Columbia River Gorge, waterfalls, and flower farms, a scenic Oregon drive — before the fire

I debated about writing this post right now. During our August road trip from San Francisco to Portland, we made a day trip along the majestically scenic Columbia River Gorge, the “playground of Oregonians” that’s currently on fire. As the Eagle Creek fire has raged for a week along the waterfall-festooned gorge, threatening historic structures and torching 33,000 acres, even raining ash on the city of Portland, I’ve been saddened to think that the natural beauty we marveled over just a month ago may be blighted for years to come.

And yet wildfire is a natural occurrence (even though this fire was human-caused), and perhaps the fecundity of northwestern Oregon will soon hide the burn scars. People’s homes, of course, are a different story, and every loss there must be difficult to bear. As a tribute to the region, I decided to go ahead and post about our recent day spent exploring the wonders of the Columbia River Gorge.


Streaming from high cliffs along the Oregon side of the Columbia River, more than 90 waterfalls make this a spectacularly scenic area. A number of big ones can be easily viewed from pullouts along the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, and trails take you to others, like Bridal Veil Falls, pictured here.

Latourell Falls, spilling straight down from a cleft in a lichen-covered basalt cliff face, is especially beautiful.

Wahkeena Falls sluices down a curving drop and then fans out into a wide sheet along the trail…

…creating a chilly breeze for those who get close.

The most famous of the waterfalls is Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot cascade with a picturesque footbridge between the two drops.

We climbed the trail to the bridge and admired the view along with throngs of selfie-taking tourists.

Hood River

All that waterfall viewing made us hungry, so when we reached Hood River we headed straight to Full Sail Brew Pub for burgers and a tasting flight of their beers (delivered on a sail-shaped stand, no less) on the deck overlooking the colorful sails of kite and wind surfers on the river.

Afterward, we walked along the river to see the kite surfers and wind surfers doing their thing.

Fruit Loop

Next we headed south along the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile loop in the scenic Hood River Valley, where dozens of orchards and flower farms offer their wares at roadside farm stands. We stopped at the picturesque Gorge White House for cherries, drinks, and a stroll through their you-pick flower field.

Snow-capped Mt. Hood floats in the distance — rather otherworldly to this Southerner. I could hardly tear my eyes away from the mountain…

…until I spotted the flower field.

Dahlias in summer glory glowed in the late afternoon light.

Black-eyed Susans too


Ahh, look at them!

Tall sunflowers blazed against blue skies.

I admired their friendly faces.

And so did the bees.

Gladiolus flying colorful pennants

By the time we left, all the farm stands were closing for the day, but we stopped at Lavender Valley Farm anyway because of an amazing view…

…Mt. Hood rising over roadside meadow grass and Queen Anne’s lace.

That sky!

Columbia River

As we drove back along the Columbia River toward Portland, the sun was gilding the river and cliff faces. At a pullout, we stopped to admire the view and get a few golden-hour shots. That’s Vista House, an observatory atop a sheer promontory, where we’d stopped for a bird’s-eye view earlier that day.

What a majestic view

I’m grateful to have experienced the beauty of this place for a second time. Click here to read about an earlier visit I made in 2014, with lavender fields in bloom below Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.

Up next: Danger! My return visit to the Danger Garden of Loree Bohl. For a look back at the Eugene, Oregon, garden of Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

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20 Responses

  1. Oh Girl, your pictures are better than any postcards.This area is really something. It is just a shame that not too terribly far away there is such devastation by fire. Those waterfalls are amazing with the amount of water coming down at this time of year. I would love to see them during the spring melt. I can never get enough of mountains. Spectacular, so glad you decided to share.

  2. Wow, simply stunning. That’s one corner of the country that I’ve never visited, and I certainly need to remedy that.

  3. Kris P says:

    So beautiful! The fire is tragic. I hope people will learn from it. My own area also suffers from fools who fail to consider the danger of shooting off fireworks while surrounded by tinder-dry brush.

  4. Beautiful photos Pam, I’m so glad you and your family were able to visit that area while you were in Oregon. Andrew and his mom were out that way the week after. It’s still so surreal to think that it’s all changed. We’re scheduled to drive I-84 later this month so fingers crossed it will be open again and that there’s still some green out that way…

  5. ks says:

    I’m glad you decided to post Pam, we all need to be reminded of the splendid natural beauty of the PNW, and how fragile our open areas can be. They are threatened by more than just fire these days.Your photos are fantastic..

  6. Alison says:

    Thanks so much for posting your photos of this beautiful area. We visited a bunch of waterfalls along the Gorge in the spring, when the amount of water running over the falls was even more impressive. I never did post my pictures from that trip. The devastation all around the PNW this summer from wildfires is heartbreaking, but the Gorge especially.

  7. Pam, thank you for posting this. It was a tearful look back at a place so close to my heart having grown up here hiking its trails, visiting on day trips as a family, even having my senior prom dinner at Multnomah Falls Lodge. It completely shatters my soul that it’s gone, but I am heartened knowing that so many people, including your family, got to enjoy it in a pristine state. My only hope is that the recovery is swift, as nature usually is, and that invasive species stay out, as it was an intact eco-sytem, able to ward off invasive species. Time will tell.

    That it was man made is stupid beyond belief and I hope the kid that did this pays dearly in many many hours of recovery and replanting trees.

    Sorry to rant, it’s just very very emotional for most Oregonians. xoxo

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m sorry, Tamara. I share your hope that the area recovers more quickly than we might expect. And by the way, I love that you had your senior prom dinner at Multnomah Lodge. —Pam

  8. rickii says:

    Now we will watch nature at work as she licks her wounds and rallies back as only she can.

  9. We were there, last fall.

    Our weather was rainy & chilly. Didn’t get that gorgeous view of Mt. Hood.

    I’m glad they were able to save the Lodge. Such a pretty place. And the Gorge, is breathtakingly beautiful.

    Thanks for the tour..

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