Carson WA: 9 Things to Do in This Serene River Gorge Town

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Things to Do in This Serene River Gorge Town - Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Toss in a line in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and explore the mountain streams. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

Planning a trip to the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest? Take a look on the north side of the river in Carson, Washington for aromatic coffee shops, terrific rental homes and cabins, and friendly residents. Incredible views of the river, nearby mountains, and lush, green trees as far as the eye can see are hallmarks of this area.

You’ll find Carson attractions like wineries and meaderies, and some of the best things to do in the Columbia River Gorge are within a stone’s throw.  If you haven’t seen this slice of America, be sure to put a pin in Carson as a must-stop town. Here are the top things to do and see in Carson, Washington, in the heart of the Gorge.

Where in the World is Carson WA?

If you fly into Portland, Oregon, and pop over to the Washington side via the Bridge of the Gods, it will take you about an hour to get to Carson. With a population of less than 3,000, Carson may sound like a tiny town; however, it’s adjacent to the bustling, active Columbia River Gorge Recreation area.

On your way to Carson, stop at Cascade Locks before passing over the bridge to switch states. Grab a bite at Thunder Island Brewing Company first! I highly recommend the buffalo cauliflower followed by a blackened chicken “sando,” or sandwich, washed down with a strawberry cider. On your way back to the airport, stop at Backwoods Brewing Company for a hand-tossed pizza or slow-roasted brisket. And there are vegetarian and vegan options in both places.

Either way, you’re going to want to travel the Historic Columbia River Highway and catch a glimpse of Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of many waterfalls in that corridor.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing, small-town vacation or an activity-filled adventure, Carson is the gateway to all of it. It’s easy to stay in the Carson area and explore from there or rest your head in nearby Stevenson, Mount Hood, or even Portland. Either way, mark Carson as a place you want to stop because it oozes friendly charm. My family and I have been there, so take a look at this list of the top 9 things to do and see in Carson, Washington.

Things to Do in This Serene River Gorge Town - Relax and enjoy some tea as you look out over the river toward Oregon in Carson
Relax and enjoy some tea as you look out over the river toward Oregon in Carson, Washington. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

1. Start your day with coffee from Crosscut Espresso and Deli

Each morning that we headed out to explore a new trailhead, we stopped at Crosscut Espresso and Deli for sustenance. This adorable cafe offers delicious, freshly brewed coffee, tea, and other beverages along with food and snacks. The prices are fair, and it’s easy to find along Wind River Highway. Just a few doors down from Backwoods Brewing Company and Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins, Crosscut represents the town perfectly.

2. Explore Gifford Pinchot National Forest

From Carson, head north on Wind River Highway and veer toward this gorgeous national forest. Roads are well-marked and offer easy paved routes as well as rustic dirt paths. Be sure to grab a topographical map from the Wind River Market to find your way. Pack a lunch and make it a day trip; there is so much natural beauty to see.

3. Check out the fish hatcheries

Established in the 1930s, the Carson National Fish Hatchery raises and releases more than 1.5 million Chinook salmon into the Columbia River every year to keep the ecosystem strong. Just north of Carson, this fish hatchery is inside of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s really hopping from May to August when the fish ladder opens and adult salmon teem by. If you’re heading over toward the Bridge of the Gods and Cascade Locks, take a detour to Bonneville for the Bonneville Fish Hatchery there.

4. Soak in one of the hot springs

Stay overnight or just come and soak in the relaxing waters of Carson Mineral Hot Springs. This historic site has been a steady presence in Carson for more than a century, and thousands of people have flocked here to find healing and rest. Some rooms at the Carson Hot Springs Golf and Spa Resort have private tubs filled with mineral water, or you can take a dip in the bathhouse or mineral therapy pool. Ahhhh.

