Twenty-six years ago, after years of bitter feuding between conservationists, timber town residents, and politicos, the Columbia River Gorge became one of the country’s first National Scenic Areas. The designation both protected the landscape from unfettered development, clear-cutting, and other marring, and also allowed existing communities to grow. Today more than 2 million visitors each year enjoy the trails, waterfalls, and jaw-dropping vistas that dot the protected area’s nearly 457 square miles. But they also enjoy a growing culture of wineries, restaurants, and resorts. It’s a beautiful, sometimes boisterous mix. Here we offer an insider’s guide to the best, from good-to-the-last-slurp milkshakes to soul-stirring views and hidden waterfalls that, thanks largely to the scenic area, you still can have all to yourself.