: Modoc Stories / hood-gorge.com

Three Days in The Dalles

This sunny enclave of the Columbia River Gorge comes loaded with history, culture and great dining.
June 16, 2023

The Dalles represents generations of history, culture and commerce that go back well before the establishment of the city. It now has two historic districts with more than 70 properties on the National Register of Historic Places and 18 carefully crafted murals, each relating a different aspect of the area’s past. From the tasting rooms and museums in century-old buildings to riverside trails for walking and biking, so much here blends the old with the new. Here’s what to do on your next Columbia River Gorge road trip to The Dalles.

The Dalles Lock and Dam (Photo by Modoc Stories / hood-gorge.com)

Dig Into History and Culture

The Dalles gets its name from “les dalles” — a French term for the rocky, gutter-like channels in this part of the Columbia — but those rapids and waterfalls are no longer the navigational hazard they once were. Les dalles disappeared when the Columbia River was dammed in 1957. Exhibits at The Dalles Lock and Dam Visitor Center dive into its hydroelectric power and the controversies of the construction of this dam at a sacred fishing and trading site called Celilo Falls, now buried under over 40 feet of water. 

Visitors can witness the power of the water and imagine what it once was like along the Riverfront Trail, accessible at Seufert Park near the dam. If you’re feeling ambitious or want to spot bald eagles, walk along this trail to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum — about 5 miles northwest of town — to learn more about the Indigenous history of the area and the geological forces that created the Gorge. 

In the walkable downtown, the nonprofit National Neon Sign Museum is a hands-on, family-friendly collection of displays featuring neon signage through the decades that’s sure to inspire nostalgia for some. At the Columbia Gorge Veterans Museum, located in City Hall, you can walk through the exhibits designed to educate visitors about the region’s military heritage through stories of local veterans. The Wasco County Courthouse was the first territorial courthouse west of the Rockies and today counts as one of the last of its kind. There’s now a museum inside where you can see how 19th-century prisoners were kept incarcerated with shackles and balls and chains. Be sure to save time to see a show at the restored Granada Theatre, a 1929 art deco Moorish revival-style building that hosts concerts, local music groups, films and other events year-round. 

Fort Dalles — established under a different name in 1838 — is long gone, but what remains is a complex of carefully refurbished homestead buildings, including the Surgeon’s Quarters of the territorial stronghold and a carriage house with a fleet of antique buggies and other vehicles. These make up the Fort Dalles Museum, which opened in 1905, making it one of the oldest history museums in Oregon.

Tierra de Lobos Winery (Photo by Modoc Stories / hood-gorge.com)

Treat Your Taste Buds

When hunger strikes, you’ll find a range of cuisines in town. Sit down with a platter of enchiladas verde and a margarita in the lively Casa El Mirador cantina or order meat-stuffed tacos or tortas to go from Taqueria Mi Pueblito, beloved by locals. You can’t go wrong with the butter-chicken curry at Bamba’s Indian Restaurant. For breakfast head to “the old stone church,” as residents call it, where The Riv Cafe serves fried chicken, French toast and “biscuits and groovy” (bacon makes it so) in a former church more than 120 years old.

To sample a variety of locally sourced flavors, take some time to poke along the East Gorge Food Trail, featuring historic orchards, vineyards and restaurants. The Dalles Farmers Market in City Park operates seasonally from June to October. Interested in buying fresh Columbia River salmon? Consider these nearby spots where tribal fishers sell their daily catch.

Tierra de Lobos Winery (Photo by Modoc Stories / hood-gorge.com)

Eats, Drinks and Sleeps in Town

When it’s time to unwind, Clock Tower Ales in the second Wasco County Courthouse, built in 1883, has more than 30 craft beers on tap that go down well on a deck with gas-flame lights. Freebridge Brewing features a range of craft-beer styles, including Northwest ales and German lagers

Wine lovers have their spots, too. 15 Mile Winery has a tasting room downtown and offers syrahs, dessert wines and more. Tierra de Lobos Winery has a tasting room in a 500-square-foot garage with views of the Columbia River. The two-man operation produces sun-loving varietals including cabernet franc and malbec on a 12-acre estate. The Sunshine Mill is home to family-friendly wineries Quenett and Copa di Vino, where you can also get small plates like cheese boards and antipasto platters. Pro tip: Don’t miss the drive-in movies on Friday and Saturday nights, when flicks like “Stand By Me,” filmed in Oregon, air on a giant screen affixed to the grain silos outside. 

All this fun make you tired? The R&R Guesthouse has rooms for up to eight people in a restored turn-of-the-century home. Cousins Country Inn looks like a giant barn but with a variety of rooms and a seasonal outdoor pool that kids love. On the east side of town, the Celilo Inn has 46 rooms and suites on a bluff by the dam. 

About The

Tim Neville
Tim Neville is a writer based in Bend where he writes about the outdoors, travel and the business of both. His work has been included in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing and Best Food Writing, and earned various awards from the Society of American Travel Writers and the Society of Professional Journalists. Tim has reported from all seven continents and spends his free time skiing, running and spending time with his family.

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