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The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is an innovative road-to-trail conversion constructed on portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway. The trail is considered to be from milepoint 14.22 at the Sandy River Bridge near Troutdale to milepoint 88 near The Dalles.
The original 75-mile vehicular route was the first major paved highway in the Pacific Northwest and the first scenic highway constructed in the United States. Following the path of the Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trails, the highway was carefully carved out of the steep cliffs of the south bank of the Columbia River between 1913 and 1922.
The road connected travelers with magnificent overlooks offering views of the Columbia River Gorge and five waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls (the most visited natural site in Oregon). It also connected Portland to the settlements of Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier, and The Dalles. During construction of Interstate 84 in the 1950s, this engineering marvel was segmented and partially destroyed, leaving only small scenic loops at both ends.
Today, the Oregon Department of Transportation is working to restore and resurrect the demolished segments as a multiuse recreational trail, enabling bikers and hikers to experience the old highway's dramatic vistas and restored historic bridges, tunnels, guardrails and beautifully arched rock masonry walls.
There are currently three sections of the trail open exclusively for bike/pedestrian use, totaling just over 13 miles:
Parking for the eastern portion of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail can be found in Mosier on Rock Creek Road and east of Hood River at the end of Old Columbia River Drive.
For the middle section of trail, parking is available at Starvation Creek State Park and Viento State Park.
To access the western segment of the trail, park at the foot of the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks.
With a little planning and a lot of will July 4th we leave Portland with intent of riding to The Dalles in 2 days. Well thanks to those before us it was relatively easy, thanks Sam Hill, Sam Lancaster and various other unnamed prison and other labor who actually did the work. And what a job it was. More recently thanks to Mark Hatfield. But either way before leaving Portland and deciding to follow the path it is now up to me. Away we go. Riding Marine Drive trail to Troutdale joining on the scenic highway now, heading as I know all uphill to Crown Point. Arriving here I know the pain is over. The George is so beautiful and stopping at the Vista house is winning for today. After enjoying the view arriving at Ainsworth Park for the night. Tomorrow press. Ainsworth to the Dalles is a serious ride and I know it. The first 8 miles beautiful bike pedestrian only. Thank you those who made this happen. Nice breakfast in Cascade Locks and love the Wheelman bike repair station, tools, tire pump just cool. Continue on the scenic highway. UNTIL we must get on interstate 3 miles, then 1 mile bike pedestrian path, then another 8 playing with cars. Hood River was welcome as I know I am done with Interstate traffic. A great lunch at Gracie Sue's place and then Switchbacks to Hatfield's signature. no cars, Moiser brings us another lightly traveled section of the Scenic Highway. Enter the Dalles and leave Scenic Highway enjoy the Riverfront trail to end my ride. What a great experience. Thinking of making it an annual event.
P.S. This is a WORK IN PROGRESS. THE 3 MILE INTERSTATE SECTION IS BEING REDUCED TO 1.5 AND THE TRIAL OPENING CERIMONY IS 9-24-16. I would love to be there but am going to ride (Car Free) around crater lake. Thanks to all the workers who will next year take 1.5 miles off of my interstate riding.
Two years ago I rode the Hood River to Mosier section of this trail with ecousin and my dear old dad (now 74 and still riding the heck out of his bike back in Burlington, Vermont). This summer ecousin, his family and my family decided to ride the trail in its entirety from downtown Portland (Sandy and 28th Street) to The Dalles.
I chose to ride my road bike, a modified Fuji Tiera (BMX handlebars, a nice front basket and platform pedals), and was able to keep up a fun clip as we paralleled the Union Pacific Tracks and I-84 on our journey east from the congestion of bike friendly PDX to the arid western front of the Northern Oregon desert lands.
I leave my in-laws house for a 7am arrival at Dan's (ecousins brother in law and our RTT partner in crime). Bike is running fast and the overcast skies are a welcome sight for a July 4 ride. I arrive about 20 minutes sooner than I expected I would. This is good. Everyone is ready. Ecousins Dad is joining us for the first 40 miles of the trip. Our destination is Ainsworth Park, an exceptional little camping spot in the Gorge just East of Multnomah Falls.
Once organized we start the roll. Leaving 50th and Division we follow the mellow flower heavy neighborhoods of Portland NE. Gorgeous! Thank you Portland folks for making biking such a pleasure.
