If you’re looking for an easygoing family getaway in the Columbia River Gorge without the crowds, set your sights about 90 minutes east of Portland to the heart of the Gorge. Where dramatic basalt cliffs ease into the rolling plains of Eastern Oregon, The Dalles is a picturesque spot to spend quality time with the family (even four-legged members). It also enjoys a drier, sunnier climate during the cooler months than parts of the Gorge farther west. So hit the road, skip the crowds, and let the fun begin.
1. Experience History
From ice age floods to Indigenous culture, The Dalles is chock-full of fascinating history. Starting at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, browse exhibits that cover all the interesting historical events that have taken place here, from the cataclysmic Missoula Floods to Lewis and Clark’s famous 1800s expedition. Curious kids will also love the Raptor Program, where live presentations offer chances to see mighty raptors like eagles and falcons in the feathery flesh.
If you want to experience how people in pioneer times lived, visit the Fort Dalles Museum, an immaculately preserved former U.S. Army outpost and homestead turned history museum. Looking for a more electrified experience? Check out the National Neon Sign Museum with its vast collection of dazzling neon signs from across America.
2. Hike, Bike, Walk and Camp
The Dalles’ wide-open spaces and beautiful landscapes are ripe for outdoor adventure — even without leaving town. The 6.5 miles of The Dalles Riverfront Trail runs right through the compact town center. Flat, paved, and easily accessible, it’s a great way to walk or bike right next to the Columbia for front-row views of the canyon walls. You may even get a chance to see windsurfers in action out on the water. If you want to camp, the Deschutes River State Recreation Area is a prime place for hiking, wildlife viewing and even horseback riding along the Deschutes River as it cuts through rolling hills.
3. Have Fun Fishing
If you’d like to get out on the water, grab your gear and get ready for some world-class fishing. Home to salmon, sturgeon, walleye and bass, the Columbia is a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Outfitters like Fin Reaper and Twisted Waters offer guided fishing excursions for the whole family, or have a go on your own at popular spots like the 24-mile-long Lake Celilo reservoir at the confluence of the Deschutes and Columbia rivers, also known as The Dalles Pool on the Columbia River.
4. Play for Kids and Adults
Need a place for kids to burn off their energy? The Dalles’ Wasco County Library location is a go-to spot for hours of fun, with a dedicated children’s library featuring interactive activity walls, kid-friendly computer stations, a giant Lite Brite and a play area — plus, of course, loads of children’s books. For a bit of fresh air, head to the massive play yard at Sorosis Park with its castle-like playgrounds, wide grassy lawns and disc golf course. Located south of downtown, this elevated park also features sweeping views of the city center, the Columbia River and the Gorge itself.
5. Eat at a Food Cart and Get Ice Cream for Everyone (Including your Pup)
With local craft brews for the adults and fussy-eater-friendly food options like chicken tenders, spots like River Tap Pub and Clock Tower Ales (housed in an old 19th-century courthouse) are great for families. Many downtown breweries and pubs allow kids, and most also have dog-friendly outdoor seating. If your kids are adventurous eaters, Lilo’s BBQ offers classic Hawaiian plate lunches, Canton Wok serves up Chinese-American favorites and Smoke Wring BBQ has BBQ nachos at its food truck. Or tuck into Jalisco-style tacos and sip on flavorful boba at 6th Street Station, located at one of The Dalles’ food-cart pods.
Situated along the riverfront trail, Tierra de Lobos Winery offers boutique reds and whites at its kid- and dog-friendly tasting room. At Sunshine Mill, you can taste estate-grown pinot noir and crisp, cool-climate white wines while catching a drive-up movie projected onto the side of the historic grain mill on Fridays and Saturdays in the summertime. Or catch a show at Bargeway Pub, one of the best spots in The Dalles for live music. Grab a spot by the open-air, river-view stage while you tuck into classic pub grub like burgers and sandwiches.
For dessert pick a delectable ice cream from Shannon’s Ice Cream or Scooper McQuades, or fruity Italian ice and thick custard from Jenny Marie’s camper van turned frozen-treat shop. And don’t forget the family pooch. Stop in to get a sweet treat for your pup at Swell Gelato, a gelato for dogs with healthy and delicious flavors like banana peanut butter.
Want to keep going? You can find lots more inspiration for family dining and farm-based food and drink experiences on the East Gorge Food Trail.