Destination Weddings in the Gorge

It's almost too beautiful for words–so why not get married there?

The Columbia River Gorge is a true natural wonder, with majestic coverage of 4,000-foot cliffs, towering forests, wildflower meadows and the largest concentration of waterfalls in North America. Stretching from Troutdale to Biggs, Oregon (and from Vancouver to Maryhill on the Washington side), this 85-mile-long region practically breeds inspiration—making it the perfect backdrop for romance.

It’s no surprise, then, that people have been drawn to the beauty and abundance of the area for years. The canyon was carved by geological activity over 40 million years ago, but it wasn’t until Lewis & Clark traversed the Columbia River in 1805 that the fourth largest river in the country was put on the map. Native American canoes gave way to steamboat excursions from Portland until the Historic Columbia River Highway, the first of its kind in the country, was completed in 1922.

Today, the Gorge is a world-renowned destination for outdoor recreation. So when it comes to your wedding weekend, you have your choice: Windsurfing, hiking, kayaking, rafting, fishing, skiing on Mt. Hood are all at your fingertips. If your sport is wine tasting, the area boasts several vineyards (most of which double as reception sites). The best part? Although they attract 650,000 tourists a year, the area’s main towns of Hood River and Stevenson, Washington maintain their small-town charm.

After spending time with the amazing wedding vendors here, who all have an unbridled passion for the area, we can see why couples come from far (Japan, Germany) and near (the magic is just 45 minutes from Portland) to make the Gorge a part of their wedding. Between the beauty and the amenities, it truly is a gem.

Ceremony and Reception Sites

  • Multnomah Falls Lodge The 620-foot Multnomah Falls cascading down Larch Mountain may compete a little with your veil, but with the rushing water providing the music for your ceremony, we doubt you’ll complain. In 2007, the U.S. Forest Service relaxed regulations at the spot in Bridal Veil, Oregon, so you can now get married with the second largest year-round waterfall in the background; the designated outdoor area seats 50. Couples can also get hitched inside the Lodge, built in 1925, and hors d’oeuvres receptions are available in both venues as well as the restaurant.
  • Stonehedge Gardens Six acres of private forest in Hood River set the stage for your wedding at turn-of-the-century estate Stonehedge Gardens. Prepare for the big day in the secluded Bridal Cottage, then meet your man at the lush wedding grotto. For a cozy winter wedding, you can also exchange vows in front of the Craftsman home’s fireplace. The wedding packages are all-inclusive, featuring award-winning appetizers and dinner from the on-site restaurant. 
  • Skamania Lodge Skamania Lodge is the largest hotel on the Washington side of the Gorge (in Stevenson) with 254 guest rooms. Yep, you can probably put up all your guests at Skamania. Though the location is expansive, with 22,000 square feet of event space inside and over 40,000 square feet outside, you’ll get personal attention from the staff’s wedding consultant.
  • Aspen Creek Park Aspen Creek, an extension of Steve and Judy Richter’s 23-acre wholesale nursery in Hood River, gives brides access to unlimited and free use of shrubs and potted flowers to personalize their outdoor wedding; they’ll even grow flowers for you with enough advance notice! Since they opened last fall with one wedding, they’ve already booked 14 for 2008—and although the location is a little remote, it’s easy to see why!
  • Mt. Hood Organic Farms Consistently called one of the most breathtaking venues by the various vendors we spoke with, Mt. Hood Organic Farms is a world unto itself. The working 200-acre farm in the quaint “community” of Mt. Hood (basically the Mt. Hood country store) features dramatic views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier; apple and pear orchards; a three-acre lake; and English, herb and vegetable gardens. Weddings are more do-it-yourself here—but that just means more flexibility! 
  • Gorge Crest Vineyards The breathtaking Gorge Crest (across the river in Underwood, WA) is fabulously quaint. The surroundings—it’s been a farm and orchard girded by vineyards, forest and mountain views for most of the past century—now feature modern buildings that house an winery and event space with stone fireplace, not to mention extensive manicured lawns and cobblestone patios. 
  • Columbia Gorge Hotel Built in 1921 to be the final destination of the Columbia River Highway, this restored Mediterranean-style villa outside of Hood River is a true destination—75 percent of the couples getting hitched here come from the East Coast, according to Director of Weddings Teresa Ellifritz. Think natural beauty (sweeping cliff views, a 208-foot waterfall) meets vintage Hollywood glamour (Clara Bow and Valentino were guests).
  • The Dalles Ranch As outdoorsy as you may be, you’re still going to want elegance and comfort on your wedding day. The Dalles Ranch features a rustic setting with Ponderosa pines and classic cabin architecture, but also houses an eight-person hot tub, Finnish spa, gourmet kitchen, state-of-the-art movie theater, wine room and both indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa This Washington resort has it all, including rejuvenating natural mineral hot springs that have been used for healing for centuries. Choose from smaller indoor spaces for up to 50 guests, or an outdoor lawn or patio to accommodate up to 200 people.   

