The Gorgeous Charms of the Gorge
Stretching over 80 miles west to east from Troutdale to Biggs Junction, Oregon (and from just west of North Bonneville to Maryhill on the Washington side), the Columbia River Gorge is the land that time forgot. A natural wonderland with towering mountain ranges, waterfalls, rich farmland, forests and the steep walls of the gorge itself created from millennia of geological activity, it’s a dramatic backdrop for a wedding. “I’ve traveled all over the world, and there is no place like the gorge,” says Hood River wedding photographer, Jim Semlor. “It’s just grand on every level.” And, just an hour’s drive from Portland and its airport, the area feels like a destination spot without the requisite travel time. From vineyards and farms, to historic hotels, quaint towns, ranches and more, the Columbia River Gorge provides an array of backdrops for a stunningly romantic celebration.
“The gorge bride is a multifaceted bride who loves the outdoors and is down-to-earth,” says Mari-Beth Guenther, owner of Gorge Events in Hood River. “She wants her guests to have a mini-vacation alongside the celebration.” Nationally known for its Columbia River windsurfing, the gorge is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts wanting to partake in everything from kayaking to hiking. Leisure is also encouraged with wine tasting at area vineyards, drives along the scenic highway, and exploration of the quaint towns of Hood River and Mosier.
All-Inclusive Reception Sites
Built in 1921, the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River is one of the most popular venues along the gorge. Nestled on a cliff overlooking the Columbia River, the hotel is a historic yet swanky venue for couples looking for some Jazz Age pizzazz complemented by the area’s natural beauty. Trina Serdar, the hotel’s event manager, says the hotel “has been kept to its original grandeur” by restoring and retaining many of the original architectural elements. The hotel accommodates up to 150 guests indoors or 250 guests in one of the spectacular outdoor settings. The Pointe Lawn, a favorite for many brides, has a paved walkway and manicured gardens overlooking the Columbia River and a 208-foot waterfall. For a more intimate ceremony, consider the Valentino Lounge named after the Silent Screen lothario Rudolph Valentino, rumored to have once stayed at the hotel. Along with its richly romantic vibe, Gorge Hotel is also known for its the service-oriented staff and their attention to detail—from personalized menus created at Simon’s Cliff House, the award-winning restaurant, to the hotel’s new spa that provides hair and makeup services for the bridal party.
For a truly unique-to-Oregon wedding, consider the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which showcases its namesake, the spectacular 620-foot, must-see destination waterfall for out-of-town visitors. “The lodge provides a nice place for the aesthetics of the wedding and also entertains guests while they are here,” says general manager Mark Davenport of the variety of hiking and sightseeing opportunities around the falls. A short hike to the Benson Footbridge is an ideal spot where couples can get married in full view of the falls. Back at the lodge, the outdoor wedding space framed by rod-iron fencing on the main plaza has a view of the waterfall and can hold 50 guests. Inside, the Great Room reception area accommodates up to 125 guests. With high vaulted ceilings, rustic stone walls, historic photography from the Pacific Northwest, a large wood burning fireplace and view of Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River, this is truly a Pacific Northwest experience. In addition, the Lodge provides full-service setups, with table and chair rentals and catering from their on-site restaurant, Multnomah Falls Dining Room.
When it comes to celebrating in the great outdoors, simplicity is often the best policy. At least this is the policy of Mt. Hood Organic Farms (pictured right; photo by Gabriel Boone) owner Brady Jacobson, whose 200-acre secluded organic orchard and farm is surrounded by the Mount Hood National Forest and features views of Mount Hood. “It feels a million miles away,” Jacobson says. A working farm since the turn of the 20th century, the farm hosts only one event per day on both Saturday and Sunday, giving guests full rein of its extensive gardens, orchards and water features with many of the original farm buildings now converted into reception areas. Catering and rentals are available on site (outside vendors are welcome as well) with a maximum of 200 guests. When it’s time for the reception feast, consider using the farm’s Apple House that sits on a plateau with Mount Hood in the background. Jacobson loves how weddings at the farm bring people together. “Put people in a natural setting and feed them good food, and you’ve never seen people so happy.” The natural beauty of Mt. Hood Organic Farms lends itself to more minimalist décor, Jacobson says, so couples can achieve their own spectacular vision of a wedding without doing much at all. Nature is in its own element at the farms, a romantic getaway for couples wanting a down-to-earth celebration.
