National Scenic Area

Columbia River Gorge


The spectacularly beautiful Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area stretches 85 miles and includes portions of three Oregon and three Washington counties. Formed by ancient volcanoes and sculpted by incredible floods, the Columbia River Gorge carves an impressive corridor through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington as the great Columbia River flows to the Pacific Ocean. As the only sea-level route from the Great Basin to the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River Gorge is a land of contrasts. The western Gorge, with an average annual rainfall of 75 inches, is a place of misty mountains, rich forestlands and more waterfalls than any area in the country. The eastern Gorge, with an annual rainfall of less than 15 inches, is a place of rim-rock bluffs, rolling hills, farms and ranchlands.



The Columbia River Gorge is renowned for its spectacular beauty, and cultural resources and geologic history. The Gorge's scenic resources span a diverse array of landscapes including rain forests, rolling farmlands and semi-arid grasslands. Cultural resources, epitomized by the Indian petroglyph “She Who Watches,” trace a human history in the Gorge that is 10,000 years old. They include prehistoric sites and historic structures. Natural Resources include wildlife, plants, streams, lakes, wetlands and riparian corridors that are found in abundance throughout the National Scenic Area. And then there is recreation . . . The National Scenic Area is known worldwide for the variety and quality of recreational opportunities: windsurfing, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, kiteboarding, and rafting on the two Wild and Scenic Rivers—the Klickitat and White Salmon Rivers in Washington.


three distinct areas

The National Scenic Area is categorized into three areas: Special Management AreasGeneral Management AreaUrban Areas.

Special Management Areas cover approximately 114,600 acres and contain some of the Gorge’s most sensitive resources. Special Management Areas are managed by the US Forest Service National Scenic Area Office in Hood River, Oregon.

The General Management Area covers approximately 149,400 acres of land and all of the Columbia River – which contain a mixture of land uses including farming, logging, cattle grazing, public recreation and rural residential uses. Development on private lands is administered by Columbia River Gorge counties and the Gorge Commission in Klickitat County, Washington. Development on Federal lands is reviewed by the U.S. Forest Service National Scenic Area Office.

Thirteen Urban Areas are exempt from Scenic Area regulations: Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles in Oregon, and North Bonneville, Stevenson, Carson, Home Valley, White Salmon, Bingen, Lyle, Dallesport and Wishram in Washington. Lands held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are also exempt from National Scenic Area regulation.

columbia river gorge

national scenic area act

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 17, 1986. The Act mandates the protection and enhancement of scenic, cultural, natural and recreation resources and the protection and support of the Gorge economy. A total of 292,500 acres were designated for special protection on both sides of the Columbia from the outskirts of Portland-Vancouver in the west to the semi-arid regions of Wasco and Klickitat counties in the east.

View the National Scenic Area Act 

the place to

live, work & play

The Columbia River Gorge is more than just great scenery; it’s a place where thousands of people live, work and play. One thing that differentiates the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area from national parks and monuments is land ownership, as nearly half of the lands in the Scenic Area are in private ownership. Since the National Scenic Area was created, land uses were designated to be compatible with the intent of the Act and a Management Plan was adopted to guide land development decisions.  Any new proposed developments outside the urban area boundaries are reviewed for impacts to the protected resources. The National Scenic Area attracts more than 2.5 million visitors who sightsee and recreate, providing economic benefit to local communities.  In addition, the National Scenic Area attracts many new enterprises, small travel-related businesses, and industries that have created jobs for people in communities who value the quality of life that the Columbia River Gorge provides.    

Columbia River Gorge

Economic Development

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act created funds to provide grants and loans for economic development in the Gorge. Each state created an Investment Board to determine what projects are eligible for grants and loans. For specific information about the grant and loan program, contact:

In Washington: 

Washington Investment Board
c/o Skamania County Economic Development Council
P.O. Box 436
Stevenson, Washington 98648
Phone: 509-427-5110
Fax: 509-427-5122 
Click here for more information

In Oregon:

Oregon Investment Board
c/o Mid-Columbia Economic Development District
515 East 2nd Street
The Dalles, Oregon 97058
Phone: 541-296-2266
Fax: 541-296-3283 
Click here for more information 

The Commission's Role 

The Columbia River Gorge Commission's responsibility in the grant and loan program is to certify that all activities undertaken with a grant or loan are consistent with the purposes of the Act, the Gorge Management Plan, and county Scenic Area land use ordinances. The Oregon Investment Board (OIB) and Washington Investment Board (WIB) assist applicants with the certification process.