Map Quest

A Road Trip through the Columbia River Gorge

When winter descends, the north side of the Oregon border sets a not-so-snowy route to Eastern Washington.

By Allison Williams November 22, 2022

Image: Jordan Kay

1. Begin with a New Outlook

Though Skamania Lodge has been around since the 1990s—and a weekend prime rib special certainly gives vintage vacation vibes—the hotel has been slowly updated over recent years. Public electric vehicle chargers are open to the public and artificial greens on the golf course reduce water and pesticide usage (bonus: it’s a more reliable putting surface). By leaving the back nine holes of its year-round disc golf course less manicured than the front nine, the property reclaims some of its woodsy landscape while giving experienced disc throwers an elevated challenge. 

2. Wander Back in Time

Sam Hill is all over the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge; not only does his mansion still stand as the Maryhill Museum of Art (gorgeous, unfortunately closed in winter), but Highway 14 itself is a remnant of the settler’s bid to coat the northwest with roads in the early twentieth century. Though a world traveler, Hill thought that England’s famous rock circle represented human sacrifice; it doesn’t—regardless, he decided to build his own Stonehenge replica on the bluffs overlooking the river to salute locals killed in World War I. Obviously much newer than the mysterious original (not to mention made of concrete, not stone), it has its own mysteries. The altar piece was set when an astronomer came into town for a total solar eclipse, directed at the astronomical horizon. And Sam Hill’s own body is in a crypt below the monument.

3. Look to the Skies

When Goldendale Observatory began a full renovation in 2018, it rejuvenated one of the most unusual state parks in the country. While the park acreage is tiny—barely a building and a parking lot—it also contains the whole sky. Rangers hold free (with a Discovery Pass for parking) astronomy talks several days and nights per week, pointing giant telescopes to the sky to study the sun, moon, and all sorts of space objects. In early winter, Mars will be visible for the first time in a few years. Shows filled to capacity almost every single night in summer, so arriving early is recommended, along with checking out viewing conditions and the FAQ on the observatory’s website.

4. End on a Sweet Note

The Christmas vibe emanating from St. John Bakery is probably just due to the healthy representation of Jesus, rosary beads, and other religious symbols; it is a Greek Orthodox Monastery after all. Nuns dressed in head-to-toe black habits—respect their request for no photos, please—sell dreamy baklava and snow-white kourambiedes along with incense and beeswax candles. Though property tours were paused with the pandemic, the coffee shop inside the bakery and ample shopping provides reason enough to pull over. 

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