Getting up Close with Columbia River Gorge

Leaving the Pacific coast is always hard, especially when it was 70 and sunny, and upon arriving at Ainsworth State Park, it was nearly 90.  This would be our last stop with my mom before dropping her off in Portland, and Ainsworth was not really the campground we expected (a long campground with all pull through sites on a big hill, making it difficult to set up a tent, let alone two once Kimmy and Jill arrived for the next stretch).  However, the full hookups were a nice treat.

One of the luxuries of the big camper is eating ice cream, whenever we want it.  The kids couldn’t be happier about that.

The Columbia River Gorge is somewhere we have wanted to explore for years, but have never had the opportunity to do it.  Once we arrived, we weren’t sure where to go, so the campground host recommended checking out the Bonneville Lock and Dam (the first federal lock on the Columbia and Snake rivers), as well as the fish hatchery.  The lock and dam were placed on the National Historic Landmark Register in 1986Trail.  Upon arriving, we were surprised when they asked to search our car.  It was a quick check, but what a reminder it was of the damage that could be done by the wrong hands here.

Inside the Bradford Island Visitor Center, we were able to watch migrating fish move past lighted underwater viewing windows as they move up the fish ladders.  The lampreys were the first fish you see, sucking on to the glass of the viewing windows.  These scary looking, three-toothed “eel-like” sea creatures are also going up river to spawn.  While the Great Lakes fishery was nearly devastated by Atlantic lamprey several years ago (that were able to get around natural barriers with the construction of dams on the St Lawrence River) without natural predators, they are an important part of the Columbia River ecosystem.

It was shocking to see the force of the river, and the determination of the fish as they swam upstream through the ladder.

Millions of fish swim through every year, having been counted since 1938.  Yikes!

After an impressive trip to the lock and dam, we headed over to the fish hatchery.

Even more amazing than the number and size of these fish, was the beautiful grounds at the hatchery, a perfect place for a picnic had we thought to bring dinner.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves at the Bridge of the Gods, the gateway between Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.

The kids were thrilled when Grandma treated them to our last dinner out before she left us.  The Gorge is deceptive in that as your drive through it, you pass right by the beauty that is in the cliffs of the Gorge itself.  This evening, Chuck said, “we need to dig in and really get into this canyon, not just drive through it.”

That evening, we headed down the historic Columbia River Gorge Parkway to the impressive Multnomah Falls.  We always love it when the kids get along, and this night was no exception.  The boys enjoyed pretending the girls were their pets, and they carried them around  with superhuman strength, while treated them like gold… how lucky are these girls to have three awesome big brothers.



As Grandma was about to leave, Chuck picked up sister Kimmy at the Portland Airport at midnight our first night there.  Lucky for us, it was only 30 miles from Ainsworth Campground.  We were so fortunate that she was able to rejoin us after our recent visit in Colorado, before she returned to teaching in India later this month.  This expert traveler was able to find airfare for a mere $220, only one week before traveling!

The sights were amazing in the gorge, and one of the greatest things about having Kimmy along is her amazing ability to capture them on camera, as evidenced by many of her pictures posted here over the next week while she was with us.

After running and biking the gorge the next morning, we were so fortunate to be able to meet up with the McQueen family (who used to live in Illinois – I had worked with Adam at REI to get my outdoor fix before kids).  It had been years since we saw them, pre-kid era!  The McQueens met us at our campsite, and we drove a short mile down the road to the Horsetail Trailhead.  From there, we hiked a few miles and were able to see several spectacular waterfalls in that short time.



Probably the most impressive was our endpoint at the amazing Triple Falls. 

The moss on the trees was a quick reminder that we had finally arrived in the rainforest!



Of course Chuck had the brilliant idea to head out and take a picture atop these towering falls.

Never mind all the amazing sights on the trail, the kids were most impressed by the banana slugs we picked up along the way.

The girls carried them for the last couple miles back to the car, and their hands were officially slimed.  By the time they found the perfect place to release them, the waterfall nearby did not put a dent in the slime stuck to their hands.  Ugh!



We headed back to the campground for lunch, and waited for my cousin Jill to arrive (who would be with us for the next week and a half).  Adam’s next spot to take us was one of our favorites for the whole trip, Oneonta Canyon.  Again, this spot was only a mile and a half from our campground, between Horsetail and Multnomah Falls.  Despite how rugged it looks, it was relatively easy to access the canyon, aside from the dangerous log jam as we entered.

Once through the log jam, we were in pure amazement of the beautiful greenery in this canyon.  We were so fortunate to be able to explore this amazing spot, as a few days later on 7/12, the canyon was closed as wildfires burned near Oneonta Falls in the Gorge.  The Historic Columbia River Highway was closed from our campground at Ainsworth to Multnomah Falls due to the fire, knocking out access to all of the falls we visited on this day.




The water was cold in the canyon, and as proof that our kids don’t always love to hike, here’s a shot of Braden as he persistently told us he would have rather stayed at the campsite with Grandma.

The water got deeper the further we went, and the kids enjoyed walking on the downed logs

and climbing along the cliffs through the deep parts before finally succumbing to the water.   Chuck was not as kind as me, and pulled the girls right through the water instead of piggy backing them.


Poor Laney was terrified when it was her turn with Daddy.

The walk to the falls was not far, maybe 1/4-1/2 mile, but the canyon and falls were so very rewarding.  Thank you McQueen family for playing tour guide with us and showing us your amazing state!


We had been so eager to explore the canyon that it wasn’t until after that we saw the tunnels for the tiny cars, and the foreboding sign warning of the dangers of climbing in the log jam.  Whoops!


Two nights in the Gorge went by quickly, and we were sad to see our time coming to an end.  We returned to Multnomah Falls that night and hiked to the top.


We couldn’t have asked for a better stay here, and will definitely return!  Who would know all these amazing places exist only 30 miles from Portland.  Oregon, we love you like no other!

(travel dates 7/6-7/8)

One thought on “Getting up Close with Columbia River Gorge”

  1. Great blog!! Love the stories and the photos! We were there a few years ago but did not know about your final falls!! Might have been too tough !! What a blessing to get there before the roads closed! Amazing summer for your family!!

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