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Jaw-dropping views

Exploring the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

The Beacon Rock hike is 52 switchbacks. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area makes a great vacation destination, especially when you make Stevenson, Washington, and the Skamania Lodge your base for your time in the Gorge. There are so many activities, adventures and places to eat within 10-15 minutes of the lodge that you can easily fill a weekend or even a whole week.

Stevenson is a short two-and-a-half hours away from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Your first stop will be Beacon Rock State Park to hike to the top of the rock for jaw-dropping views of the Columbia River Gorge. This is one of those epic hikes and it is extremely intimidating when you look up and contemplate the 52 switchbacks it takes to get to the top. The mile up is comprised of surprisingly gentle sloops upward, even our little dachshund made it to the top under his own power. We saw quite a few families with younger children making the hike. Well worth the stop and one of the highlights of our trip.  Insider tip: Don't forget your Washington State Park Discovery Pass. There are two parking areas both on the right side of Highway 14. The first is right before Beacon Rock and the second right after, which has restrooms.

Beacon Rock State Park, 8 a.m. to dusk, daily, 34841 WA-14, Stevenson, 509.427.8265

The Skamania Lodge is just down the road. It is a grand hotel in the tradition of the great National Park lodges, but with modern conveniences like an indoor pool, luxury spa and golf course. The lobby will blow you away with its dramatic views of the gorge from floor to ceiling picture windows. Have lunch at the lodge and then brave the zipline course or the aerial park, which are open year round. Take some time to explore the grounds and its trails. Insider Tip: Purchase a s'mores kit from the gift shop and enjoy the outdoor fire pit in the evening. Comfortable Adirondack chairs are placed around the property perfectly located to enjoy the views.

Skamania Lodge, daily, 1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, 509.314.4177,

Stevenson has a surprising number of restaurants for a small town. We tried Clark & Lewie's, which had great food in a friendly atmosphere located right on the river. It's a nice area to walk before or after a meal. Make sure to try the Beet Salad, a simple dish but oh so good. They are also well known for their elk burgers. Other restaurants recommended by locals include the Big River Grill, Walking Man Brewing and Red Bluff Tap House.

Clark & Lewie's Travelers Rest Saloon & Grill, closed Tuesday, hours vary, 130 SW Cascade Ave., Stevenson, 509.219.0097

Some other must-see activities. The Bonneville Dam Tour is free and very informative about hydro-electric power. It was salmon season during our visit and the sea lions were hanging out at the base of the dam enjoying fresh seafood. The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum is located just down the hill from the Skamania Lodge and has exhibits on the culture, natural history and human history of the area. The Bridge of the Gods featured in the movie, Wild, with Reese Witherspoon, is a scenic way to cross the Columbia River into Cascade Locks (the name of the town) where you can catch a steamwheeler to tour the river.

For more information on exploring the area, visit the Skamania County website.

Chamber of Commerce in Stevenson, 167 NW Second Ave., Stevenson, 509.427.8911

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