It’s customary to open a piece of this sort by saying something like, “Troutdale is more than Portland’s swimming hole.”
And that’s true. Within walking distance of a main street perched above the Columbia River you’ll find good food, a colorful arts scene, bargains on puffer vests, and a thousand dads fist-pumping to Modest Mouse.
Regardless: Troutdale is Portland’s swimming hole.
Since the earliest inhabitants hunted and fished where the Sandy River meets the Columbia, the attraction of this place is its proximity to water. Roughly 15 minutes after the Corps of Discovery stopped here on a journey westward, Portlanders started trekking back east for picnics in the Gorge, and they stopped in Troutdale for provisions and lubrication.
Every summer, the banks of the Sandy are packed with revelers, and the Historic Columbia River Highway jams with hikers in Subarus looking for parking near a waterfall trailhead. Troutdale always feels like the exact demarcation point between the city and the woods. More than most such wayposts, it largely hasn’t succumbed to Portland’s aesthetic preferences; the only coffee shop on the main drag has “Live, Laugh, Love” vibes rather than tattooed baristas. It’s a little hard to believe staring at Broughton Bluff and its enormous conifers that two TriMet bus lines run all the way out here.
That ease of access means you can get a lot done in a day. Grab your water shoes and Hydro Flask—here’s the agenda for cooling off in the mouth of the Gorge.
Take a Trolley to a Waterfall
Parking at Columbia River Gorge waterfall trailheads is trying to reach the sublime via the ridiculous. One solution: Go by streetcar. Well, more precisely by Waterfall Trolley (503-241-7474, waterfalltrolley.com), which looks like it should be tooling through Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood but instead traverses the length of the Historic Columbia River Highway, America’s most scenic frontage road. Hop on the trolley in Corbett (the town just east of Troutdale) at 9 am and you’ll be at Latourell Falls 15 minutes later.
If a Gorge waterfall hike can be underrated, Latourell Falls is—right off the bat, you get views of a 200-plus-foot ribbon spraying cool mist over boulders, Seahawks-green lichen and the occasional wedding party. And that’s just the lower falls. An approximately 2.5-mile loop hike leads to a double-decker upper falls that looks a lot like Wahclella Falls in miniature. You can take the trolley many miles farther, but you won’t find a more awe-inspiring cascade.
E-bike the Historic Highway
Another car-free way to duck into the Gorge is with an e-bike rental. Unfortunately, the rental outposts are on the far end of the waterfall district in Cascade Locks, so there’s no simple way to achieve this. Still, it’s feasible with a little planning. Bike the Gorge (15 Herman Creek Lane, Cascade Locks, 503-489-9348, bikethegorge.org) offers an eight-hour rental for $85. That’s plenty of time to strap your new wheels to the Outback roof, pick a starting point near Corbett, and get the motorized boost to experience what was once the provenance of Olympic athletes and juicers: a bike ride to the top of Crown Point.
Do an Art Crawl Down Main Street
Stay on the Historic Columbia River Highway long enough and it winds out of the Gorge and into downtown Troutdale—which is really just one street lined by shops and galleries. The best of these is Red Trillium Gallery (373 E Historic Columbia River Highway, 503-674-5050, redtrilliumgallery.com), where local artists revolve their work around the obvious subjects of forests and rippling water. Look, if you’re shopping for art in Troutdale, you’re not looking for cutting-edge abstracts—you want something like the stained-glass toadstools of Amber Lea Schwartzkopf or the silver ginkgo leaves by Jerilyn Walker.
Much of the shopping in Troutdale happens under the distinctive green roofs of Columbia Gorge Outlets (450 NW 257th Way, 503-669-8060, shopcolumbiagorgeoutlets.com), which offer deals on Columbia Sportswear and Levi’s to passing interstate traffic. Jean Linn used to work there but was bothered that the outlets contained not a single shop with gifts that reflected the forest that people came to visit. So she opened one and called it Artistree NW (103 W Historic Columbia River Highway, 503-912-1268, artistreenw.com), where you can find wood carved into just about anything: candle holders, holiday ornaments, guitar picks, and squat, bearded Vikings.
Eat Pizza From Old Portland
Once upon a time (the ‘90s), Alkis Sakoulas opened a West Burnside Street pie parlor called UFO Pizza. Three decades and a three-cook game of telephone later, roughly the same recipe is being made 16 miles east by Leslie Henson at LoLo’s Boss Pizza (275 E Historic Columbia River Highway, 503-489-5730, lolosbosspizza.com). It tastes how I remember it from UFO’s Northeast Glisan Street location, but with a greater array of toppings and at prices that didn’t keep up with the Portland pace of inflation. Try the Crown Point—with veggies, including arugula and red onions—at $15 for a 10-inch pie.
It’s time for the big-ticket item, the liquid magnet that draws thousands of overheated, underdressed and inebriated residents of Multnomah County to the riverbank each summer. Floating the Sandy River has for decades been a rite of passage for new Oregonians; with temperatures rising each summer, it has come to seem like a critical release valve—albeit one that comes with real dangers.
If you need an inner tube, you’ll want to snag one before you get to Troutdale. Next Adventure Paddle Sports Center (624 SE 7th Ave., Portland, 503-233-0706, nextadventure.net) sells them starting at $39.99. Oregon River Rentals (13251 SE 130th Ave., Happy Valley, 503-898-0138) rents them for $25 a day. The most popular float itinerary is to start at Dabney State Recreation Area (Historic Columbia River Highway, Corbett, 503-695-2261, stateparks.oregon.gov) and drift 4 miles down to Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site (1 Jordan Road, Troutdale, 503-695-2261, stateparks.oregon.gov). Anything more ambitious than that (like starting another 3 miles upriver at Oxbow Regional Park) and you’ll want a kayak or other paddled vessel. Float veterans say to bring a mesh water bag and sunscreen—and if you’re emotionally attached to a personal belonging, leave it at home.
