The view from Beacon Rock makes the hike up worth it.
On lazy summer mornings in the Columbia River Gorge, the rooftop deck of the Bahma Coffee Bar, in Stevenson, Wash., makes a fine spot for a wake-up cappuccino.
The Columbia spreads wide before you, a glittering ribbon of sun-splashed diamonds backed by forested mountains rising from the opposite bank in Oregon. Across the river, cars are already speeding along I-84 to and from Hood River, the gorge's biggest town, and the traffic reminds you that it really is time to start planning your Stevenson day. A kiteboarding lesson on the river could be fun, followed by a browse through a museum. Or maybe a riverboat tour and a huckleberry hunt are better options, or a hike to the top of Beacon Rock. Then again, a second cup of coffee sure would hit the spot.
Stevenson poses a real summertime dilemma: Though there's no shortage of things to do here and in surrounding Skamania County, it may take a while before you get around to doing them all.
Don't miss the opulent Sunday brunch at the Dolce Skamania Lodge. Start off with a champagne toast, then savor a bountiful spread that features made-to-order omelets, potlatch salmon, and prime rib.
(800) 221-7117, www.skamanialodge.dolce.com.
Just 45 minutes east of Portland, downtown Stevenson is centered on roughly five blocks of Highway 14, which meanders along the Washington side of the gorge. In town, the highway becomes Second Street, a lazy stretch dotted with lampposts designed to look like old gas lamps. Some of the businesses—a small collection of galleries, restaurants, and shops—
occupy restored buildings that date back to the early 20th century, an era you can recall during a sightseeing cruise on the Columbia Gorge, a triple-deck paddle wheeler based across the river in Cascade Locks, Ore. About two blocks downhill from Second Street is Stevenson's waterfront, one of the most popular kiteboarding spots on the river, thanks to the steady winds that blow through the gorge. Even if you don't try the sport, it's a kick watching "kiters" skim across the river behind their parachute-like sails and launch themselves into airborne acrobatics 30 feet above the water.
Stevenson also boasts one of the region's best attractions, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum. Focused on natural and cultural history, exhibits in the modern, steel-and-glass building range from a 19th-century fur trapper's shaggy bear coat to a replica of a towering fish wheel—a waterwheel-type contraption once used to scoop tons of fish from the river.
About five miles downriver from Stevenson, two Bonneville Lock and Dam visitor centers, one on the Washington side of the river and the other over in Oregon, show you the inner workings of the massive hydroelectric complex. July and August are great months for watching silvery masses of migrating salmon make their way up Bonneville's fish ladders. Cross the Bridge of the Gods to the Oregon side and check out the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, a grassy, tree-shaded parcel where kids can feed trout and gape at a 10-foot-long, 425-pound sturgeon named Herman.
Kiteboarding and windsurfing are both hugely popular in the Gorge. For information on launch spots and lessons, call (800) 989-9178 or visit www.skamania.org.
With 93 percent of Skamania County occupying protected public preserves, you'll find plenty of hiking and biking trails around Stevenson. If you're a real huckleberry hound, investigate the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where peak picking is generally toward the end of August. At 4,650-acre Beacon Rock State Park, the most popular hike zigzags for just under a mile up the face of the rock itself, an 848-foot-high basalt monolith that's the core of an ancient volcano. It's a moderate trek, but at the top you're rewarded with windy vistas up and down the gorge.
If by the end of the day you've accomplished only half of your Stevenson plan, head to Walking Man Brewing to regroup for tomorrow. A word of caution, however: Sipping a frothy ale in the warm twilight air may lead you to put off planning until the following morning. And you already know what that means.
Photography by Robbie McClaran
This article was first published in July 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 509 unless noted. Pick up your AAA Oregon & Washington map and TourBook and Northwestern CampBook. For more information, contact the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce, 427-8911, (800) 989-9178, www.skamania.org.
Beacon Rock State Park Picnic areas, trails, campsites, boat launch, equestrian trail. 427-8265, www.parks.wa.gov/parkpage.asp?selectedpark=Beacon Rock. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Brochures and maps available at the U.S. Forest Service information center at Dolce Skamania Lodge. 427-2528, www.fs.fed.us/r6/columbia. Gifford Pinchot National Forest (360) 891-5000, www.fs.fed.us/gpnf.
A PEEK AT THE PAST
Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum 990 S.W. Rock Creek Dr., 427-8211, (800) 991-2338, www.columbiagorge.org.
Bonneville Fish Hatchery Exit 40 off I-84 near Cascade Locks, Ore., (541) 374-8393. Bonneville Lock and Dam Bradford Island Visitor Center, Exit 40 off I-84. (541) 374-8820, www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/b. Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge Sightseeing, brunch, and dinner cruises. Exit 44 off I-84, Cascade Locks, (541) 374-8427, (800) 643-1354, www.sternwheeler.com.
Bahma Coffee Bar Espresso drinks, lunch, desserts. 77 S.W. Russell Ave., 427-8700. Big River Grill Fish, pasta, salads. 192 S.W. Second St., 427-4888. The Crab Shack Fresh seafood, with a patio overlooking the river. 130 S.W. Cascade Ave., 427-4400. Joe's El Rio Mexican Cafe Tex-Mex specialties. 193 S.W. Second St., 427-4479. Walking Man Brewing Microbrews, pizza, salads, with outdoor seating. 240 S.W. First St., 427-5520.
Best Western Columbia River Inn $79–$149. River and mountain views from 62 rooms. 735 WaNaPa St., Cascade Locks, Ore., 374-8777, www.bestwestern.com. Bonneville Hot Springs Resort $135–$395. Day spa, restaurant, and 78 rooms. 1252 E. Cascade Dr., North Bonneville, 427-7767, (866) 459-1678, www.bonnevilleresort.com.
Adventure Bluegrass Festival July 22–24. Concerts and more at the fairgrounds in Stevenson. 427-9478, www.adventurebluegrass.com. Bridge of the Gods Kiteboarding Festival Aug. 6–7. (800) 989-9178, www.dabridge.us. Skamania County Fair Aug. 18–21. Carnival, 4-H animals, and lumberjack events. 427-5588, www.skamaniacountyfair.com. A Taste of Lewis and Clark in the Northwest Aug. 26–28. Living history celebration at the Bonneville Dam. (541) 374-8820, www.nwp.usace.army.mil.