Getting Kids Out Into Nature

Vista House and Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls

This post is the second in my series about our trip to the Columbia River Gorge for Spring Break.  The first was about hikes from the Catherine Creek Trailhead.  Future posts will include:

  • Columbia Hills State Park, including camping, hiking, and viewing petroglyphs (Added 5/28/14!)
  • Visiting the Observatory in Goldendale (Added 5/31/14)
  • The Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center and History Museum in The Dalles (Added 7/26/14)
  • Bonneville Dam and the various attractions

We began a 3-day excursion up the Gorge by checking out some of the waterfalls close to the highway on the Oregon side.  Since it was a clear day, we decided to stop at the Vista House on Crown Point, the western gateway to the Gorge.

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Vista House, Crown Point

This historical structure was built in 1918 to serve as a resting place and an inspirational viewpoint for travelers along the new Columbia River Highway.  The inside has a small historical display and gift store, and stairs convey visitors up to the top floor.

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Beautiful Interior Architecture

 

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Historical Displays, Vista House

We took in the views from the top, while buzzards circled overhead, catching thermals from the valley floor.  It was exciting to look up the Gorge to the route we’d be taking in the afternoon.

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Looking East up the Gorge

After we ate our lunch, we carefully wound our way back down to the historical Highway 30.

 

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Latourell Falls

We stopped at our first waterfall, Latourell Falls.  It’s close to Hwy 30, and has some different viewpoints.

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View of Latourell Falls from First Viewpoint

One is a short uphill paved climb to an observation area, and another is a paved trail to almost the base of the falls.  After taking a few photos at the first spot, we walked down the trail, taking in the beauty of the wildflowers and feeling the increasing mist on our faces as we got closer to the shadows of the falls.

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Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa

Latourell Falls cascades off a basalt cliff, and it’s pretty special to feel the thundering of its descent in your bones as your hair gets a halo of water droplets from the spray.

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Feel the Breeze
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Sweet Butterfly

We watched butterflies flitting among the dappled sun-spattered flowers.

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Scouler’s corydalis, Corydalis scouleri, delicate pink blossoms

Intrepid families can take a 2.4-mile loop hike to the upper falls and other viewpoints.

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Multnomah Falls

Then we continued on Hwy 30 to Multnomah Falls.  Even though we’ve been there many times, we still felt we needed to see it, and we thought perhaps we’d walk up to the top this time.  But we forgot that the Benson Bridge, which crosses the pool between the first and second falls, had been damaged last winter, and was still closed.

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The Historic Benson Bridge

The trail, therefore, was only passable up to the bridge, so we’d have to be content with that short section to hike.

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Damaged Bridge
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Big Hole, Benson Bridge

We surveyed the damage, descended the path, briefly perused the gift shop, and asked the rangers in the information area about the bridge damage.  They said that it should be repaired by Memorial Day Weekend; hopefully by the summer visitors will be able to access the bridge and upper trails again.

 

There are many other hikes for kids on the Oregon side of the Gorge.  My kids loved the hike to Upper Horsetail Falls, where we got to walk behind the waterfall.  We’ve also spent time at Wahkeena Falls, close to Hwy 30.  I thoroughly enjoyed my hike up Herman Creek last spring, too, and my friend Dicentra/Teresa Black took her daughter backpacking there last summer.

If You Go: Vista House is open from March through October from 10-4 daily, or from 9-6. In the winter, the house is open on weekends, weather permitting.  Call (503) 695-2230 or check their website for current conditions and information.  Parts of the house are ADA accessible, but not all.  Admission is free, though they are grateful for any donations.  Though it is part of the State park system, no parking permits are needed.

The historic Columbia River Highway is an interesting road to travel, but use caution on the winding, narrow sections.  You can find more information about the highway on traveloregon.com and www.columbiariverhighway.com.  The second site has several maps and lots of historical information for your journey.

Multnomah Falls is great to visit any time of year.  For hiking information, check out PortlandHikers.org or check out Craig Romano’s Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge book.  You won’t need a parking pass.  Please don’t leave any valuables in your car at any Gorge trailheads.

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