Oregon Summer Weekend Trip: Bingen & White Salmon

From whitewater to wine to luxuriously warm (and ice cold) pools, these neighboring Gorge towns will help you get soaked.

Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)

In the heart of the Columbia River Gorge just over an hour away from Portland, White Salmon, Wash., is home to river rapids, local artists, a burgeoning wine scene, and a cat dubbed the “real” mayor. Directly across the Columbia from Hood River, White Salmon should be at the top of your list of easy getaways. Recent reforms limiting the number of short-term rental permits highlight that the focus here is very much on growing consciously and maintaining a housing supply for permanent residents. And because of the small size—about 2,600 people live here year round—White Salmon feels a lot like Hood River used to before 20 years of rapid development.

This part of the Gorge on the Washington side is bordered by three rivers: the Klickitat at the eastern edge, the White Salmon at the western and, of course, the Columbia to the south. Between those natural borders are the towns of Underhill, Lyle, White Salmon and Bingen. White Salmon is the most developed, with Jewett Boulevard running through the center of town. Go down the hill and Steuben Street does the same in Bingen.

These two areas are the heart of the region where you’ll set up base in order to explore.


School’s in Session

Much of the buzz on the Klickitat County side of the Gorge comes from the debut of The Society Hotel (210 Cedar St., Bingen, 509-774-4437, thesocietyhotel.com) in 2019. The ownership group opened the Society in Old Town Portland in 2015 and followed up here by turning the former 1930s Bingen School building into a hotel and spa. Though the school closed in the 1970s, original and imported touches of pedagogical décor still abound. Books from now-shuttered Marylhurst University line shelves in the lobby; there’s a natural slate blackboard behind the check-in desk; the bar is next to what is still designated the “principal’s office”; and the original hardwood floors and bleachers remain in the former gymnasium.

Room options are diverse. The budget conscious might be tempted by the triple-loft bunks with privacy curtains and a shared bathroom. It’s nicer than any hostel I remember from my hosteling days, though I’m not sure I trust myself to climb a ladder to bed now that I’m not as steady on my feet. If you’re OK with sharing a bathroom but not a bedroom, pension-style rooms are available.

A few steps away from the main building, 20 cabins ring the pool and spa. Designed in an austere, Scandi-Pacific Northwest style with blond wood and as much natural light as privacy will allow, the detached dwellings are equipped with enough equipment that guests can easily cook a nice dinner for themselves and make a cup of pour-over coffee the next morning.

The Yin and Yang of the Gorge

After you’re settled at the Society, explore your surroundings. Consider Bingen White Salmon’s smaller sibling. The towns have something of a rivalry that dates back to the turn of the 20th century, though today even their police agency covers both communities. Despite having a population one-third the size of White Salmon, Bingen has a sweet little retail district of its own. MoonMountain Highway (113 W Steuben St., Bingen, moonmountainhighway.com) sells beautiful objects from local makers and hosts events and classes. It’s got all the classics you’d expect from a store of this type, including crystals, tarot cards, fairy stones and incense. A block to the east and a world away in atmosphere is Chips Bar & Grill (219 W Steuben St., Bingen, 509-493-1010), a bar that became one of my favorite places in the Gorge after just one visit. It’s dark, the ventilation is questionable, the jukebox rotation is impossible to predict, and the décor includes an inexplicable number of decommissioned World War II-era armaments. The vibe, however, is impeccable, from the diner-style barstools to the bartenders who know the name of every regular. The menu features some delightful head-scratchers, including what may be the only “Pittsburgh salad” served in the Pacific Northwest. An order of the brisket-topped tots arrived on a quarter-sheet pan lined with tin foil, just like Mom used to make, though she didn’t accompany her version with a freshly poured Rainier.

Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)

Table to Farm

At the end of Bingen’s main drag to the west is Dickey’s Farm Store (806 W Steuben St., Bingen, 509-493-2636), which is so much more than the name implies. It is the only store I’ve seen that sells pottery by local artisans (in this case, Klickitat Pottery) and also stocks homemade jellies and jams, ironwork, beer, fertilizer and ivermectin. It is the type of place that has a little bit of everything and also staffers who seem to know a little bit of everything about what’s happening in town. And they would know—the family that homesteaded the farm in the first place did so in 1867, and the store itself has been open for more than 100 years.