Rehearsal Dinners & Catering

  • Celilo If you’re getting married in the great outdoors, you may have a soft spot for the environment. Celilo does, too, embodying sustainable practices from start to finish, from recycled wood trellises in the LEED-compliant space, to bio-diesel made from their used vegetable oil and locally-sourced ingredients in the seasonal Northwest dishes. Located in downtown Hood River, you can rent out the entire restaurant for up to 80 guests or just the dining room for 30 or less.
  • 3 Rivers Grill The casual yet refined 3 Rivers Grill serves Northwest cuisine with a French flair—think flambéed seared scallops with fennel and horseradish crema, or trout almondine. The two-story house includes a fireside bar and an outdoor deck and patio overlooking the river, all on Oak Street in downtown Hood River.
  • Cork and Bottle Catering The exceptional bounty of the Hood River Valley makes catering exquisite meals a snap, according to husband and wife team Talia and Dave Hammond.  Their unique presentations —oh, like cheese platters served on granite birdbaths—are almost as memorable as the flavors themselves. Cork and Bottle offers many catering options to fit any budget, from buffet to family-style or formal sit-down.

Invitations

  • Love Notes While helping to coordinate weddings at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, Heather Sullivan found that one thing was missing from the process: personalized stationery. “People didn’t even know they needed that,” says Heather about what she calls “the paper trail,” including save the dates, programs, seating charts, menus and more. In addition to giving you a custom design, Heather’s established relationships in the industry mean she’s an invaluable resource.

Flowers

  • Lucy’s Informal Flowers After 20 years of working weddings in the Gorge, Lucy Gorman knows her details. For example, the high winds mean place cards must be secured and battery-operated candles used instead of flame. All arrangements are custom, leaning toward modern, elegant styles that use natural and organic materials grown in the Gorge. Lucy also encourages a hands-on attitude, welcoming brides to provide unconventional containers or let the bridesmaids make their own bouquets via a personally taught flower arranging class.

Coordinators

  • I Do Events After 15 years of large event production, Leith Gaines married a windsurfer and moved to Hood River (a familiar story with nearly all the vendors we met). The slower pace and more intimate setting brought her to wedding planning, where she’s become something of a counselor as well as a coordinator. “People get really wrapped up in the details, the money and the parents, and they forget that this is their day. I spend a lot of time keeping them on track,” Leith explains.
  • Columbia Gorge Weddings Teresa Ellifritz’s name comes up in nearly every conversation about weddings in the Gorge. Through her work at Columbia Gorge Hotel and this private company she opened in 2005, Teresa has brought together many local vendors and marketed the area on a national level…So let’s just say she knows her stuff. A self-described Type-A personality, she infuses attention to detail with creativity to incorporate elements of high-end weddings at a more affordable price.

Photographers

  • Columbia Gorge Images We’re pretty sure Kevin Donald could talk about the beauty of the Gorge for hours. After 30 years working on extreme video shoots for the likes of IMAX and National Geographic, Kevin now stays hyperaware, not for wild animals, but for those candid moments the bride and groom miss. “My job is to capture what goes on outside their realm of perception, to fill in all those gaps for them,” he explains.
  • Semlor Images Jim Semlor got married in the Gorge, but still balked when first asked to shoot a wedding there ten years ago. But when the former sports-action photographer says, “I’m a sucker for good love,” it’s no surprise he fell for wedding photography. Jim brings a personal touch to his process, getting to know the family’s first names, and intuiting what the important moments are for each couple. “By the end, I’m like a friend with a fancy camera,” he jokes.

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