A bit of industrial trail ride follows our escape from the density, but this is one of my favorite parts of RTT or other recovered trails type riding. I love that "jig saw puzzle" line where the urban landscape intersects with the industrial and agricultural wilderness. It is always poetic and photogenic.
So, yeah, we made it to Troutdale. Pick your route.
We went through downtown but there wasn't much to eat. Across the Stark street bridge that spans the Sandy river we found nosh at "Tippy Canoe". Breakfast was a touch on the "you get what you pay for" side, and it was worth every penny of ecousins dads generosity. Ecousins dad was very nice and picked up the tab. Great way to begin the true start of the scenic highway.
Unique to this part of the tale is that this is now within a few miles of where I first connected with ecousins family. This next part of the ride is particularly powerful for all of us.
As we were gliding up the scenic highway into Corbett the memories began to flash from my first views of the Sandy river and the bluffy basalt mossy tree lined rolling hills and cuts that form that old road bed.
Springdale, and the exact road that could lead us to gaze at the old homestead.
There it went.
Luckily masked by the parade.
One acre with a canyon creek, a spring, a pasture and house and barn and shop and a garden. Perhaps the finest one acre I have ever seen.
Ecousin and his dad were both railroad engineers. Ecousins Dad got transferred to the Pasco yard in the early 1990s and had to relocate to Tri Cities, WA. It was heartbreaking for them to have to sell that bit of suburban Portland paradise.
One thing that all roads and rail beds share is history. I have many fun memories of welcome and hilarity...perhaps even antics at that old territorial bungalow overlooking the creek and pasture.
It must be the epitome of a bittersweet memory for ecousins family.
Climbing out of Springdale to Corbett we joined the locally famous 4th of July parade. It was truly something for these communities to be proud of. Real nice scene. For several miles you are staring at the heart of America. I think a few of us were able to catch some candy being thrown from the official parade vehicles. I know I caught a piece. I'm amazed we weren't detained for joining the middle of the parade.
East of Corbett the parade traffic dwindled and Gorge sight-seers began entering the main artery. Approaching the Vista House at Crown Point we were fair game for any negligent driver on the serpentine road that drops you down to Ainsworth Park.
We stopped at the recently remodeled Vista
House for meditation and views. Both things occurred.
Descent from Vista House is exciting. Tiera is a very fast bike, and with BMX handlebars it makes corners extra fun. I was most worried about car traffic and I found it when we were about one mile from Multnomah falls.
Lane splitting aside (there is no real bike path in this section yet--coming soon hopefully), we all descended intact.
We managed through tourist traffic, and emerged on a relatively car free zone in Ainsworth park. My wife joined us with the tent and my daughter. Ecousineaus Mom arrived with the party spot and by the time we rolled in the celebration of our nations independence was under way. Kids walking to waterfalls and riding around the campground in preparation of day two.
Corn, salads, hamburger, hot dogs. marshmallows, campfire You know...the fourth.
Is this my tent?
Wrangling children. The kids, coming down off a s'mores high are late to wake up and snack. We have about 8 miles to pull them through before breakfast in Cascade Locks. The morning moved a touch sluggish, but we made it and had some good gorge waterfall stops. Also, this portion of trail is almost road free.
Charburger under the bridge of the gods. Their onion rings are worth the calorie burn between here and The Dalles.
Now we abandon the peloton and the kids are behind us moving west back to camp via Bonniville hot springs. My wife decides to cross the Bridge of the Gods. She reports that it is very scary. I've ridden over this bridge many times on motorcycle, and it was terrifying every time. Lots of cross wind, limited barricade and a deck made of grid steel. Look straight down at the river for vertigo.
So now we are down to the core of three. Ecousin, Dan and I begin our slide to The Dalles. Soon enough we are cast on to the freeway. No flipping shoulder and Semi Trailer triple trailer holy oh my gosh for several miles. No place for children. No place for me. I decide that my best option is to go as fast as I possibly can until I have an exit. I do it and probably score a personal best. My guess is that with the tail wind I averaged 20mph in that section.
That hideous, dangerous,scary section.
Soon enough we are back on tamer roads. Hood river and a beer then the section between Gracy Sues' in Hood River and the Tar Sands destroyed town of Mosier. By far the most fun section of the trail.
