Exploring outside Portland: Columbia River Gorge, lavender farm on the Fruit Loop, and Cannon Beach

Before the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland, Oregon, last month, my husband and I took a few days to explore the city and surrounding region. On our last day we rented a car and drove east along I-84 to see the majestic Columbia River Gorge. Vista House, a waystation perched on a promontory overlooking the river (pictured above), is one of many scenic destinations along the way.

The Art Nouveau-style Vista House, which offers beautiful views, historical information, a gift shop, and of course restrooms.

The mighty Columbia has been tamed with dams and made navigable with locks since Lewis and Clark canoed it 200 years ago on their exploratory trek to the Pacific. You can watch barges and other ships chugging along from numerous viewpoints along the highway.

We turned off I-84 onto the Historic Columbia River Highway to see some of the 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the river. The 249-foot Latourell Falls, dropping straight down like water poured from a pitcher, is one of the more dramatic waterfalls we saw. A broad patch of yellow lichen covers the basalt wall on the right.

Wahkeena Falls is almost as tall as Latourell at 242 feet, but its rushing cascade is broken by numerous ledges. Climbing uphill a short way to a wooden bridge overlook, we were finely misted by a roaring sheet of water. The chilly spray felt good to me on this hot day but caused David to shiver.

The granddaddy waterfall, Multnomah Falls, is easily reached by car and therefore sees throngs of visitors. With a combined upper and lower falls, Multnomah is the tallest waterfall in Oregon at 620 feet. A picturesque footbridge just above the lower cascade provides a closer, mistier view, and we climbed to experience it as well.

By now we’d worked up an appetite, so we headed to the town of Hood River for lunch at Full Sail Brewing Co., from whose deck you can watch the colorful sails of windsurfers and kiteboarders on the river below. After a tasty burger and brew, we headed south on the area’s “Fruit Loop” to visit Hood River Lavender, an organic pick-your-own lavender farm. In full summer bloom, the mounded rows of lavender were beautiful and fragrant. But the view was made spectacular thanks to two snow-capped peaks, Mt. Hood (pictured here) and Mt. Adams, visible south and north across the farm.

Mt. Hood meets Provence

Perennial gardens alongside the lavender rows added more color.

A variety of lavenders are farmed here, including white lavender.

Really, what other color could the chairs be?

In the small shop, we bought a few lavender sachets for gifts.

Mt. Adams, seeming to float where the snow line begins

It was mid-afternoon by now, and David had a sudden inspiration: Let’s drive to the beach!

So we did, leaving the mountain views and driving a mere 3 hours back through Portland and then on to Cannon Beach, an impossibly quaint seaside town, where gray-shingled, brightly trimmed cottages with picket-fenced flower gardens nestle along sandy beach roads.

The luckiest overlook this: Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall basalt monolith rising from the surf. The smaller rocks around it are called the Needles.

Haystack Rock and a broad swath of fine sand make Cannon Beach a popular tourist destination. But with water temperatures peaking at around 55 degrees F in summer and dangerous currents, the Pacific Ocean does not lend itself to the beach experience I’m familiar with: the bathwater-temp surf and baking sun of South Carolina and Texas beaches. You don’t swim here. Instead you wrap up in a sweatshirt and scarf and build a campfire in the sand as the fog rolls in and the light goes gauzy.

I’d naively thought we might see a glorious sunset over the ocean, but this was even better, moody and dreamy.

As dusk fell, a colony of seabirds on Haystack Rock settled in for the evening. Suddenly they rose in a squawking tornado, wheeling in disorganized, panicked flight. We stared, wondering what had happened. Could there be a predator up there, we wondered?

Suddenly David pointed straight up over our heads, and I looked up to see a bald eagle clutching a smaller bird in its talons, flying toward the forest. Two gulls (if that’s what they were) gave noisy chase. We watched them disappear over the trees.

The drama of predator and prey seemed appropriate to the dramatic and rugged beauty of the Oregon shore. Isn’t it odd, and wonderful, that we can find peace in such wild places?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my series of posts from Portland. Thanks for armchair traveling with me! For a look back at mysterious and magical Bella Madrona garden, the final stop on the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling tours, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

30 Responses

  1. Cheryl says:

    So can you blame me for wanting to move back up there? LOL
    I’m heading up for a visit in 6 weeks… suspect it will be difficult to come “home”. (PDX has always felt like home to me even though I was born & raised in Sacramento, and have lived here again after 31 years of being an Oregonian-by-Choice.)

