Nowhere in the Columbia River Gorge does the old and new collide quite like it does in Cascade Locks. For hundreds of years, the site of the present-day city (population: 1,500) was a Watlala fishing village; today, Native American anglers carry on that tradition at wooden scaffolds, selling their catches at markets and roadside stands around town. Just blocks from some of those fishing platforms, and across the street from a walk-up diner that’s been around since World War II, you’ll find a three-story brewpub celebrating its first anniversary this July.
Spend an afternoon wandering around town—it’s a 10-minute walk from one end of Cascade Locks’ core to the other—and you’ll see how natural and human-made forces have shaped that history.
Under the Bridge of the Gods, for instance, a mural depicts a massive land bridge across the Columbia River. This image is actually the original (and far more beautiful) Bridge of the Gods, which formed sometime between AD 1000 and 1200 after a erosion temporarily blocked the Columbia. According to Klickitat legend, one could cross the river without ever getting wet.
Spoiler alert: The Columbia eventually broke through, but those navigating the channel soon faced another hazard—a series of rapids, known as the Cascades Rapids, that were created by the landslide. So in 1890, construction of the Cascade Locks and Canal, undertaken to help vessels bypass the hazardous stretch of river, carved a rock formation that jutted out from the shore. The resulting enclave is known today as Thunder Island.
That mix of old and new—along with a close proximity to all the natural beauty the Columbia River Gorge has to offer—makes Cascade Locks a fun and fascinating day-trip destination. Just 45 minutes from Portland via Interstate 84, the cozy community is home to scenic hiking trails that end at thundering waterfalls, popular brewpubs and time-honored attractions that have drawn visitors for decades.
You probably had a quick breakfast back in Portland, so start your trip with one of two hikes—both of which end at a scenic waterfall (as if there’s any other kind).
Walk Through a Forest That’s Healing Itself
Distance: 4.5 miles Difficulty Levels: Moderate Starting Points: Bridge of the Gods Trailhead Elevation Gain: 875 ft
The hike to Dry Creek Falls begins at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead at the base of its eponymous river crossing, and follows the Pacific Crest Trail south as it quickly leaves Cascade Locks and heads into a forest that burned in the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Even with charred trees lining the trail, signs of life abound in the woodpecker’s rapid-fire tapping, as well as the ferns and berry bushes lining the route. The out-and-back hike ends at the base of the rumbling Dry Creek Falls, which drops approximately 75 feet into its namesake creek. In all, the 4.5-mile round-trip hike gains about 875 feet in elevation along the way and will take most hikers two to three hours.
Make a Short Trek to a Stunning Double-Drop Waterfall
Distance: 2.4 miles Difficulty Levels: Easy Starts: Wahclella Falls Trailhead Elevation Gain: 325 ft
If your little one is more excited about a post-hike ice cream at Cascade Locks’ Eastwind Drive-In than the hike itself, consider a shorter but no less dramatic trek to Wahclella Falls just a few miles west of town. The path heads south through a forest of fir and bigleaf maple, crosses Tanner Creek on a footbridge at the base of Munra Falls, and ends at the landmark waterfall—a two-tiered cascade that collectively plummets more than 100 feet in a narrow basalt canyon . The 2.4-mile round-trip hike gains about 325 feet in elevation along the way and should take most hikers no more than 90 minutes.
Eat the Catch of the Day
Fresh, local seafood doesn’t get much better than at Brigham Fish Market (681 Wa Na Pa St., 541-374-9340, brighamfish.com). The cozy market-restaurant combination is the brainchild of two sisters (both anglers and members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation) who display the day’s catch in a glass case and whip up a menu of regional seafood favorites, like fish and chips , oysters and clam strips, for on-site dining. There are plenty of outdoor tables for seating on a sunny day, and you really can’t go wrong with whatever looks good. But the seasonal, wild-caught specialties are notable standouts; in many cases, your spring sturgeon or summer steelhead was swimming in the Columbia River mer hours before you ordered it.
Order an Ice Cream Cone as Big as Your Head
A few blocks east, the Voodoo Donut-like lines at Eastwind Drive-In (395 Wa Na Pa St., 541-374-8380) hint at why the diner has been a roadside attraction since its neon sign first flickered on in 1939. The old-school food menu doesn’t boast many surprises—you’ll find plenty of burgers, sandwiches and other grilled items—but a sublime pleasure comes from biting into a post-hike cheeseburger cooked to order. What you’re really here for, though, are the desserts, which include famously massive ice cream cones, sundaes, decadent milkshakes and flavored flurries—similar to those made by the Golden Arches, but without the corporate greed and with soft serve machines that actually works.
