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Road trip to White Salmon, Washington

by Staff

If you haven’t visited the eastern Columbia Gorge region in and around White Salmon, Washington, spring is the perfect excuse to do so. The bluff-perched town has experienced a boom in population, services and products — and is well-situated for exploring the region’s outdoor adventure, wildflower hikes and good grub.

However, it’s also 228 miles southwest of Seattle, so best to explore as part of a more extended trip or tacking it onto a Stevenson-bound trip along Highway 14.

Heavy fir forests along the highway fall away into sagebrush and a sunnier, drier climate. In May, the region is flush with blooms, evidenced by the White Salmon Wildflower Festival. Something wildflower-related transpires every day in May, with an activity for almost everyone.

Events in and around the tiny town include guided wildflower hikes, artisan markets, an evening wine walk, art exhibits, speakers, a half-marathon, paint and sips, and workshops on wildflower photography and seed starting. 

Buttercup-rich trails draw crowds from around the state. Try the Jewett Creek Watershed Recreation area for hiking, mountain and BMX biking trails, Catherine Creek hike’s flowers and arch, and Coyote Wall Labyrinth Loop’s columnar basalt.

National Historic Site Columbia Hills Historical State Park is worth several hours at least. Amid the 7 miles of hiking trails, you’ll spot ancient petroglyphs, a historic homestead, an early stage-coach road, and rock climbers on basalt walls. The park hosts overnight visitors with a handful of standard, walk-in and hiker/biker campsites and two rustic cabins.

Due to the mix of wind, water and sun, this area has attracted outdoor recreation for decades. Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys has navigated adventurous paddlers through whitewater rapids and drops for 50 years, and Wet Planet Whitewater offers rafting and kayaking classes. In addition, the region boasts one of the nation’s top windsurfing and kiteboarding destinations.

If you’re more interested in exploring the great indoors, White Salmon’s shopping options cluster along and near East Jewett Street. Potential stops include a bookstore, women’s apparel, handmade jewelry and goods shops, and a teashop. Healers are on hand if you’ve thrown out your back on that wildflower walk, whether you’re hoping for massage, acupuncture, yoga, or alternative medicine practitioners.

The Gorge’s beer-and-wine renaissance also brought plentiful dining options to Jewett Street. Tuck into pub classics or lamb kofta and sip from small-batch beers at Everybody’s Brewing, shareable small plates (including bone marrow) and big sandwiches at Feast Market and Delicatessen. For dinner, explore creative takes such as the Honey Pie (bacon, dates, gorgonzola, honey drizzle) at Pizza Leona or the spring menu at Henni’s Kitchen and Bar.

Updated and hip stays range from Airbnb to inns to hostels. Larger options include the cozy brick 22-room Inn of the White Salmon downtown and the 16 suites of Hotel Iconica with kitchens and rooftop views of Mount Hood. Bingen’s budget, Euro-style Society Hotel can get very booked — but if you can score a room, you’ll get a co-ed bunk in a converted schoolhouse with access to a sleek, communal spa. More private options include a standard room with a shared bath and compact cabins with kitchenettes and private bathrooms.

Exploring further east

Wake early for the best selection from White Salmon Baking Company’s wood-fired oven for your second day. Pick up a housemade sausage, egg breakfast sandwich, or cardamom bun pastry for the road. Or slow down and enjoy a made-to-order veggie hash and cappuccino on the outdoor dining patio.

Down the bluff from White Salmon, the small Washington town of Bingen along Highway 14 once had a vaguely Bavarian flair. Now, you’ll find dining, shopping, and the truly impressive Antiques and Oddities‘ sprawling two-storefront interior featuring eccentric finds you didn’t even know you needed.

Drive 44 miles east along Highway 14 through winding mesas, buttes, and river scenery to the Maryhill Museum of Art. It’s a surprising and less well-known find. The 5,300-acre site sits far above the Columbia River, offering overwhelming panoramic landscapes outdoors and fascinating exhibits indoors. The four-floor museum comprises the original Beaux-Arts building that began in 1914 with a newer, circa-2012 wing addition.

Within the building, explore 80 works by French illustrator Auguste Rodin, a collection of indigenous basketry, and additional contemporary and classic fine art portraits, sculptures, and pieces throughout the winding halls and nooks.  

The museum’s more eccentrically enchanting collection includes Queen Marie of Romania’s royal artifacts — including gilded furniture, jewelry and icons — and a film, photos and story on the museum’s history. Founder Samuel Hill was a bonafide Northwest character who dreamed of founding a farming utopia until he realized the region’s distinct lack of rainfall.

Don’t miss the basement’s 400+ chess sets from around the world, ranging from a movie-star-themed stone set, a fairy-tale Austrian set made of porcelain, and a Nigerian thornwood set representing Yoruba daily life.   

Just outside, wander the sculpture park, enjoy a picnic overlooking the river, or drive 3 miles east to the full-scale replica of Stonehenge. The structure — built from concrete and crumpled tin — was the nation’s first World War I memorial and was dedicated in 1918 to 14 servicemen of Klickitat County who perished. Hill’s cremated remains are buried below the memorial in a crypt.

From Maryhill, you have a choice. Either retrace your steps westward through the Gorge and up I-5 if you just can’t get enough of the landscapes. Or a faster option for the 223 miles home — head north along the eerie, pine-spotted US-97 and stop at Los Hernandez Tamales for a Yakima foodie feast of spring’s asparagus tamales, then take I-82 and I-90 back to Seattle.

Whether you’re looking to make an environmentally conscious choice with a hybrid or to save cash with our new car lease deals, Western Washington Toyota Dealers can help you find a new car that keeps up with your lifestyle.

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