From Mosier the climb is steep and perhaps some of the most interesting cycling I have ever done. Traffic was light and the roads ran fast. There are some steep sections, but the downhill reward is worth it if you like fast downhill and sharp corners.
Also a whole lot more of I-84 and going as fast as possible. The faster you go the less trucks pass you where there is no buffer zone.
A lot of artists and farmers living back in that chapperalle. Beautiful. This ride will be exceptional (in a good way) when the project is complete.
Bottom out at The Dalles. At the west edge of town you can catch the Columbia River waterfront bike path. This runs several miles to the marina. It glides through the jigsaw puzzle boundary of what is industrial, residential, agricultural, and spiritual about this particular spot on the Columbia.
A place named after tables.
A crossroads of rivers.
What is a table? Is it a boundary between your floor and your work. In our case, we were on the floor, weaving in and out of other boundries of nature and politics. Tables of dry desert grass shimmering light in the early summer evening sinking sun. Ecousins sister picked us up and we hauled back to Ainsworth. My wifes birthday, some cake and great fire pit conversation.
In the morning break camp and hold back the tears. The earth only gets to rotate so many times on your watch. Make the most of it!
Next year perhaps Bend...perhaps Alaska...perhaps Pennsylvania.
Quite nice to spend one day on this trail.take a look: www.carbonbikeoem.com to get some carbon bike parts to make your bike lighter.
Beautiful day to take a trike ride on this trail...beautiful trail as well. Take a look here:
When my dad called to say he wanted to come to Oregon for a visit this summer my first thought was bicycles. It is pretty much all in life that we have in common besides DNA, and it is also the most fun way to bond that I can think of.
I obtained an extra bike for him and we met in PDX at an AirBNB house I reserved in the Alberta Arts district. Already you know we are finding fresh air and exercise!
We did a couple of practice rides early in the week. One of those rides was 22 miles from Ainsworth/28th Avenue to Milwalkee, and the 7 mile mark on the Springwater Corridor. Down to OMSI, up Burnside, then back to our bungalow.
With the maritime layer intact we didn't fry in the heat of July sunshine.
Suddenly, it is Thursday. I intentionally did not tell my dad about the prospect of a Friday ride.
I didn't know if it was going to happen.
Too many factors. Thursday, we clean the AirBNB house and pack the car. We roll up to Timberline for "Brunch". For those not familiar with this--make yourself familiar. Best brunch in America.
Brunch is followed by alpine slide at the adventure park near Government Camp. We then seek shelter at the Columbia Gorge Hotel.
I know...first world problems. What's for dinner?
Ecousin texts me. He's in the scheme and waking up at 4 on Friday so he can be in time for breakfast. Right on!
6:59am Friday. I'm sitting in the lobby with my dad waiting for our wives and my daughter to surface and Ecousin walks in looking dapper. Hair combed, pants ironed. Crisp shirt.
I'm a greasy old hippie in a Hawaiian shirt and feeling under-dressed.
Breakfast was great.
I say "Dad, do you want to go on one more bike ride?".
Without hesitation he agrees that this is a solid idea for our morning.
Minutes later we are in Ecousins car driving east with 3 bikes on the back. The ladies are headed to downtown Hood River for shopping and conversation.
We parked at the Mark O Hatfield Trailhead. Near Mosier, Oregon. Nice facility. In spite of new efforts to provide sewage for the sleepy hamlet of Mosier, This $5 parking spot still has pit toilets within a 1/2 mile of a brand new sewage treatment plant. Perhaps this can be "rectified" in the future.
I didn't notice the climb. Evidently there is significant elevation gain in the first 1/2 mile of the trail. I noticed it on the way back to the car at the end of the ride. Ecousin clocked in at 32mph coming down the hill that starts the trail. I am a cadence guy, so on our way up I just nestle into the seat and pedal until I no longer feel resistance from gravity.
The top of the climb is rewarded with an overlook. In the spirit of the New Deal, the recently constructed overlook is built of mortar and basalt. It pulls our collective socialist hearts back to an era before any of us were born. We relate to "built compassion" and "collective prosperity" in this modern era of capitalist greed and dismissive, abusive legislation against your average worker. The new overlook was built because a republican senator (Mark O Hatfield) actually cared about the people in his state, and the United States in general. This was almost 20 years ago. Too bad this next generation of senators, regardless of party affiliation, quite simply does not "get it".
