Today on the Land Use Trail: The Columbia River Gorge

Throughout the year, we'll be featuring stops on our Land Use Trail. Today, December 4: The Columbia River Gorge, home to dozens of waterfalls, several unique communities, and one of Oregon’s most special land use balances.

About: The nation’s first National Scenic Area, the Columbia River Gorge provides dynamic scenery as it transitions between temperate rainforest to dry grasslands in only 80 miles. The Gorge is home to dozens of waterfalls, several vibrant communities like The Dalles and Hood River, and important agricultural areas like the Hood River Valley. The Tom McCall Preserve, near the famous Rowena Loops along the Historic Columbia River Highway, is a favorite place to take in the eastern end of the Gorge, featuring stunning wildflower displays in late spring.

Key Fact: The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, established in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, is one of the nation’s most unique land use institutions—balancing scenic, natural, cultural, recreational, economic, and urban demands and assets of the region. It encompasses 292,500 acres on both sides of the Gorge, including six counties and thirteen cities, as well as four Native American tribes. The Columbia Gorge Commission works alongside Oregon’s statewide land use program to accomplish these goals.

Another Cool Fact:  The Gorge, which forms the state lines between Washington and Oregon, started forming as early as the Miocene (12-17 million years ago), and has remained an important transportation corridor for thousands of years. From the river itself, to 19th-century railroads and the Historic Columbia River Highway, to today’s Interstate 84, the Gorge is a crucial connector for the Pacific Northwest. It’s also a key economic driver, with approximately 2 million annual visitors.


  • The Columbia River Gorge Visitor’s Association has ideas for trips and experiences in the Gorge.
  • With a new section of trail opening in 2013, it is now possible for cyclists and hikers to get all the way from Portland to Cascade Locks without riding on the freeway. Planners for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail hope to get all the way to Hood River (and hence The Dalles) by the highway’s centennial in 2016. Learn more here!

Learn More:

Going to The Columbia Gorge? Share your photos with us! We'll pass them on.

See the whole Land Use Trail, featuring exceptional Oregon natural places, communities, and working lands from every corner of our state.

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Text by Laura Waddick, Communications Intern. Photo by Joe Parks, via Flickr. Creative Commons.