There are innumerable outdoor activities to enjoy in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge: hiking to waterfalls, through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, and along the Pacific Crest Trail, to scratch the surface. Drive east along the Columbia River, and not only are you rewarded with spectacular scenery, but you’ll find more entertainment and fun in the towns of Hood River and The Dalles.
Fall, in particular, is a wonderful time to visit the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Peak leaf color time is in mid-late October, according to the Fall Foliage Prediction Map. There are many great activities, restaurants, hotels, wineries, and spots of interest to enjoy as you marvel at this beautiful fall location.
Things To Do In The Columbia River Gorge During Fall
The Columbia River Gorge is filled with historic sites, waterfalls, hiking trails, and boating and fishing opportunities. There are dams and locks to visit, museums to explore, ample water access, and beautiful views to take in.
Pro Tip: Consider making Hood River your base of operations. It’s 60 miles from Portland but provides easy access to major attractions up and down Interstate 84, which hugs the river from Multnomah Falls to The Dalles. You’ll have spectacular views of the fall colors, the mountains, and the river as you make your stops.
Stop at historic Cascades Locks to walk or drive across the steel Bridge of the Gods, built in 1926. The toll is around $6 roundtrip. If you only want to park below the bridge and marvel at its unique cantilever engineering, drive into the town of Cascades Locks at exit 44 on I-84. It is worth it.
Hood River Waterfront Park
Hood River Waterfront Park is home to parasailing and windsurfing on the river. Only 20 miles from Cascades Locks on I-84, you can watch hundreds of paddle boarders and windsurfers compete in events throughout the temperate months. Enthusiasts don wet suits in the fall to keep paddling and sailing.
The park has a sandy beach, a biking and walking promenade, and amazing views of the river and mountains. Several watersports equipment companies are headquartered here, and you can see their latest products as well as grab a snack from their cafes and food trucks.
Hood River festivals in October include the Harvest Fest and the Quilt Show. The Harvest Fest is a cornucopia of local produce, crafts, live music, and prepared food; tickets are around $10 and are discounted for seniors. The Quilt Show features 100+ award-winning quilts and fills two fairground buildings Additional events throughout the month include a craft fair and Halloween events.
Historic Locks And Dams
You can visit several historic locks and dams on the Columbia River. The Bonneville Lock & Dam, Cascades Locks, The Dalles Lock & Dam, and the John Jay Dam are all available for you to visit. These sites are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and include visitor centers. Some offer tours. You can picnic and fish at these sites as well.
Historic Highway 30
Explore Historic Highway 30 from Hood River (on the west end) to Troutdale (on the east end). Along the way, you will find many opportunities to stop and see waterfalls along this what was the first automobile road going west to Portland. The views are amazing, as it sits above I-84 looking out on the river.
Short hikes can be accessed from all the parking areas at each of the waterfall sites along the way. The most recognizable Oregon waterfall, Multnomah Falls, is the centerpiece of this drive. Stop and visit the falls and the lodge.
Columbia Gorge Discovery Center And Museum
This museum in The Dalles provides a wide range of history that includes the geologic formation of the Gorge, the evolution of birds and animals that inhabit the area, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the conclusion of the Oregon Trail (before wagons and travelers got onto boats and barges to head west down the river). See the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum website for admission prices.
National Neon Sign Museum
Try an offbeat attraction: the National Neon Sign Museum in The Dalles. Hundreds of real neon signs from gas stations, hotels, restaurants, and other unique places are housed here for the public to enjoy. Take a trip down memory lane as you view this collection of vintage Americana.
Best Restaurants In The Columbia River Gorge
The Gorge has a wide variety of culinary options. While local salmon is very popular, the fishing season only runs through mid-September for Chinook salmon. Many restaurants also offer great steaks from local cattle ranches year-round.
The most popular venues are the ones with a view, so plan ahead if you visit on a weekend. Don’t hesitate to try the wide variety of orchards and cideries, taprooms, distilleries, and wineries. Many serve food as well as beverages. Finally, take advantage of the seasonal produce by visiting local farmers’ markets and the Hood River Fruit Loop.
The Restaurant At Multnomah Falls Lodge
This lodge restaurant provides salmon and trout specialties as well as incomparable views of the falls. Sunday Brunch is a popular option here.
Bridgeside Restaurant at The Bridge of the Gods is casual with amazing views of the river and bridge. What better way to enjoy a meal and the scenery of the Gorge?
The Hood River Fruit Loop
The Fruit Loop is a collection of orchards and farm stands that sit on Oregon Highway 35. It runs south from the town of Hood River.
Fall is orchard season, so stock up and enjoy the wide variety of products, from cider to fruit pies. Choose from over a dozen stops on this section of the “loop” to enjoy apples, peaches, cider, wine, lavender, and amazing baked goods (particularly at the Packer Orchards & Bakery).
Columbia River Wineries And Breweries
Wineries and breweries are plentiful in the Columbia River area. You’ll find a dozen tasting rooms and vineyard tours up and down the river.
Local breweries are in both cities. Stop by Clock Tower Ales in The Dalles for a unique experience in the old county courthouse built in 1883. Or head to pFriem Family Brewers; it is located next to the Hood River Waterfront Park, giving you a great way to watch the windsurfers or boat traffic on the river.
Full Sail Brewery prepared a special batch in honor of the Hood River Hops Fest on October 1, 2022. Even if you miss the festival, you probably can catch this small batch beer — or try one of the other fan favorites, like Cosmic Gorge Hazy Pale — at their brew pub.
Kickstand Coffee & Kitchen
For fun, try KickStand Coffee & Kitchen. This place is all about fun craft cocktails, from frozen favorites like the Sesh Margarita to the lemongrass mule. They offer lunch and dinner as well in a casual atmosphere in the heart of downtown Hood River.
Hi-Way House is a local favorite in The Dalles. It’s not much to look at on the outside, but inside, steak and seafood reign supreme. The ribeye has been their signature dish since the restaurant opened in the 1940s. Be sure to try the peppermint ice cream for dessert.
The area’s best on-the-river dining may be at Riverside at the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn. The views are incomparable and menu items are locally sourced and seasonal. It was a Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice in 2021.
Best Hotels In The Columbia River Gorge
Hood River Hotel
The Hood River Hotel is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The unique rooms in this hotel have framed historic photos and various artifacts from the hotel’s past. Many of the original features of the hotel remain, but modern conveniences are included in single, double, and suite rooms — some with kitchenettes. Try a package that includes local winery and brewery products and tastings.
Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa
Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa, our third national historic site, was built in 1906. The hotel is on the West Cliff at Hood River overlooking the Columbia River and provides great views. Enjoy the on-site restaurant, Simon’s Cliffhouse for fine dining featuring pacific northwest seafood.
Inn At The Gorge
This bed and breakfast inn was built around 1906 and is possibly haunted. It sits a few blocks up the hill from downtown Hood River, making it a great spot to explore restaurants, bars, and shopping in the city center.
Oregon State Parks For Camping
Viento, Memaloose, and Ainsworth state parks sit along the Columbia River and provide great camping. These gem parks have beautiful full-hookup and tent campsites that are perfect for watching the sunset on the river.
Pro Tips: Be prepared for all kinds of weather in the fall. Temperatures can vary from the low 50s at night to the high 70s during the day. Winds off the river can kick up and chill the temperatures. Dress in layers for maximum enjoyment.