Soak in the century-old tubs at Carson Hot Springs.
As the legend goes, Isadore St. Martin was hunting in the Columbia River Gorge in 1876 when he stumbled upon the steaming mineral waters of Carson Hot Springs. In 1901, he opened a hotel there. St. Martin‘s family kept the hotel going after he died, as the story goes, he was stabbed to death onsite, and added an adjoining bathhouse in 1923. And if you drive out to Carson today, you’ll find the property much the same as it was during the Hoover administration.
St. Martin’s whitewashed hotel and bathhouse are still standing, wedged into the Wind River ravine off Washington State Route 14. You can soak in the same waters that supposedly cured St. Martin’s wife, Margaret, of neuralgia inside a clawfoot ceramic tub. A signature soak and wrap ($20 weekdays, $25 weekends) is 25 minutes in unaltered mineral waters, a tight wrapping with hot towels, and another 25 minutes of sweaty, swaddled relaxation.
Carson Hot Springs Resort steeps you in its history, too. The same team that manages swanky Bonneville Hot Springs runs Carson, but itâ€™s kept the rustic charm of this rickety relic intact. Goodwill couches, 1980s childrenâ€™s toys, yellowing newspaper clippings and a rattling fridge full of Dr Pepper decorate the wood-paneled lobby. The 1920s spa resembles an abandoned warehouse basement with its cracked concrete floor, white ceramic tubs and sterile, metal-framed cots.
The updated hotel is just what an economical Gorge getaway should be, though: wooden porches with mineral hot tubs overlooking the Wind River and local fishermen. Up the ravine, the community of Carson is by no means metropolitan. But the hotel's adjacent, 95-acre Elk Ridge Golf Course betrays its management's resort aesthetic—its massive golf shop is full of well-starched polos, and the two-story oak bar is stocked with Jameson. If you want to stay on the rustic side, cross Hot Springs Avenue to Barnstormer Brewing, run by former mail carrier Terah Brice in a remodeled barn.
Legend has it the ghosts of St. Martin and his ailing wife still prowl hotel grounds. St. Martin was supposedly stabbed in the lobby by an angry soaker, and Margaret died of pure sorrow a year later, locals say. But don’t think of that while simmering in your medicinal bath. ENID SPITZ.
Carson Hot Springs Resort, 372 St. Martin's Springs Road, Carson, Wash., 509-427-8296. 9 am-6:45 pmSunday-Thursday, 9 am-7:45 pm Friday-Saturday.
1 hour from Portland: Drive 40 miles east on I-84 to CascadeLocks/Stevenson exit. Cross the Bridge of the Gods ($1 toll). Traveleast through Stevenson and turn left on Wind River Road. Take a right atthe four-way stop onto Hot Springs Avenue, past the golf course anddown the hill. Left on St. Martin's Springs Road.
Bonneville Hot Springs
A world apart from its sister resort, Carson Hot Springs, this Vegas-style anomaly just across the Bridge of the Gods is its own realm of extensive spa services, jetted pools and patio waterfall features. The four-story lobby is replete with an enormous fireplace, leather armchairs and an excessive amount of reading nooks. Staffers wear suits and offer you complimentary tea. Day soakers have three options: three-, five- or seven-hour stints ($15-$33) in the tubs and indoor lap pool (8 am-9 pm daily). There you'll find toddlers wearing water wings, and posh, striped lounge chairs. The never-ending pamphlet of spa services includes baths ($7 with oils, $12 with salts), rock massages ($155) and foot reflexology ($120). And with its full dining room, bar, lounge and coffee shop, plus a gift store full of scented lotions and pashmina scarves, Bonneville makes a trip to the Columbia River Gorge more luxurious than most downtown boutique hotels. ENID SPITZ.
Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa, 1252 E Cascade Drive, North Bonneville, Wash., 509-427-7767.
1 hour from Portland: Drive 40 miles east on Interstate 84 to the Cascade Locks-Stevenson exit. Cross the Bridge of the Gods ($1 toll). Gowest on Evergreen Highway to Hot Springs Way. Turn right on Hot SpringsWay, then turn right on Cascade Drive.
Lacamas Lake Regional Park/Camas Potholes
Portland does not think of Camas when the sun shines. But goddamn, it should. The 312-acre Lacamas Lake Regional Park boasts a navigable, swimmable lake a mere 25 minutes from downtown Portland, a domesticated Forest Park that often seems strangely wild. Sure, the water has some perch in it and plenty of kids fishing for them, there are multiple canoes visible in the distance, and the paths along the lakeshore teem with baby carriages and old couples in sun wear. But if you walk all the way around the water, cross a little bridge and slip down a 20-percent grade, there's the Potholes—so named for the natural pits in the rocks along the shore, formed like nature's acne. Look one way, there's a waterfall formed of dam runoff. Look the other, and it's a river glen in an alien world, with a 15-foot jumping spot into a miniature swimming hole and, on a recent 75-degree Sunday, no one at the water's edge. It's like the secret place in the forest the kid flees to in one of those dark Disney movies where home life is scary. Even with the people walking above you atop the dam, it's easy to forget that anyone else exists. But then when you finally leave the park, there's some potbellied guy in a Batman shirt smoking a huge vape pen and you're reminded that, yes, you are indeed still in Camas. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Lacamas Lake Regional Park, 3344 NE Everett St., Camas, Wash. Park open 7 am-dusk.
