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Families will love:

  • Scenic waterfalls
  • Hiking and paddle sports
  • Fruit Loop farm visits

Within 90 minutes of Portland, Oregon, you can ditch the city and suburbs and embrace the rugged beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. The mighty river that separates Oregon and Washington carves out ancient cliffs that tower with lush forests and thunder with waterfalls and streams -- especially in the spring as snow melts across the Cascades and iconic Mount Hood.

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Within 90 minutes of Portland, Oregon, you can ditch the city and suburbs and embrace the rugged beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. The mighty river that separates Oregon and Washington carves out ancient cliffs that tower with lush forests and thunder with waterfalls and streams -- especially in the spring as snow melts across the Cascades and iconic Mount Hood.

Exit Interstate 84 at Troutdale to get onto the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Byway -- America's first planned scenic highway, with construction beginning in 1913. You'll cruise past arched stone roadside barriers, head through tunnels of trees and be able to pull out at several lookouts for majestic views of the gorge and America's second largest river.

Popular stops include historic stone Vista House perched on a cliff at Crown Point and Multnomah Falls with its dramatic 620-foot plunge.

It's easy to spend a half a day or more admiring seven roadside waterfalls or choosing one of the many hikes along the Oregon side. If you cross to the Washington shore at Bridge of the Gods, you can see Oregon's iconic Mount Hood rising above the southern horizon. Like a sentinel, it can be seen from 100 miles and from many locations, always with snow for year-round skiing, and providing a challenge for about 10,000 climbers who attempt its summit each year.

Return to Oregon when the bridge crosses to Hood River, the epicenter for Columbia River water sports and a national destination for windsurfing and sailing. Hood River also has calmer bays for family-friendly kayaking and paddle boarding. Adrenaline junkies can check with area outfitters for whitewater rafting trips on rivers such as the Deschutes and White Salmon.

For a more laid-back outing that's seriously sweet (and nutritious), head out onto the 35-mile Fruit Loop where orchards undulate across valleys with Mount Hood on the horizon (look north, and you might see Mount Adams, too). Families can pick their own cherries or blueberries, let the sunset-colored juice of a Diamond Princess peach drip down sticky chins and score a bushel of crisp heirloom apples depending on what's in season.

Wind down a day with cold beer from microbrews such as Hood River's Full Sail or one of the Hood River wines. You can toast the sunset as it paints the river and gorge purple and pink and hope that a full day of fresh air and activity inspires a peaceful bedtime for the entire family.

Written by Lisa Meyers McClintick less

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Planning & Tips
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