The LCNHT Columbia River Region: Oregon and Washington

The LCNHT Columbia River Region: Oregon and Washington

The Columbia River was the final highway to the Pacific, and though the ocean was the Expedition’s objective, it was only the halfway point for the exhausted men who now had to return to the East. The Columbia River Region was the site of many iconic moments for the Corps of Discovery, but none were as influential as when the team reached Cape Disappointment. This was the moment that the team accomplished the goal they had spent 18 months working towards; they had finally reached the Pacific Ocean. 

Luckily for Lewis and Clark, as well as everyone who would like to follow their footsteps along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the Columbia River Region is arguably the most beautiful portion of the trail. The trail follows the golden plains and endless vineyards of Eastern Washington, and continues through the mesmerizing Columbia River via deep gorges, lavender farms, waterfalls, and hikes through skyscraping mountains. It ends in evergreen forests and on the sands of jaw dropping beaches on America’s west coast. Regardless of the season, or your travel style, the Columbia River Region has something for you to discover. 

View of Columbia River Gorge on a clear day
The Columbia River Gorge

Highlights of the Region 

The Columbia River Region is the true definition of the word variety. So much is packed into this relatively small portion of the trail that it can feel overwhelming to decide what your journey will include. In the eastern portion of Washington, the state waterfall Palouse Falls is surely worth a trip, as is at least one of the various wineries dotted along the tri-cities area. Once you are traveling along the river, the possibilities are endless. Hiking around Mount Hood, admiring the orchard and lavender farms along the highway, taking in the beauty of Multnomah Falls (Oregon’s tallest waterfall), stargazing at the Goldendale Observatory, or exploring the river itself via boat, kayak, or paddleboard are all guaranteed ways to enjoy a trip in region. As you continue towards the western parts of Oregon and Washington, the trail funnels into big cities, craft breweries, the historic Mount Saint Helens, and the West Coast’s iconic Cape Disappointment and Cannon Beach. Every part of the region has something going on and is sure to provide a great experience for every traveler.

People gathering around Cannon Beach during the day
Cannon Beach, Oregon

Top Cities and Towns in the Region

Many people travel around the Columbia River Region solely for its natural wonders. Though they rival those found anywhere else in the country, the natural areas of the Pacific Northwest are just one side of this beautiful area. Cities and towns filled with culture, history, and recreation options are abundant throughout the region and they are equally worth exploring. 

Tri-Cities

The Washington state Tri-Cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland meet at the confluence of the Snake, Yakima, and Columbia rivers, resulting in an exciting oasis amidst the arid surroundings. Paddle boarding, jet skiing, and kayaking are all common ways to enjoy the area’s 300 days of sunshine. The main draw of the Tri-Cities, however, is its more than 200 wineries. The vineyards of the Tri-Cities are world-famous, and many offer tastings and tours. The area is also an epicenter for hydroelectric power, wind power, and solar studies thanks to its unique geography. To understand more about the future of these energy sources, visit the area’s REACH museum and Energy Northwest’s Nine Canyon Wind Farm Visitor Center. 

Hood River

One of the main towns along the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River, is both a jumping-off point, and an attraction in itself. The town is just a short drive from the Orchard Loop, a highway detour that passes through a variety of orchards, valleys, and farms—all of which have markets and stores with fresh produce and a variety of other authentic products. The town center is within driving distance of the “roof” of Oregon: Mount Hood, a mountain that is surrounded with some of the prettiest hikes, lakes, vistas, forests, and campsites in the United States. Explore the area by taking a freight train or railbike along the historic Mount Hood Railroad, or riding down one of the town’s waterways on a sternwheeler or rafting tour. Don’t forget to explore the city’s incredible dining and drinking options in between the adventures.

