Crown Point: Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway

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Driving east from Portland is an exciting experience, even if you stay on the interstate. But why would you do that, when one of the country’s best scenic highways is nearby: the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. This historic road is narrow and winding, and offers several waterfalls, side canyons, and short hikes. The first attraction you pass, Vista House at Crown Point, provides a great overview of the gorge.

Location

From Portland, take Interstate 84 east until you reach exit 22. You’ll wind your way out of the gorge, then through rolling farmland, eventually reaching Crown Point. The exit is well signed, and is the first exit you’ll pass for the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway.

My Visit

It seems only fitting that a beautiful stone building would stand here, like a crown atop an already splendid landscape. Vista House is 733 feet above the Columbia River, so you can imagine the views in every direction.

Vista House was built between 1916 and 1918–quite amazing, considering the number of cars that were on the road at that time. It was built as a memorial to Oregon Pioneers, and as a rest area for travelers along the Columbia River Gorge Highway. It still serves that purpose, but also offers a gift shop, coffee shop, and small interpretive museum.

The highway encircles Vista House, just before beginning its drop back down into the gorge. This is a great place to check out the stone walls, which also line much of the route.

As I mentioned, the views are spectacular from Crown Point. After you’ve enjoyed the scenery from the parking lot…

… enter the historic Vista House building, and climb the stairs to the observation area.

The recent restoration efforts added handicapped access to the lower level of the building, but not to the observation deck.

From the observation deck, look east…

… and back to the west.

After you’ve visited the basement, and viewed some of the great historical pictures in the gallery, drive east, toward the waterfall district.

I skipped the rest of the scenic drive (in fact, the road was closed beyond Crown Point, so I had to backtrack). However, I visited Oneonta Gorge, Multnomah Falls, and Sheppard’s Dell on my return trip to Portland on Day 9. I also visited the other waterfalls during my 2004 trip.

For more historical information, and a better appreciation of Vista House’s architecture, visit the Friends of Vista House webpage.

This is my second visit to the Columbia River Gorge, and to Crown Point. You can view my 2004 visit here. During that visit, the Crown Point building was being restored (it was re-dedicated in 2006), so this was the first time I was allowed inside Vista House.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.  Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.

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