The Gorge! Technically, “the gorge” is an entire area surrounding the Columbia River. To Dave Matthews Band fans, it’s three nights of magic over Labor Day Weekend.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to “Labor Dave Weekend” three times now. Each time has been a little different, but each time has been an amazing trip. Not only are you surrounded by beautiful views, but you get to hear three nights of fantastic music with 27,000 of your DMB friends.
Getting to the Gorge is not easy. Most of us have to travel from all different parts of the country and the world. It takes money. There is also a lot of planning involved. But, once you’re there, it is one of those priceless experiences that you will never forget.
In this post, I’m not going to cover the details of getting to the Gorge. There are plenty of resources out there to help you with that, including a couple of great Facebook pages like Pilgrimage to the Gorge and DMB @ The Gorge. If you have specific questions, I’m certainly happy to answer them, so shoot me an e-mail (my contact info is at the bottom) or comment on this post.
Instead, I’m going to share with you my Top 10 Tips for your Gorge trip. So, if you’re ready to plan your trip for Labor Day Weekend 2019, keep reading!
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GORGE TIP #1 – WALK THE HILL
If you enter the main gates at the Gorge, you will start walking down a path. There are food vendors and various tents along the way. Shortly after entering, you will come to a fork in the road. If you have pit tickets or reserved seats, the path to the right takes you to where you need to go. If you have lawn tickets, the path to the left takes you to the top of the lawn.
NO MATTER WHICH TICKETS YOU HAVE, TAKE THE PATH TO THE LEFT!
When you get to the top of the hill, you will be at the back of the lawn. As you walk over the crest, the entire amphitheater appears with the Columbia River and gorge behind it.
I am not a very emotional person but walking over that crest the first time is enough to take anyone’s breath away. In the years that we’ve been going, I’ve seen people cry. I’ve seen people fall to their knees. There are always multiple marriage proposals that take place. And of course, tons and tons of pictures. It’s a moment not to be missed!
GORGE TIP #2 – GO TO THE LOOKOUT
I’m not sure if the official name is “the lookout”, but that’s what we always call it. Next to the stage (if you are looking at the stage, it will be on the left), there is a bar area. You have to be 21 to enter, but you don’t have to buy a drink once you are in.
Once you are in the area, make your way towards the back. There is a little deck that looks out over the Columbia River and into the gorge. It’s another great photo op. Make sure to look to your right at the stage while you’re there as well. You’ll be amazed at how it’s built into the landscape. Hint: Let’s hope Carter never decides to roll backwards from his drum kit!
GORGE TIP #3 – GET THE TERIYAKI NOODLES
The first time we went to the Gorge, we were leaving the venue after N1 and decided we were hungry. We had to drive back to Moses Lake, and we knew there wouldn’t be any food options open once we got back. So, we saw a stand selling teriyaki noodles and stopped to grab some. OMG!!!!!
Getting teriyaki noodles became our “after show” tradition every night. Every time we get ready for another trip to the Gorge, we talk about getting the teriyaki noodles. I personally recommend getting them spicy and with chicken. We like to linger after the show and let the traffic clear out anyway, so getting a bowl of the teriyaki noodles is a great way to spend the time rather than fighting the crowd.
You will find the noodles at a couple of stands among the food vendors. Just a word of warning though. This past year, they ran out of noodles on N1 and were closed by the time we made our way there on N3. Don’t take your chances and get them before the show! If they have them after the show, that’s a bonus and you can have them a second time.
GORGE TIP #4 – HYDRATION STATIONS
The Gorge is in the desert. It will be hot and dry during the day. Drink water. Lots and lots of water. We take our water bottles with us into the venue (you can take them in if they are empty). Alternatively, you can find someone from Reverb and donate to get a water bottle at the venue.
There are plenty of hydration stations located throughout the venue. Fill up and drink lots of water. I can’t emphasize it enough. I’ve seen too many people who don’t make it through a show because their idea of hydrating is drinking beer or wine instead of water.
GORGE TIP #5 – VISIT CAVE B WINERY
Cave B Winery is located right next to the venue. There is also a Cave B Resort & Spa, but that is off limits over the weekend as the band rents the entire place out. But, the winery is open for business and tons of DMB fans hang out there all weekend.
The views are breathtaking, and the wine is pretty good too. You can do a tasting (this year it was $10 to taste 6 wines) or just buy a bottle to enjoy. Since we were last there in 2016, they added a stage as well. They held an open mic and lots of fans got the chance to show off their musical talents.