Venue variety is not an issue in the gorge as two more favorites can attest. Gorge Crest Vineyards in Underwood, Washington, showcases a spectacular view of Mount Hood and acres of vineyards, orchards and forest. Event areas (for a maximum of 150 guests) are extensive, including a newly renovated traditional winery building, an indoor space with a stone fireplace, an outdoor dance floor, manicured lawns and cobblestone patios—all with a mountain view. The Dalles Ranch, just south of The Dalles, is an elegant wilderness retreat providing a low-key, rustic wedding experience surrounded by Ponderosa pine trees, ponds and Mount Hood. Cedar decking and ledge stone walls complement this mountain romance spot that can accommodate 150 guests outdoors and 75 indoors with camping facilities available.
Gorge Wedding Resources
- Bridal Veil Post Office This tiny town’s equally tiny post office hand-stamps thousands of wedding invitations a year for couples all over Oregon and beyond.
- Columbia Gorge Weddings Teresa Ellifritz is the local go-to gal for weddings with 10 years of experience and meticulous event execution.
- Gorge Events Mari-Beth Guenther is a local to the gorge and specializes in eclectic, outdoor weddings featuring vintage or rustic elements and reimagined traditional wedding details, such as this twist on the guest book: signing corks and putting them in an empty wine bottle.
- Plum and Honey Owner Stephanie Antoinette conducts a special bridal interview to create a fun, unique and personal story line for the ceremony and reception.
- Jim Semlor Photographers Over the last decade, Jim Semlor has become a highly sought-after boutique wedding photographer on the West Coast, creating memorable albums inspired by his background in photojournalism.
- PhotoVlado Photographer Vlado Sklenar’s images pop with the saturated colors of the gorge’s natural surroundings while maintaining a palatable romantic feel that never feels staged.
- Blaine and Bethany Photography This Hood River-based husband-and-wife team approach every wedding with youthful enthusiasm backed by serious artistic bona fides (they met while studying photography in California). The result? Sunny and blissfully happy images.
- LarvickMedia Captures the small wedding memories that are forgotten along the way and specializes in creating a five-minute highlight reel of the day.
- Hood River Hotel Located in downtown Hood River, the 100-year-old European inn-style hotel is within walking distance of local wineries or breweries.
- Oak Street Hotel A former mansion turned nine-room hotel, also located in downtown Hood River, Oak Street boasts private and collective spaces for bridal parties.
- Hood River Tours Shuttle out-of-town guests in passenger vans or large buses to wedding sites and wine tours.
- Connie’s Carriages Ride up in style in a carriage, Amish courting buggy or other horse-drawn conveyances.
- Sweet Memories Vintage Rentals Rent timeless, vintage pieces (furniture, cameras, suitcases, mason jars, etc.) for wedding décor. Creating fun photo booth backdrops is one of their favorite projects.
- Lucy’s Informal Flowers Lucy’s uses local flowers in at least 80 percent of their designs, focusing on local growers and suiting the venue.
- Tammy’s Floral Tammy’s creates natural, locally grown floral designs utilizing natural elements such as mosses, ferns and twigs.
- Cork and Bottle Catering Local, simple, and gourmet, Cork and Bottle provides a great introduction to the “honest to goodness” food in the area.
- South Bank Kitchen Catering Offering fresh, local and sustainable food, South Bank creates customized menus for each couple.
- Celilo Restaurant and Catering Celilo Catering is committed to ecological food and sustainability with a well-honed, experienced catering team.
- Love Notes Creates customized one-of-a-kind wedding stationery featuring a full line of recycled papers and traditional design with a modern twist.
- Flourish Design Local graphic designer specializing in old-style letterpress invitations and recycled products.