The Oldest Scenic Route In America Is A Must-Add To Your West Coast Bucket List

Increases in highway construction during the late 1950s helped make road-tripping a larger part of American culture than it had been in previous decades. However, Americans were already giving recognition to the country's natural beauty before then. Not long after the advent of automobiles themselves, the Historic Columbia River Highway was built in 1917. As the name suggests, this road follows the Columbia River, which makes up part of Oregon's border with Washington.

Due to the construction of Interstate 84, some of the original Historic Columbia River Highway is gone. Even still, road-trippers and nature lovers can enjoy the sights along the original route. It begins with (or ends with, depending on the direction of your travel) The Dalles near the northern middle of Oregon. This town is home to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum, which covers history from the Ice Age to Lewis and Clark to the present. One of its exhibits focusing on modern times shows how organizations in the area are using renewable energy to better the environment for future generations. For all these reasons, the Historic Columbia River Highway is a must-see.

Hike to waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

Heading west, the Historic Columbia River Highway is lined with beautiful waterfalls accessible by hiking and biking trails, making them worth stopping to visit. Among them are the Emerald Falls (pictured above) and the Gorton Creek Falls near the Wyneth Campground. The Gorton Creek hiking trail for these waterfalls begins less than one mile from the campgrounds. East of the campground is the Wyeth Trailhead, an access point for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. This trailhead has a convenient parking lot and restrooms. Sites along the state trail include the Lancaster, Hole-in-the-Wall, and Cabin Creek waterfalls. At multiple points, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail offers wonderful views of the Columbia River Gorge.

To get close to Columbia River's water, stop at Kite Launch Beach and the nearby Blackberry Beach in the small town of Cascade Locks. The town's Marine Park Pavilion is another relaxing place near the water, with ample parking, boat docks, and the historic Oregon Pony steam locomotive from the mid-1800s. This train was a feat for the American Northwest, hauling both passengers and materials like gold dust.

Get sweeping views of the Columbia River at the Vista House

The most famous place along the Historic Columbia River Highway is Multnomah Falls. We love hiking trails that lead to beautiful waterfalls, and adventurers can take the trail to view this 620-foot waterfall starting near the visitor center. Hikers can stop at the Benson Bridge or continue further to the top of the falls and Larch Mountain. There is a parking lot for visitors to the falls, but the Columbia Gorge Express bus service makes daily stops at the falls and multiple nearby towns, including Portland, Troutdale, and Cascade Locks.

The Historic Columbia River Highway ends in Troutdale outside of Portland, but before you end the trip, stop at the unique Vista House at Crown Point. Not only does this location have amazing views of the river and its surrounding forests, it is also historic. In 1918, Columbia River Highway engineer Samuel Lancaster wanted a building along the highway that had views of the incredible nature and that served as a rest stop for those using the highway. The Vista House has gone on to celebrate Oregon's nature-loving visitors, past and present.