Sunbathe on an Island
After all of that ice cream, take it easy for an hour or so and unfurl a blanket on Thunder Island (Southwest Portage Road, portofcascadelocks.org/thunder-island), accessed via a short footbridge from Marine Park (355 Wa Na Pa St., 541-374-8619, portofcascadelocks.org/marine-park) along the Columbia River. Thunder Island was carved out of the mainland in 1890 during construction of the Cascade Locks and Canal. Today, it’s a popular wedding venue—but if no one’s getting hitched, feel free to walk around, admire the Gorge from this unusual vantage point, and even watch Native American anglers on wooden scaffolding plucking sturgeon, salmon and steelhead from the river as they ‘ve done for thousands of years.
See What’s Chugging Through the Gorge
Away from the town’s core is Train Appreciation Park (Northwest Forest and Herman Creek lanes), which is little more than a plot of grass no larger than a studio apartment with two benches and a sign emblazoned with the park’s name. Sure enough, locomotives rumble by day and night on tracks across the street—making it the perfect place to, well, appreciate trains. Is it the highlight of your day in Cascade Locks? Probably not, unless you’re a certified railfan. But is it a delightful if silly stop? .
Hop Aboard the Superyacht of the Columbia
Ask anyone who grew up within an hour’s drive of Cascade Locks about the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler (299 SW Portage Road, 503-224-3900, portlandspirit.com) and watch their eyes light up when they begin reminiscing about elementary school field trips on the triple-decker boat. Those young’uns have kids of their own today and are likely nursing Thunder Island IPAs (available at the ship’s bar) while gazing at regional landmarks and learning about the area’s history on each tour.
Stock Up on Fresh Salmon
We’d be remiss if we didn’t shout out vendors with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (critfc.org) who sell fresh (in-season) salmon, packaged seafood and other goods at stands along Wa Na Pa Street, the main drag through town. The vendors don’t keep specific hours or days, but odds are good you’ll see signs directing you to a few stands on spring and summer weekends. Bring a cooler and buy some bagged ice in town—you can extend your Cascade Locks visit by way of eating fresh fish for your next several dinners.
Help a Thru-Hiker Refuel
Thunder Island Brewing (601 Wa Na Pa St., 971-231-4599, thunderislandbrewing.com) built a loyal following with its scenic taproom right alongside the Columbia River—but the community’s biggest brewery moved to the main drag in Cascade Locks in fall 2020. The views from Thunder Island’s new 10,000-square-foot, two-story pub might have changed—they’re more expansive now, with the Gorge snacking away from the Bridge of the Gods to the west—but the brewery’s selection of creative takes on classic styles remains as stellar as ever. For an extra $7, the brewery’s Trail Magic program lets you buy a pint for thru-hikers on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through Cascade Locks.
Ascend to a Gorgeous View
Not to be outdone, Gorges Beer Co. (390 Wa Na Pa St., 541-262-2021, gorgesbeer.com) became Cascade Locks’ second brewpub when it opened in 2021. Built to handle summertime crowds, the massive complex features three floors of indoor dining, accented by nature- inspired neon signs (one reads “Tap Into the Gorge”), comfy couches and plenty of indoor greenery—a vibe best described as “influencer chic.” On a sunny day, the third-floor patio boasts a small fire pit and wide-open views of Gorge peaks across the Columbia River in Washington. Raise a toast to that landscape with one of the more than dozen beers on tap, which range from Belgian-style farmhouse ales to a variety of IPAs.
Basque in the Son
If you’re thirsty for cider, watch the tap lists at both breweries, where you might see the latest release from the community’s own Son of Man (sonofman.co) on draft. The small-batch producer specializes in Basque-style cider, which tends to be dryer and slightly more tart than fruitier offerings from bigger-name brands. Ella McCallion and Jasper Smith launched the cider in 2018, just three years after trying Basque-style cider for the first time.
“It was so different from the alco-pop beer alternatives that most domestic cider is,” Smith says.
“My notion of cider was that it was sweet,” adds McCallion, “and it had these other flavors going on—this was bright, tart, just a little bit funky, and so drinkable.”
Son of Man doesn’t usually open its taproom to the public—but watch for the cidery’s Summer Saturdays program the second Saturday of each month between June and September; the seasonal gatherings pair pours of housemade cider with locally sourced food.