Mount Hood reflected on calm Trillium Lake in the summer
Mount Hood seen from Trillium Lake, Oregon

Vancouver

As the fourth biggest city in the state of Washington, Vancouver has a lot to offer. The main draw to the city is Fort Vancouver, once the largest non-indigenous settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Since the site was the historical headquarters of Hudson’s Bay Company’s Columbia Department, exploring the Fort Vancouver historic site and its surrounding exhibits gives visitors a glimpse into the history of economics, politics, and culture in the region. The city at large has ample craft breweries, boutique shopping areas, a thriving arts district, and a beautiful waterfront perfect for a late night dinner or bike ride. 

Portland 

Portland, the biggest city in Oregon and the entire Columbia River region, is an essential stop that can conveniently serve as the start or end point of your trip given its international airport. The craft brew and coffee roasting scene is iconic here, as is the Voodoo Doughnut shop. You can also grab some grub around the city with its thriving food truck scene before heading to the beautiful Japanese and Chinese gardens or Powell’s City of Books (the world’s biggest bookstore). Also notable is The Portland Art Museum, which is as quirky and vibrant as its people, who will happily point you to the best park, bike trail, farmers market, or bar. No matter what kind of traveler you are, you are sure to be impressed by this iconic city.

Portland Oregon neon sign downtown during sunset
The iconic neon sign can be seen in downtown Portland, Oregon

Seaside 

The town where Lewis and Clark took one last look at the Pacific Ocean before heading home, Seaside and Ilwaco are a quintessential destination for history buffs and coastal vacationers alike. Biking along the city’s oceanside promenade, you’ll find a giant bronze statue commemorating the end of the trail, and a bit further down you can even visit the site where the expeditioners made salt that was essential to their survival before reaching the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center – a museum commemorating their travels and the common prosperity they shared with Native American tribes. Some other surefire ways to enjoy the oceanfront town are beachcombing, boogie boarding, kite flying, or even participating in a beach cleanup to earn prizes at local coffee shops. The city center has an aquarium, arcade, and plenty of nightlife options. It makes for a great trip on its own, or a fantastic stop along your travels through the rest of the National Historic Trail.

Events in the Columbia River Region

Portland is home to some of the best festivals in the country. Whether it’s the Waterfront Blues Festival in July, the Oregon International Air Show in May, or August’s Feast festival, a salute to the incredible food scene of Oregon. Washington sees events like the Tri-Cities Water Follies in July, where hydroplanes race and an airshow amazes. August sees Long Beach host the Washington State International Kite Festival – home of the International Kite Museum – and Vancouver hosts four days of Hawaiian culture in July at the 4 Days of Aloha Festival. Wherever you find yourself in the region, there is almost guaranteed to be something going on. 

Many rainbow kites that look like owls and other birds gliding in blue skies
Long Beach, Washington is home to the International Kite Museum

Exploring the Columbia River Region Each Season

The Columbia River is a great destination regardless of season. Summer is the obvious choice for watersports, oceanside attractions, and lavender farm visits. The fall is a beautiful time for apple picking, wine tasting, or hiking through Mount Hood’s misty forests. Winter sees skiing and snow sports along Mount Hood and the greater Cascade Mountain Range, Santa’s Workshop rides on the Hood River Railroad, and indoor attractions such as the Seaside Aquarium, Portland Art Museum, and Goldendale Observatory. Lastly, the Spring brings great weather for bike rides, breweries, blossoming orchards, and events in the city centers. This season allows one to witness the cherry blossoms of the Seattle Japanese Garden, and the blooming wildflowers of Mount Rainier National Park.

Bridge in front of Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Planning Your Trip to the Columbia River Region 

The Columbia River Region is the perfect place to get a taste of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with some of the expedition’s most iconic and well-known spots. The variety of landscapes, cities, and activities makes it a truly wonderful place to explore. If you are wondering where to start, or simply need some more inspiration before setting off on your next adventure, check out our Mount Hood and Columbia River itinerary, or our Spokane and Eastern Washington itinerary. Hope to see you along the LCNHT Columbia River Region sometime very soon!