You could easily spend a day exploring the Columbia River Highway — a winding, narrow old stretch of US 30, that nowadays often appears in car commercials. Along this stretch of road, starting around exit 35 on I-84 (assuming you’re headed west), you’ll pass numerous waterfalls, hiking trails, and gorges. But if you only have time to stop at one attraction, it needs to be Multnomah Falls.
This beautiful two-tiered waterfall is the tallest one in Oregon, at 620 feet (when you add together the two drops). It’s also argued to be the second-tallest year-round waterfall in the United States.
Aside from the stats, it’s just beautiful, thanks in part to the old concrete arch footbridge that stretches across it. You can take a short hike up to that bridge, but first, stand at the obvious viewing location at street-level…
… and look up at your destination. You’ll get a good picture from here, but the fun really begins…
as you make the steep but short climb up to the bridge. The lush greenery that’s famous in the Pacific Northwest surrounds you here.
Once at the bridge, you will likely find a crowd, and you’ll need to patiently wait for your chance to dangle your feet over the edge.
From the opposite side of the bridge, you can stare down into the small pool at the bottom of the upper tier, where water splashes down following a 542 foot freefall.
After passing numerous other waterfalls and worthwhile stops, old US 30 climbs up the side of the Columbia River Gorge. There aren’t many good views along the way, but the road is fun to drive. Even though it’s frighteningly narrow in spots, it twists and turns past ancient (by highway standards) guard rails and ornate concrete walls.
Vista House at Crown Point
The historic highway emerges from the woods at its scenic climax, Crown Point. The road spins around the perimeter of Vista House, which is probably the most beautiful rest area you’ll ever see. Vista House was built between 1916-1918, to provide a much-needed stopping area for drivers who made their way up the road.
The Columbia River is 733 feet (223 meters) below Vista House, and it’s nearly impossible to find a disappointing view.
Once you’ve admired the landscape outside…
… you can step inside the nearly-century-old building, which was extensively restored in the mid-2000’s (in fact, it was closed for restoration when I stopped by, back in 2004, but had reopened for my 2006 visit).