With only a day open in my conference schedule on my first visit to Portland, I asked the concierge for tour suggestions as I did not have a car during my stay. My initial plan was to visit the Willamette Valley wineries known for Pinot Noir but as she found out (and I already knew) there are no tours for solo travelers. Jessica, the concierge, was surprised by this, but having traveled solo for so long, I know that the U.S. is not solo friendly when it comes to touring without a car (I’ve had no problems internationally). The bike tour to the vineyards was not operating on my free day so I decided to look at the Columbia River Gorge tour for a 1/2 day of nature and waterfalls.
Jessica had done research and sent me a listing of a few companies that offered tours. As she was new to the city herself, she didn’t have first hand knowledge of the tours and could not recommend them (kudos for her being honest). A pet peeve I have with most concierge teams, is that many have not tried the options that they recommend.
Researching the options, I found Sea to Summit Adventures, owned and operated by native Oregonians was running a tour that I could join (their website has an easy calendar to see which tours are operating – this tour had a four person minimum and cost $60). With a quick call, Joshua, one of the owners, took my credit card details to make my reservation. I joked don’t go crazy buying fishing gear with my credit card. He laughed and said he was escorting a group fishing for a few days and pulled to the side of the road to take to me before he lost service in the mountains.
With a 9:45 am pickup time, Joshua arrived a few minutes early in a minibus. I think I threw off the numbers from the passenger van to minibus but I was ok with that – more room. We would stop once to pick up a group of eight guys on a bachelor weekend (they were doing a private brewery tour the next day) and a couple celebrating their first anniversary. For the most part, people kept to themselves during the tour.
It was twenty minutes of highway driving to our first viewpoint and Joshua said he would not talk the whole time but rather give us the history when we arrived at the various sites during our tour. Starting at the Women’s Forum viewpoint, the Columbia River Gorge views were quite stunning even on the cloudy misty morning.
We would drive along the historic Columbia River Highway (a small two lane road) to the Vista House at Crown Point for a stop (views, bathroom, gift shop).
Back in the bus on our way to the next viewing point, I asked about the building being rebuilt in the distance and was told that it was famous for appearing in the movie “Twilight” (i haven’t seen the movie, maybe you remember the house?). Sadly, there was a fire and the owner was not insured so the restoration was taking a long time.
Our first waterfall stop (there are four on the tour) required a few minutes walk along the path -it was a nice reward for your stroll.
As it was the July 4th holiday weekend, there was a lot of traffic on the small road. At one point, we were told it was best to get out see the waterfalls and then take the path to the next falls. The path followed the road and was less than a mile. This diversion provided a good way to explore nature which this city girl needs now and then (anything to not sit in traffic on my vacation).
The main attraction, Multnomah Falls, the one most photographed was awash in tourists. We had, for the most part, not been with the crowds but now there were dogs (why do people carry dogs on hikes?), baby strollers (again, really? pushing a baby carriage up the steep inclines doesn’t quite seem right to me but what do i know?) and the ladies in heels (there are always women wearing inappropriate shoes – cute – yes, functional – no).
With a bit of a huff and puff (inclines), I made it to the bridge for the photos. I did not go higher as we did not have time but I am sure its quite nice to do on your own.
After the pretty views of nature and waterfalls, time to go see man-made wonders such as the Bonneville Dam, Salmon Ladder and Sturgeon Research Center (all cool stuff, no dozing off). As I am a bit addicted to the “how they are made TV shows” and “man made wonders”, the Bonneville Dam with locks was very interesting to see but our focus would be the salmon ladder. Those salmon are real troopers going upstream – what an arduous journey! There are predators along the way just waiting to snack on salmon so getting to the ladder is quite the accomplishment.
There is a government job to count and identify each and every salmon that goes up the ladder. Let me repeat, someone is getting paid to count and categorize every fish swimming past their viewing window. This information is then used by fisherman and biologists. If you want to watch the salmon swimming through the ladder – a live view is here.
Our last stop would be the Sturgeon Research Center to see the science behind it all. By this time, the sun was out, the skies blue and the air warming up.
Outside, people were feeding the fish as we walked by toward the lab and then saw the fish on the ground. Painted outlines of fish to direct you around the property. The property has buildings, ponds and gardens to explore. There is no cost to visit the center and it is located not far from the Bonneville Dam area.
Leaving the lab, our last stop was to see the resident sturgeon that was massive! Now, I don’t fish nor do I eat fish so I hadn’t realized that the sturgeon could reach the size of a dolphin (i’m only doing a visual guess).
Our tour complete, we rode back a tired (and quiet) group having had a good day out of the city. The 1/2 day Gorge tour does not include lunch so we were all quite hungry (hence the sleepiness). The ride back to downtown Portland was about 1/2 hour and we were dropped off where we wanted to go – the group of guys back to the hotel, the couple to the food trucks and me to check in for my conference. It is an easy day out of the city if you have a car, if you don’t, I’d recommend calling Joshua and his team at Sea to Summit to arrange a tour – let them drive you as you sit back and enjoy the views.