Dip Your Toes

Wrap up the evening back at The Society Spa & Bathhouse. A warm pool, a cold plunge, a sauna, and a pool-sized outdoor hot tub provide a wide assortment of temperatures to sample. Even though the spa building is new construction like the cabins, it has school natatorium vibes, thanks to the natural light pouring in and refracting in the various pools. Numbers are kept to a minimum by the Society’s advance booking system, which limits spa access to 20 guests or so per hourlong block of time. Look very carefully when you reserve a slot; it’s easy to schedule an appointment for the wrong week—I speak from experience. The spa can be booked by nonhotel guests as well.


Wake and Bake

Fuel up at the Columbia Gorge Bakery (740 E Steuben St., Bingen, 541-645-0570, columbiagorgeglutenfree.com) before you make your way east. The bakery has an impressive array of gluten-free items, including sweet and savory hand pies, which make excellent trail snacks. The bakery also sells pre-made, take-and-bake pizzas. Your move, Papa Murphy’s!

Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)

Double Klick

Catherine Creek Recreation Area (Old Highway 8, Lyle, fs.usda.gov), between Lyle and Bingen, is the launching point for multiple popular hikes. The Arch Loop is a family-friendly, under-2-mile route. Snaking through the basalt canyons, this hike features a waterfall, spring wildflowers, plenty of fellow hikers walking their dogs, and the Catherine Creek arch, of which you’ll get views from below and above. As always in this region, gain a little elevation and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Columbia and the Gorge itself.

The Klickitat River empties into the Columbia just before you enter the town of Lyle. The trailhead for Klickitat State Park Trail (Lyle, parks.wa.gov/869/Klickitat-Trail), complete with parking, is here. The trail is a former Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway trunk line between Lyle and Goldendale built in 1903. The tracks were so important for the development of the region that the opening of the route triggered a multiyear fight between White Salmon and Bingen over which town would have its name on the train station they shared. The line was eventually abandoned in 1992, and ownership transferred to Washington State Parks two years later. Now you get to enjoy the 31-mile trail, which follows the Klickitat River before veering into the remote Swale Canyon, though take note that the latter section closes during summer fire season.


Giraffes of the Gorge

Continue past Lyle toward Dallesport and you’ll soon reach Schreiner Farms (8280 State Route 14, Lyle, 360-561-2813, schreinerfarms.com), a free “zoo” of exotic animals. Visitors can drive into the 12,000-acre farm and see which creatures have decided to make themselves visible on that particular day. Some of the animals are available for purchase, though your kids don’t have to know about that part. The farm is a fully in-car experience for the safety of visitors and animals alike; it’s really just an out-and-back drive about a half-mile long. However, there aren’t that many opportunities to see camels, giraffes and zebras with Mount Hood in the distance. If the weather is poor, it’s a kid-friendly way to keep them dry and entertained at the same time.

Everybody Wants Some

The cavernous Everybody’s Brewing (177 E Jewett Blvd., White Salmon, 509-637-2774, everybodysbrewing.com) anchors Jewett Boulevard. Opened in 2008, the brewery has an extensive list of regular beers, seasonals and even a take on hard seltzer that I am too old to order comfortably. The Talus Pilsner, a style that’s an afterthought at some breweries in the region, was full, crisp and sharp, in the proper Czech manner. The patio out back facing the Gorge has views for days. Everybody’s kitchen turns out large portions of brewpub staples, including elegantly constructed pork-and-pepper nachos that came loaded with toppings yet maintained a level of crispiness and structural integrity.

Meet the Mayor

The blocks surrounding Jewett Boulevard from Tea Lyn’s tea and gift shop to White Salmon Guitar are home to a number of art studios as well as shops that double as galleries. In addition to being a one-stop loose leaf tea and teaware destination, Tea Lyn’s (121 N Main Ave., White Salmon, tealyns.com) has a small display room with prints from artists like Ralph Daub, a local photographer who shoots landscapes in the Gorge and beyond. At the other end of the street in a converted gas station is White Salmon Guitar (230 E Jewett Blvd., 509-493-8880, whitesalmonguitar.com), where luthier Craig Wilson handcrafts acoustic guitars, often with local materials. He shares studio space with Autumn Quigley, a local artist and illustrator, and metalsmith Jennifer Trude of tru|design (509-281-0450, trudesign.co). Studios are open by appointment only, though Quigley’s work can also be seen at Traverse PNW Market in Stevenson. What binds together this diverse group? None other than Quigley’s cat, Huxley the “Real Mayor of White Salmon,” a gregarious feline who visits many of the nearby businesses over the course of his workday.

Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)
Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)
Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)


Grape Expectations

Le Doubblé Troubblé Wine (111 E Jewett Blvd., White Salmon, 509-281-3240, ldtwines.com) is just up Jewett from Everybody’s Brewing. Co-owners Christopher Stiffler and McIntosh Forrence were brought together by a shared passion for snowsports and wine. They decided to go into business together selling a number of varietals grown in and near the Gorge and have become a part of the area’s rapidly maturing wine scene. Le Doubblé Troubblé's perfectly unpretentious tasting room is really just a set of couches and the company of a gently snoring dog.

Across from Tea Lyn’s at Soča Wine Shop & Bar (120 N Main Ave., White Salmon, 509-774-7211, socawineship.com), the selection of wines is more global, reflecting the Slovenian heritage of Jure Poberaj, one of the owners, who also grows grapes for his Poberaj Wines label. Soča features some pretty impressive food options for such an unassuming space, including French onion soup and a smoked cod dip, to pair with wines by the glass.


Wheat Salmon

The undisputed champion of baked goods in this part of the Gorge is White Salmon Baking Company (80 NE Estes Ave., 509-281-3140, whitesalmonbaking.com). Owned and operated by some of the same team as Soča (Poberaj and Nina Jimenez), you’ll do well to get here early in order to have your pick of sandwiches, made-to-order breakfast and lunch items (yes, even avocado toast), loaves of bread, coffee and sweets. White Salmon Baking’s bread is made with flour from small Pacific Northwest mills and fermented with wild yeast from the Gorge. Specific breads are available on specific days, so check the website and plan ahead if you have your heart set on a sprouted emmer loaf—it’s available only on Fridays. I opted for a slice of parsnip and date tea cake, as parsnips have a surprising historical tie to the region: In 1909, farmers from Husum, just north of White Salmon, advertised the quality of the region’s produce by sending a 6-foot parsnip to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. The patio has an epic view of Wy’east worth savoring whether or not you opt for anything that’s served with parsnips.

Shoot the Falls

Kayaking and river rafting is a huge recreational draw in White Salmon. The White Salmon River is fed by glacial melt from Mount Adams and runs a shockingly clear blue. River Drifters (856 WA-141, White Salmon, 800-972-0430, riverdrifters.net) hosts half- and full-day rafting excursions down the White Salmon. While it’s continuous whitewater with Class III and IV rapids, the route is still suitable for most beginners. Depending on the water level—it’s typically best at the end of July—rafters can shoot the 10-foot Husum Falls, the largest commercially run waterfall in the U.S. Half-day excursions start in both the mornings and the afternoons, cover about 8 miles of river, and take around three hours to complete. Rafts hold up to six people.

‘Cue Up

Stop at Get Hu’sum BBQ (856 WA-141, Husum, 509-637-3772, gethusumbbq.com) for some post-paddling sustenance. Pitmaster Stan Pratnicki, a veteran of Portland’s food scene for more than 20 years, also manages operations at River Drifters and caters meals for rafting trips. Like the bread at White Salmon Baking Co., the meats he serves up here are available only on specific days. Is it too soon to make “Rib Sundays” more of a thing?

Top Scoop in Town

The Cabin Drive-Thru

210 Lutheran Church Road, Stevenson, 509-427-0095, mycabindrivethru.com. 7 am-4 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-1 pm Saturday.

What would a summer weekend be without a frozen treat to help create some lasting rainbow sprinkle-lined memories? Criminally, the options in White Salmon are limited to the respectable soft serve at Pizza Leona. In the spirit of thinking that no calories count on the Washington side of the Gorge, you’ll have to go a bit farther afield. Back in Stevenson, The Cabin Drive-Thru is a legit log cabin at the east end of town. Just look for the Sasquatch holding a vanilla cone! The Cabin is a family-friendly spot offering soft serve with mix-ins and a variety of other items, like parfaits, sandwiches and smoothies. The mix-ins range in fanciness: You can get something like chocolate-covered marionberry cheesecake or an ice cream version of a Heath Bar or Butterfinger. For my money, the affogato is the way to go here, served in a cup with espresso poured on top—The Cabin uses beans from Longbottom in Hillsboro for its coffee. The treat is a rich complement to the excellent view of the Gorge and the mighty Columbia from the patio as you contemplate the majesty of your weekend.

Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)
Bingen & White Salmon (Allison Barr)


Chips Bar & Grill - The Pittsburgh salad $15

Columbia Gorge Bakery - Take-and-bake gluten-free pizza $20

Schreiner Farms - Drive-thru tour Free!

This story appeared as part of Oregon Summer, our annual free magazine out now all over Portland. See where to pick one up here.

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