The Best Road Trip From Portland Nobody Knows About
In Portland, where there’s no shortage of recreational opportunities, it’s easy to overlook the fact that just six hours east is Lewiston, Idaho—the gateway to Idaho’s world-renowned rivers, including the high desert Gorges of the Lower Salmon and the Snake River through Hells Canyon. And the best part? You can take the scenic route.
On this relatively short road trip, you’ll abandon I-84 for the lesser-traveled and more scenic Highway 14 to wind your way through the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side before landing in Lewiston for a world-class rafting experience. Read on for some highlights…
Take the Scenic Route to the Lower Salmon River & Hells Canyon on This Road Trip from Portland
Stop 1: Hike to the Top of Beacon Rock
Less than an hour from Portland, stop to stretch your legs and get your blood pumping with a hike up Beacon Rock. This nearly 900-foot, basalt column once formed the core of an ancient volcano, so why not climb to the top? Short and steep, as you weave your way in and out of forest and rocky outcrops, you’ll enjoy views up- and down-river of the mighty Columbia. Foggy? No worries! It’s still an impressive climb and the mist adds to the magic of this short hike.
As you explore this special spot in Skamania County, remember that the Board of County Commissioners added a “Bigfoot ordinance” to the books that makes it against the law to harm this fabled furry creature. Is Bigfoot real? Keep your eyes peeled and decide for yourself.
Stop 2: Brews and Views in White Salmon
Enjoy lunch in the picturesque town of White Salmon. Don’t miss the delicious locally-sourced fare at Everybody’s Brewing, and the incredible view from their patio that looks out over the Columbia River. Don’t worry, they have plenty of bubbly non-alcoholic brews to quench your thirst, including a rotating tap of kombucha.
After lunch, pop across the street to the North Shore Cafe to grab a cup of coffee or fresh-squeezed juice for the road. Once back in the car, you’ll keep heading east on Highway 14 to the junction of Highway 12 toward Walla Walla and Lewiston.
Stop 3: Get a Taste of Walla Walla Wine Country
In the final stretch to Lewiston, don’t miss the chance to imbibe in Washington’s wine capital of Walla Walla. With more than 100 wineries to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the options. If you want to stay right in town, Browne Family Vineyards is conveniently located on Main Street in Walla Walla’s vibrant historic district and offers a patio for outdoor sipping. A little further out, you can visit the historic schoolhouse tasting room for L’Ecole No. 41, a second-generation, family-owned institution that has been recognized 15 times on Wine & Spirits‘ list of Top 100 Wineries. Or, for the full estate experience, Waterboork Winery—one of the region’s pioneering wineries—offers scenic grounds, an impressive tasting room, and a full-service kitchen with daily menu offerings.
Final stop: Explore Lewiston + Lower Salmon River or Hells Canyon Rafting
From Walla Walla, it’s a short drive to Lewiston, the launching point for two popular Idaho multi-day rafting trips—the Snake River through Hells Canyon and Gorges of the Lower Salmon. Before embarking on a river trip, take some time to explore this riverfront city and its revitalized downtown where you’ll find local shops, restaurants, art galleries, summer events and more.
For the ultimate finale, spend 4 or 5 days on a Lower Salmon River rafting trip. You’ll float through four distinctly beautiful canyons, sample some of Idaho’s best low-stress whitewater, stand-up paddle board and swim in mellow pools, as well as enjoy catered-camping on picturesque sandy beaches. Or, opt for a 3- 4- or 5-day Hells Canyon rafting trip on the Snake River, which begins with an incredible scenic flight to the put-in and offers big-wave whitewater fun, stunning side hikes, abundant wildlife, and the rugged beauty of North America’s deepest gorge.
When it’s all said and done, you’ll wonder why more people aren’t talking about this awesome road trip from Portland.
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Photos: Snake River through Hells Canyon – Andrew Miller; Everybody’s Brewing – Facebook, Walla Walla Wine Tasting – Visit Walla; Lower Salmon River Rafting – James Kaiser
*An earlier version of this Portland road trip post first appeared on the blog in 2016 and was last updated March 2021.