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Author explains why now is the 'finest time' to hike the Columbia River Gorge

A panoramic view of Dog Mountain with yellow flowers in the foreground in the Columbia River Gorge
Craig Romano
Among the majestic sites in the Columbia River Gorge is Dog Mountain

If you had to pick someone to lead a hike in the Northwest, it might be Craig Romano. The Skagit County resident has written more than 25 guidebooks on the subject. His latest publication is Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge, full of detailed maps, routes and advice for experts and novice hikers alike.

It also details some of the changes that have taken place in the Columbia River Gorge through the years. The book comes out at an ideal time for hikers to hit the trails.

“Particularly in the Gorge, spring is probably the finest time to be hiking that area because of the waterfalls and the wildflowers, the two combined,” said Romano. “The waterfalls are a little more peak during the fall/winter, but there's good flow right now, and the wildflowers are exceptional.”

Interview Highlights

What makes the Columbia River Gorge a one-of-a-kind experience

Well, for one thing, it is the lowest gap in the Cascades; it's the only place where the Cascades pretty much, you can cross over at sea level. So that alone makes it exceptional. The other thing I should mention is one of my favorite regions in Washington, that you're only going to find in the Gorge is the pine-oak savanna. And this is particularly in Klickitat County. It’s an amazing ecosystem, very biologically diverse.

On what the National Scenic Area designation has meant

Oh, it's made all the difference. It was a huge battle in the 1980s. And when it was signed into law in 1986, it was actually the largest piece of environmental legislation for preservation that Ronald Reagan signed. He was not a big fan of expanding the park system or anything like that. So getting this through, required some amazing political maneuvering. There certainly were a lot of people that opposed it.

In retrospect, many of the people that opposed it look back and realize that it was one of the best things to happen to the region, especially with the explosive growth in the Portland-Vancouver area, where urban sprawl would certainly have compromised it.

A photograph of Wahclella Falls surrounded by rocks with a blue sky and trees overhead
Craig Romano
Craig Romano writes that Wahclella Falls in the Western Gorge in Oregon, orginally known as Tanner Creek Falls, was re-named after an old Native American village by the Mazamas, a mountaineering group.

On researching such an extensive and detailed guidebook

That's the best part of my job. The fun is actually going out and doing the research. I hike everything I write about. And I do all the photography, I track, I do sketch maps.

On what a book talk looks like for a guidebook

I put together a PowerPoint presentation, kind of capturing some of the best parts of the Gorge. One of the things I love when I'm doing these talks is if I have a couple people who are very seasoned, perhaps they might be a little skeptical that they may know it already. And then at the end having those people come up to me and say, ‘you know, I've lived in this region my entire life. I didn't even know these places existed.’

Romano is the author of more than two dozen hiking guidebooks, including his latest, Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge. He will be speaking at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park on Tuesday, May 28 and giving more book talks throughout June.

Emil Moffatt joined KNKX in October 2022 as All Things Considered host/reporter. He came to the Puget Sound area from Atlanta where he covered the state legislature, the 2021 World Series and most recently, business and technology as a reporter for WABE. Contact him at