    • Pam/Digging says:

      A summer visit would make anyone want to move there, I think. It’s winter that would be more challenging, at least for those who love the sun. —Pam

  2. Tina says:

    Been there, done that and what a treat it is!! Now that my son lives in Oregon, I go up there several times a year and there is just no shortage of gorgeousness to experience. I have a college girlfriend (a Texan) who has lived in Oregon most of her adult life and has never regretted living there. Hmmm…..

  3. You have summed up my home very well, Pam – you would make a fine Oregonian! I’m glad you got to see some landmarks outside of Portland, these places are all near and dear to my heart :) Thank you

  4. TexasDeb says:

    Oh, Oregon. I would certainly love to visit again, but not sure I’d be happy living there. Those cool spaces and misty skies may serve as powerful beacon to those of us here dodging the Death Star of August. And after spending 90 minutes bent over weeding on this humid 80 degree morning, the vistas of Oregon’s exuberant flowers and mossy rocks seems so precisely the opposite of here.

    And that’s just it. I love summertime, heat and all. Spring and Fall, when they come, are so much more welcome for being so different from what came before. Not thinking I would trade that for more temperate settings, even if it did make for gorgeous year round views!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      You know you live in the right place when you appreciate all the seasons, even the difficult ones. You are fortunate in that regard, Deb, and smart to realize it too. —Pam

  5. I’m glad David got the beach itch and you guys just went for it, what a lot of sightseeing you managed in just one day!

  6. Gorgeous!
    You got some fantastic shots.
    That’s a place on my list of places to visit. Maybe someday.
    We’re headed to Glacier National Park in a few weeks. Can’t wait.
    Nature is so amazing.

  7. Lisa says:

    Beautiful! Now I wish I had visited more places! Too bad I didn’t have time. I’m glad I can see your beautiful pictures!!

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I always look forward to your posts about trips. I feel like I got to go with you. Your photography skills are the best. Thanks so much. From my arm chair…

  9. ks says:

    What a great tour Pam.. I have visited Portland often but it’s been a long while since I’ve done the Oregon coast. You can argue back and forth the merits of the Oregon coast versus the Northern California coast; they are both beautiful in different ways..I’ve enjoyed every one of your Fling posts, looking forward to the Toronto series !

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Now you’ve got me curious about the differences between the OR and NorCal coasts, KS. I haven’t seen enough of either to have a good sense of the differences. Except that I remember more cliff views south of San Francisco. —Pam

  10. Rose says:

    Your photos are fantastic, Pam! My daughter and I visited Cannon Beach, along with a couple other seaside towns, too–probably just a day or two after you. The views were amazing, and we even spotted a whale one day! I regret, though, that I never got to see much of the Gorge area other than through the car window. It looks like you made the most of your trip to the Northwest–thanks so much for sharing all these beautiful places with us!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m glad to hear you got to visit Cannon Beach too, Rose. Wasn’t it delightful? We had such a nice, cozy meal at one of the taverns in town too. —Pam

  11. This is great Pam – we’re headed there on vacation this week and we’ll be renting a car for part of the trip. After seeing this post, I now want to see the Columbia River Gorge, lavender farm, and Wahkeena and Latourell Falls. Not sure yet if we’ll make it out to the ocean and the Haystack Rock.

  12. Oh my goodness, what a memorable day in such a beautiful place! Oregon’s tourism board should include a link to this post! Your stunning pictures certainly make me want to book a flight!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Kimberley. I don’t know that Oregon’s tourism board needs any help though. It seems all I hear about these days is people visiting or wanting to visit. :-) —Pam

  13. I like this whiplash-trip…east to sunny lavender fields, and then all the way back west to the beach. The gloom of that beach looks cooling, but the gorge scenes really grabbed me, since I’ve never been there or seen good images of it.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Any place where you can see snow-capped peaks and the ocean in just 3 hours of driving is going to have spectacular scenery. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, David. —Pam

  14. We did the three-hour hike at Multnomah Falls, after having seen this post. It nearly killed me, but we did it. It’s six falls in three miles (1.5 miles of it switchbacking uphill!). It was one of the more beautiful hiking trails we’ve ever been on. We did it in reverse and ended up at the base of Multnomah Falls Lodge for ice cream.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Well, Jim, I think you must have read someone else’s post because I definitely didn’t do any 3-hour hike up a mountain. ;-) Seriously, I’m glad to know my post inspired you to go see the waterfalls, which are so beautiful. But I’m glad it was you climbing that far and not me. Post pictures! —Pam

  15. Les says:

    There should be room in our worlds for “moody and dreamy”. This looks like a beautiful place.