Beginning in Vancouver and heading east, a trip on the Lewis and Clark Highway winds along the Columbia River Gorge while trading dense greenery for golden grass and high desert. Cruising for 40 miles brings the first stop: Beacon Rock just outside North Bonneville. Perfect for picnicking and hiking, this lava plug from an extinct volcano stretches 848 feet into the sky and sports a well-maintained trail so shutterbugs can grab a first grand glimpse of the Gorge. Rain or shine, the views are remarkable here. Twenty miles up the road, Dog Mountain looms larger and challenges more dedicated hikers. Stopping to smell the wildflowers can fuel the march up the mountainside, which at 2,948 feet gives way to gorgeous viewpoints at the top.
Thankfully, it’s less than 10 miles from Dog Mountain to Stevenson, the perfect place to put up your feet for lunch. The roadhouse atmosphere at Big River Grill is on theme with this Gorge tour, and the restaurant offers everything from basic burgers to wild Northwest salmon. If the road has you parched, Walking Man Brewing has a porter that’s a year-round favorite, and they even make their own root beer for designated drivers. Walk off the calories by strolling around Stevenson and taking in the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, with its exhibits on everything from when the region’s native people first met Europeans to the geographic forces that originally carved the Gorge.
Back on the highway, the trees recede as open skies unfurl beyond the windshield, giving road warriors a better idea of how vast the Gorge is. Meanwhile, wind farms dot the horizon and show how the wind that rushes through here is being harnessed. Of course, people use these powerful gusts for sport, too—the Gorge is a hotbed for kiteboarding, and White Salmon offers an excellent waterfront perch to watch this extreme sport in action.
Further on is Maryhill’s full-size recreation of Stonehenge that was the nation’s first memorial for World War I. Somber and stunning, it sits on a bluff overlooking the Gorge and provides a great view of how far you (and society) have come.
—John Patrick Pullen
Photo credit: Flickr/jr98664