25 minutes from Portland: Take Interstate 205 north to Washington and then take Exit 27 at Route 14 east. Follow Northwest 6th Avenue east toDivision Street. Take a left on Division Street, a right on Northeast17th Avenue and a left to go north on Washington State Route 500. Thepark will be on the right.
The name refers to (rumored) nude sunbathing, but another kind of daredevil generally frequents Naked Falls. The swimming hole's principal attraction—besides the beautiful, crystal-clear Washougal River—is a 30-foot cliff for jumping into a section of deep, moderately flowing water. But even if you're not keen on that idea, there are plenty of other attractions—smaller falls for sliding or sitting in pools, a bridge with a rope swing, and plenty of large rocks for reading, napping and basking in the sun. The falls' accessibility from Washougal and proximity to several campgrounds attracts a good-sized crowd, but you can always walk downriver and pick huckleberries if you start feeling a bit cramped. ADRIENNE SO.
1 hour from Portland: From Interstate 5 north, cross the Columbia River and take Exit 1A to Camas. This road becomes Washington 14. Turn left on Washougal River Road and follow signs to Dougan Falls. Follow the gravel road past Dougan Falls for approximately two miles. The access point is on the right. No Northwest Forest Pass required.
The Gorge's best swimming spot requires that you overcome two kinds of logjams: a literal one, in the form of a high-piled stack of trees, and a human one, made of camera-toting dingbats more concerned with snapping a photo than the dangers of walking on slippery wood. Overcoming both is worth it. The next task on your quest involves a short, frigid hike through chest-deep water as you're sandwiched between mossy cliff faces that block most light. You emerge in front of a towering waterfall with a perfect pool for low-danger cliff diving. The day's heat will determine how long you stay, but if you time it right, the sun shines on you in relative peace, since the small amount of scrambling it takes to find the spot causes tourists to turn back and make haste for Multnomah Falls. AP KRYZA.
40 minutes from Portland: Take I-84 east to the Old Gorge Highway (or to the Multnomah Falls exit, if you hate scenic beauty with slow traffic), continue east past Multnomah Falls and look for the gigantic, non-operational railroad tunnel on the south side of the road marked Oneonta Gorge. If you reach Horsetail Falls, you've gone too far.
Once the go-to place for rednecks to make the news by drowning in front of large groups of people, the danger level has been drastically reduced at Gladstone's High Rocks by the addition of lifeguards, but the scene remains a menagerie of urban and rural archetypes. The name refers to the sizable basalt rock platforms, where people lounge like tallboy-swilling lizards or rocket into the cold, cold water, which makes it an essential spot for anyone within 30 minutes of the pool as soon as the temperature spikes. And by everyone, we mean everyone: shithead teenagers wearing mesh hats both unironically and ironically, stuffy city dwellers making snide remarks and potbellied dudes using PBR as a bronzing agent who somehow execute cliff dives worthy of a Mexican spring-break resort. It might be crowded, but that's kind of what makes it incredible. AP KRYZA.
25 minutes from Portland: Take I-205 south to Gladstone, Exit 11. Continue south on 82nd Drive, take a right on Columbia Avenue, a left on 1st Street, and another left on Yale Avenue.
Lewisville Regional Park
Out past signs for the Vancouver Rodeo, in the land of hubcap-less Dodge minivans, sits Lewisville Regional Park. (It's on the Lewis River in unincorporated Lewisville.) The park itself is much like any suburban center of Lions Club pancake breakfasts, youth sports contests and Labrador walking, complete with a warren of colorful birdhouses and a "no golfing" sign. But tucked away behind all those picnic shelters decorated with "C-O-N-G-R-A-T-S" and "H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y" banners, just outside a Little League field where giant men in sleeveless T-shirts smack softballs around, you find a massive, grassy patch that functions as a beach for a pretty bend in the river. There's plenty of shade on the banks, which are well-kept. The current is gentle and there's plenty of parking. MARTIN CIZMAR.
1 hour from Portland: Take I-5 north to Exit 9 for Northeast 179th Street/Washington 502. Follow 502 until it turns left onto Northeast 10th Avenue/Washington-503. The park will be on your right. For best results, go to the Larch area. Parking is $3.