You can access the winery by car off the main road, or you can walk from the parking lot (near Gold camping). Just look for the sign along the path that says “Wine Tasting”.
GORGE TIP #6 – YOU DON’T HAVE TO CAMP
I don’t camp. One of my biggest pet peeves is that a lot of people say you aren’t experiencing the Gorge unless you camp all weekend. This just isn’t true, and I hate the fact that people try to guilt others that don’t want to camp into thinking they have to.
There are plenty of other options to camping. You can stay in hotels in Moses Lake or other nearby towns. There are also houses and condos you can rent in Crescent Bar/Crescent Bay or Quincy. Yes, you will have to get in your car and drive back to your hotel or house, rather than getting on a shuttle or walking to your campsite. But, you will also go back to a nice bed and a hot shower.
I have stayed in a hotel in Moses Lake twice, and a house in Crescent Bay once. I never felt that I didn’t get a full Gorge experience. That’s what works for me, and it might work for you too. My advice? You do you and don’t let anyone shame you into thinking your experience is not as good as their experience.
GORGE TIP #7 – CAMP IF YOU WANT TO
I have true respect for the people that camp. When you camp you have to figure out how to get your gear there, rent supplies (or even an RV), set up camp, cook your own food, etc. It’s a lot of planning and work.
There is no doubt that the campgrounds is a fun place to be. It’s you and thousands of your DMB friends hanging out in one big party. So, if you are someone who can tough the cold, brave the honey buckets and showers, and figure out how to fit all your camping gear into one checked bag, you should do it!
GORGE TIP #8 – SPEND SOME TIME IN SEATTLE
Most people going to the Gorge fly in and out of Seattle. While there are other options, it’s the biggest airport in the area so it tends to be easier to get in and out of. I’ll save some of my specific tips on Seattle for another article, but my general advice is to spend a little extra time there if you can.
At a minimum, if you are flying into Seattle, I highly recommend flying in the night before you intend to leave for the Gorge. I also highly recommend spending a night back in Seattle before you head back home (we always drive back to Seattle on Monday and fly out Tuesday). The drive from Seattle to the Gorge is a couple hours on a good day. Over Labor Day Weekend, traffic can be brutal.
So, give yourself some extra time and enjoy everything the city has to offer!
GORGE TIP #9 – MAKE SOME PIT STOPS ON THE WAY
This tip sort of goes with the one above. Give yourself some extra time on your way out to the Gorge or back and make some stops. You can take a scenic drive through the Mt. Rainier area and do some hiking or just get some great pictures.
For the first time this year, we made a stop in Leavenworth, WA. It’s about an hour outside of the Gorge and is this cute German-themed town. There are lots of wineries, breweries, restaurants and shops. We could have spent a day there instead of the couple of hours we were able to spend. Next time we will plan on staying there longer!
GORGE TIP #10 – MAKE THIS A TRUE VACATION AND VISIT THE AREA
If you haven’t been to the Pacific Northwest, it’s a beautiful part of the country. If you can take the extra time and have the extra money, turn your Gorge trip into a vacation. We’ve done this all three trips and have always had a fantastic time.
Our first trip, we focused on the state of Washington and drove what felt like the whole state. We visited wine country in Walla Walla and Yakima and spent a few days in Seattle.
For our second trip, we focused more on Oregon. We spent some time in the Willamette Valley doing wine tastings and discovered the cute town of Hood River, OR.
This trip we spent more time in Portland, made a stop in Bend to see DMB, and went back to Hood River. I’ll be sharing more details on what we did this trip in an upcoming article.
Bottom line is there is a bunch to see. In our three trips, we haven’t even scratched the surface. So, make your trip a true Davecation!
Before I wrap it up, I have one more unofficial tip – Enjoy It! Some people are lucky enough to make their pilgrimage to the Gorge every year. Personally, we try to make it an every other year event. But I know that many of you will only have the chance to do it once.
Like any vacation, you plan for months and months. As it gets closer, you get more and more anxious about it happening. Suddenly the weekend has arrived and before you know it, it’s all over. So take it all in. Do the trip the way you want to do the trip. That might mean camping, or it might mean staying in a hotel. It might mean standing in line all day to get on the rail, or it might mean chilling out on the lawn every night. There is no “right” way to do the Gorge. My personal mantra is “just buy the tickets”. In this instance, buy the tickets and make your pilgrimage to the Gorge. You won’t regret it!
Have you been to the Gorge? Any tips you would add? Are you dreaming of going? Let us know what you think by commenting below or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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