5. Swing a club or two

In Carson, Elk Ridge Golf Course is a gorgeous par 71 golf course with 18 holes and 40 bunkers. Set against the backdrop of the Columbia River Gorge, Elk Ridge Golf Course is open to all, with a simple internet interface to reserve a tee time. When you’re not golfing, you’ll want to take a break at the on-site restaurant and nibble on some delicious truffle fries, a tender microbrew braised bratwurst, or even eggs and bacon if you’re there around brunch time.

6. Where to Eat in Carson WA

Backwoods Brewery

There are several restaurants between Carson and Stevenson, and even more in Hood River to the east and Cascade Locks to the west.

Carson is a cozy town with a few options, and others nearby include:

  • Red Bluff Tap House– We stumbled upon the Red Bluff Tap House on our way into Carson, and this Stevenson staple is a gem. Service is top notch and they were both kind and knowledgeable about food allergies, which both my son and I have to deal with.
  • Big River Grill – Looking for a casual spot to dine between activities? The Big River Grill is in downtown Carson, serving hamburgers, fresh salmon cakes, and more for a reasonable price. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are available.
Things to Do in This Serene River Gorge Town - Panther Creek Falls
Choose the lower, easier route to Panther Creek Falls for a relaxing hike or the upper route for a more challenging option. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

7. Take a hike

Hiking spots are available for all levels of ability in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Those who are more experienced will not want to miss Falls Creek Falls, which is about 30 minutes from Carson. Getting to Falls Creek Falls requires a 6-mile hike and more than an hour of your time, and the reward is a gorgeous waterfall you don’t want to miss.

Dog Creek Falls is another great hiking area. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and worth a stop to wander. And Panther Creek Falls is inside the national forest with two hiking options: one easy route to the lower falls, and a more challenging option to the upper falls. We tried both and found ourselves pausing to stare at the gorgeous water from both angles.

8. Skip over to Cook to see alpacas

About a 20-minute drive from Carson, Cedar Creek Alpacas is a family-friendly stop on your Columbia River Gorge itinerary. The farm offers educational tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and private tours by appointment. Alpacas are incredibly soft and friendly, and you’ll discover how their wool is spun into luxurious garments and accessories while you’re there.

9. Visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center

Near Carson in Stevenson, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center is a great place to learn about the history of Skamania County and the Gorge itself. Here, we found interesting collections that are uniquely local to the area and rich stories told in petroglyph/pictograph form by the Chinookan People. The art in this museum is breathtaking. If you can, take a look at the calendar for upcoming events to see what’s happening while you’re visiting. And don’t leave without making a stop at the gift shop, where you’ll find wonderful and unusual things to bring home to loved ones.

Things to Do in This Serene River Gorge Town - Our VRBO between Carson and Stevenson
Our VRBO between Carson and Stevenson, Washington was an absolute dream. Plus we had our trusty Land Rover to get us from home to adventures in no time. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

Hotels Near Carson

We found an incredible house via in Skamania County, close to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and an easy drive from Portland. It was absolutely perfect and we were sad to leave! Other options include the Carson Hotel and Spa, complete with your own mineral springs bath, if you like, and Skamania Lodge is just up the highway in Stevenson (tip: book the zip line tour!).

Things to Do in This Serene River Gorge Town - The Land Rover Defender carries all of your outdoor gear
The Land Rover Defender carries all of your outdoor gear with room to spare and can take you all over the Carson, Washington area in style. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

What to Drive in Carson, Washington

When you’re headed out to the Great Outdoors, you need a vehicle capable enough to handle whatever you might encounter. My family and I piloted a Land Rover Defender with a four-wheel drive and plenty of luxury and room. We carried our luggage, and fly fishing gear, and packed a lunch every day for our adventures, and it was exactly what we needed.

Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, adventurer, and motorsports competitor with bylines at Popular Science, Edmunds, The Drive, Motor1, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Forbes Wheels, U.S. News and World Report, GearJunkie, and more. Her work on parenting and relationships has been featured often at The Washington Post and the TODAY show site. Follow Kristin on these channels: Instagram Facebook LinkedIn TikTok
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