Are you emotionally attached to being alive? Then for God’s sake, be careful. The water is colder than you think it is, the current is stronger, and the guy in the tube next to you is drunker than you can possibly imagine. A warning of the Sandy’s deadly power can be found at nearby Glenn Otto Community Park, where a stone marker remembers a 17-year-old boy who died here in 1986, with a poem: “The river is calm on the surface it seems, but it took his life and ended his dreams.”
Treat Yourself to Sugarpine
You’ve worked up an appetite by now, but so has everyone else: The parking lot of Glenn Otto Community Park (1102 E Historic Columbia River Highway, 503-665-5175, troutdaleoregon.gov/publicworks/page/glenn-otto-community-park) is absolutely mobbed on weekend afternoons, and most of that traffic is here for Sugarpine Drive-In (1208 E Historic Columbia River Highway, 503-665-6558, sugarpinedrivein.com). The upscale snack bar in a reclaimed 1920s gas station carries the whiff of owners Emily Cafazzo and Ryan Domingo putting a bird on the Gorge—but there’s also the smell of pork shoulder cooking in a smoker. It’s served on the phenomenal pulled pork Reuben, which is best paired with nori potato salad before you get back in line for an ice cream sundae (page 21). While you’re here, enjoy Glenn Otto—one of the prettiest city parks in the region.
Let Your Dog Romp Through Thousand Acres
Yes, this entry raises some logistical questions. Where has your dog been this whole time? Did you drop her off at the doggy day spa while you went tubing? Now that Barkley has been pampered, let her burn off some energy with a run through the grassy bottomlands of the Sandy River Delta (terminus of Thousand Acres Road, 503-695-2372, fs.usda.gov). She’ll make a lot of new friends, since the Forest Service property known informally as Thousand Acres is among the metro area’s most popular spots to let pooches off their leashes. Dogs must be leashed on the Confluence Trail, but the rules loosen once you get out into the estuary.
Even if you don’t have a furry best friend, Sandy River Delta is a nice spot for a hike, especially on a cool, cloudy day. This is the place where the Sandy and Columbia rivers meet, and is one of six river sites selected by the Indigenous nonprofit Confluence as having special significance to our area’s first residents, who once hunted and fished here. At the end of a 1.25-mile trail sits a wooden bird blind designed by Maya Lin. Each slat is marked with a creature logged by the Corps of Discovery while it traveled west, and that animal’s status today (hopefully, not eaten by your dog).
Swim in Mr. Yoshida’s Teriyaki Sauce
Recent years have not been kind to the midcentury roadhouses along the Columbia River Highway. Shirley’s Tippy Canoe burned to the ground early in 2020; Tad’s Chicken and Dumplings shuttered not long after (and its longtime proprietor died). The sole holdout on the banks of the Sandy is Junki’s Riverview Restaurant (29311 SE Stark St., 503-661-3663, riverviewportland.com). It looks like a country club, but just about everything on the menu is seasoned with the marinades of owner Junki Yoshida, who built a modest empire of cooking sauces that took off in the 1990s. This might not sound promising, but the food is delicious—get the fried Brussels sprouts tossed in teriyaki sauce with candied walnuts. The half-forgotten restaurant is one of the few spots left in the Portland area that still feels like a locals’ secret. Plus, the vista is nice enough that Ben Affleck used it for Matt Damon’s “commute to Nike” shots in the movie Air.
Drink in Every Room at Edgefield
At last, a dip into another sort of liquid. McMenamins Edgefield (2126 SW Halsey St., 503-669-8610, mcmenamins.com/edgefield), an early 20th century work farm for the destitute, is now the McMenamin brothers’ flagship drinking campus. Nearly every crevice of the property, from the incinerator to the potato shed, has been repurposed as a bar—which means a quiet weeknight here offers a decent chance of getting a cottage full of whiskey to yourself. “It’s like Willy Wonka and the fuckin’ alcoholics,” remarked a bro with a glass of syrah on a sunny spring afternoon.
Weekends mean dad rock on the poor farm lawn; this summer’s lineup of shows includes Modest Mouse, Barenaked Ladies ‚and the Avett Brothers, who might as well be the McMenamins house band. Many concertgoers will stumble back to Edgefield’s more than 100 hotel rooms—not a bad contingency plan if your consumption turns this day trip into a weekend.
Top Scoop in Town
1208 E Historic Columbia River Highway, 503-665-6558, sugarpinedrivein.com. 11 am-5 pm Thursday-Monday.
The customers lining up at Sugarpine Drive-In might get a waffle grilled cheese or a frosé slushie. But they’re definitely getting a soft serve sundae. Perhaps the most Instagrammed dessert in Oregon, Sugarpine sundaes start with a chocolate-vanilla swirl you can swag out with 26 toppings. Start with the hot fudge and the pine nut honeycomb crunch and build from there. If that’s too much choice for a hot afternoon, just get the Larch Mountain, which is covered in blondie squares, pine nut honeycomb crunch and a blueberry-lavender sauce that tastes like the wildflower meadows of Dog Mountain look. But you get the reward without any hiking involved.
Lolo’s Boss - Crown Point pizza $15
Oregon River Rentals - Inner tube rental $25
Sugarpine Drive-In - Pulled pork Reuben $16
This story appeared as part of Oregon Summer, our annual free magazine out now all over Portland. See where to pick one up here.