterfall. Many people end up having to spend the night on the trail simply because they run out of hours in the day, or they get hurt because they are exhausted. Know your and your group’s limitations.
If you are lost or you or someone in your group is hurt, call 911. Stay with your group, rather than sending one or two people to the car. If there are other hikers around, give them your name and exact location, if possible, to share with the Sheriff's office.
Photo: A hiker at Greenleaf Overlook, WA
April 4, 2018
Tips for Enjoying Wildflower Season in the Columbia River Gorge
Lesser-known hikes and modes of travelWith more than 700 species of wildflowers, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers a spectacular show every spring. Starting as early as February, the grass widows begin to emerge, followed by Columbia Gorge desert parsley in March. The bright yellow balsamroot and purple lupine begin to appear on south-facing slopes in late April and last, in some places, into the early part of June. For good reason, wildflower hikes are very busy during the months of April, May and June, especially on weekends. Use these tips to avoid crowds, increase your chances of getting spectacular photographs, and ensure a more peaceful, scenic walk. And, please remember, never pick wildflowers so that everyone can enjoy their beauty.
When to hike the Gorge
Go Midweek: Visit Monday through Thursday, April to June to experience the peak wildflower season.
This tip is even more important for popular trails such as Dog Mountain, Coyote Wall, Catherine Creek and Tom McCall State Park, which are very busy on weekends during the spring. New this year, if you’re planning to visit the very popular Dog Mountain Trail System, each hiker will be required to obtain a permit on weekends from March 31 to July 1. Go here for more information.
Go Early: If visiting during a weekend, aim to finish your hike before 10 a.m. Then, you’ll have the rest of your day to visit one or more of the welcoming towns in the Gorge.
Where to find wildflowers
Go North: The south-facing trails of the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge have some of the best wildflower hikes. Plus, many of the hikes on the Oregon side of the Gorge remain closed due to the Eagle Creek fire. (Go here for a printable 11x17 map of all trailheads in the scenic area, highlighting trail closures.)
Go East: Explore hikes in the eastern Gorge, which require a little more driving time but receive fewer hikers.
Here are five lesser-known wildflower hikes in Washington and the eastern Gorge:
- Hamilton Mountain Loop (Western Gorge, Washington), 9.4-mile loop, strenuous
- Klickitat Trail Swale Canyon (Eastern Gorge, Washington), 10-mile out-and-back, moderate
- Columbia Hills Historical State Park, Dalles Mountain Ranch (Eastern Gorge, Washington), 4-mile out-and-back, moderate
- Deschutes State Park River Trail (Eastern Gorge, Oregon), 22-mile out-and-back, easy (also mountain bike-friendly)
- Mosier Plateau Trail (Eastern Gorge, Oregon), 3.5-mile out-and-back, moderate
March 20, 2018
Before Leaving Home, Get Ready, Set, GOrge!
Before you leave home, get Ready, Set, GOrge!The days are getting longer, wildflowers are blooming, and songbirds have filled the early morning silence. As you plan your annual spring pilgrimage to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, be sure to first stop at ReadySetGorge.com, where you’ll find tips to plan your hike (Ready), check trail, weather and trail conditions (Set), and find ways to help protect the Gorge so that future generations can enjoy it, too (GOrge!).
In light of the trail closures on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area between Troutdale and Wyeth due to damage from the Eagle Creek Fire, hikers can use the resources at ReadySetGorge.com to find new places to explore. Check out this list of great options. And, anticipating congestion at trailheads such as Dog Mountain on weekends, hikers can use ReadySetGorge.com to consider the most ideal times and days of the week to explore their favorite spots.
The Eagle Creek Fire impacted less than 17 percent of the Gorge. That means there are still plenty of paths to explore—many of which have waterfalls, wildflowers, natural history and jaw-dropping views of the Columbia River. Plus, fewer crowds. What will become your new favorite destination?
Ready, Set, GOrge! is a campaign developed by the U.S. Forest Service, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Travel Oregon, Oregon Department of Transportation and other partners to improve the visitor experience in the Gorge. It’s a free resource that anyone can access before or during their visit to the Gorge.
Photo: Balsamroot and lupine bloom at Columbia Hills State Park on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. (photographer: Debbie Asakawa)