It's Gorge-ous!

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine
Tips & Resources

THIS DRIVE CAN BE a scorcher in midsummer, but plenty of river stops and unexpected cool breezes keep it sane. An excellent guide to the wealth of recreation to be found in central Oregon is Inside Out Oregon, by Terry Richard (Sasquatch Books).

ROUTE: Toppenish, Washington, to Bend, Oregon
ROADS: U.S. 97
MILES: 195

The Cascade Range (and U.S. 97, which rides its eastern flank) splits Washington and Oregon in two as decisively as divorce papers, keeping the green (and greenies) on the west side and all that sagebrush (and Republicans) on the east. Drive this route and you'll get just enough of both but not too much of either. Start in Washington's Yakima Valley for the thrill of plunging 2,000 feet into the gaping Columbia River Gorge, where windsurfers might give you a pink-sailed escort across the High Bridge and over the state line. Climb back up and the road spits you out into high-desert country miles of dry, rolling hills marked by a series of blink-and-you-miss-them towns like Wasco, Grass Valley, and Shaniko and views of U.S. 97's 10,000-foot volcanic sentinels: Mounts Hood, Washington, Jefferson, and Bachelor, plus the Three Sisters. This is the backdoor route into Bend with enough holy-cow cornering to make you want to do it all over again in a faster car.

Hiking the Columbia River Gorge: At the Columbia River crossing, it's well worth the 30-minute detour west on Washington 14 to Horsethief Lake State Park, where short hikes contain some of the oldest known petroglyphs in the Northwest, dating from 500 b.c. (509-767-1159, www.parks.wa.gov)
Whitewater Rafting on the Deschutes River: A regulated dam flow means all-summer Class II-IV whitewater on the Deschutes; half-, full-, or multi-day rafting trips run from the town of Warm Springs, less than 30 minutes northwest of U.S. 97. Contact All-Star Rafting for details ($50-$350 per person; 800-909-7238, www.asrk.com). Anglers will want to hook a native redside trout, but first contact Deschutes Canyon Fly Shop, in Maupin, for fly recommendations (541-395-2565, www.flyfishingdeschutes.com).
Rock Climbing in Smith Rock State Park: The dramatic crags and chimneys on the Crooked River, in Smith Rock State Park, three miles east of Terrebonne, draw climbers from around the globe (541-923-0702). Whether you're climbing a gnarly route like Latest Rage (5.12a) or learning the ropes on a beginner pitch like Easy Reader (5.6), you'll stay busy with some 1,400 climbs. For a guide, contact First Ascent Climbing Services (800-325-5462, www.goclimbing.com).

Stocked with everything from plush suites to tepees, the Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort and Casino, owned by three local tribes, is the only place in central Oregon with a day spa, horse stables, swimming pools, mineral baths, and hot fry bread. From the town of Madras, drive northwest on U.S. 26 to Warm Springs and follow signs. (Doubles, $135; 800-554-4786, www.kahneeta.com)

In Bend, stop at the Pine Tavern Restaurant a riverfront landmark since 1936 and if the Oregon Country beef and sourdough scones aren't memorable enough, the 275-year-old ponderosa pines growing up through the floor will be. (541-382-5581, www.pinetavern.com)

As the road drops into the Columbia River Gorge south of Goldendale, look twice and believe it: Yes, that's Stonehenge up on the bluff—or at least a precise concrete replica, oriented to the planets.

For the route's rockin' curvy stretches, play late-eighties John Hiatt & the Goners. For the high-plains straightaways, turn up some Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.