With that thought we got back in the saddle.
In moments the first of two tunnels appeared. Such a kind reward for a minimal climb.
I've ridden through several tubes in my rails to trails excursions, and I would have to say that these tunnels are remarkable. I'll leave it to your adventurous heart to develop your own opinion.
My opinion is that this facility represents all that is good in this world.
From the tunnels the trail is epic and facile. Easy with no big words, only scenic rewards. On our day we had bright chickoree, St. Johns Wort, and every transitional plant that turns the Oregon rainforest into the Oregon desert. If you are "into" plants this 5 miles is a "special interest" ride. Exceptionally diverse.
We hit the bottom of our yo-yo. Time to make a decision.
Do I call my wife and have her bring my daughter up to the West Trailhead?
I decide no. Perhaps I will regret that. I know that this action will add at least one hour to our ride. Some decisions are hard. I'd like to include her, but she is still a few rides from being able to tolerate the considerable elevation change and exposure (heat) inherent to this trail. Keep this in mind if you want to bring kids on this ride.
Without any kids we power up to the east from the gift shop at the Hood River trailhead.
We all found our cadence, and the return trip took only 25 minutes. Not bad for a crew with an average age of 52. Two guys, 42. One old burro at 72, (and he beat me in downhill speed--Shot through the car blockade at 32 miles per hour!)
Fearless old man.
Ecousin had ice water waiting at our finish line. Icy, Icy, Icy. Dang Cold Icy! Yum!
We reconnected with the rest of our vacation party at Gracie Sues China Gorge Restaurant.
I opened my cookie to the best fortune I have ever had!
We spent the rest of the afternoon touring Bonneville Dam and slugging along Sandy Blvd in Rush Hour traffic. Mmmm...Portland.
My dad will be 72 in about a week, and I can say that he could still out-ride me. For anyone, this robust health can change quickly. I wish him and all who read this the best of health. I wish you all many miles of disaster-free riding.
Rode this trail last year and again today. Perfect paved surface between Hood River and Mosier. Gorgeous views. A few gradual slopes can be some work if you are not good shape but nothing hard. Views are great.
The driving directions to the Moffett Creek trail head are totally wrong. From Portland they direct one to take I84 Exit 40 than double back East towards Portland for 1.2 miles to the trail head. This is impossible, there is no place to park, there are no signs. One would have to leave the car on the shoulder of I84, which is very unsafe. One option is getting off at Exit 40, turn right and than left to follow a road next to I84 to a parking lot next to the trail. From here you can bike South towards Moffett Creek or North to Cascade Locks. The best bet is to drive to Cascade Locks on I84, park right under the Bridge of the Gods and take the whole trail from there to Moffett Creek. It is a great trail with long stretches of up and down hills, but not too steep. At one point you have to climb about 50 steps, but it is well done with grooves next to the steps to fit the bike wheels into for an easier ascent/descent.
June 17, 2009
HISTORIC COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY – MOSIER TUNNELS SECTION
The HCRH has several sections that are closed to motorized vehicles. The longest is the section from Hood River over to the hamlet of Mosier, upriver about five miles. The attraction here are the two viewpoints overlooking the river and the historic Mosier Twin Tunnels plus new rock shed. There is a lot of shade on the trail, which is a plus in summer.
The west end of this section starts at the elegant Mark Hatfield West Trailhead and Visitor Center (N45d 42.231’x W121d 29.218’). Nice! Views of river. Visitor center, parking, picnic tables, water, flushies, souvenirs – and the trail – 16’ of fine blacktop. It heads uphill and around the corner. That’s right. Not a RR grade. Not a steady, consistent grade. Up and down. (Like a highway?) Lot of roadie bikers, studs on skate boards, a mom pushing the pram as she jogs along, grannies hiking. The HCRH gets used here.
Pedal up the grade and around the corner to find the road follows a bench above the river. Lots of trees for shade, which is nice as the trail out to the tunnels goes up and down, but mostly up to an overlook west of the tunnels (N45d 41.272’ x W121d 29.218’). Good views up and down the river. You can watch the wind surfers down at Hood River do their thing.
You can also look up at the cliffs above you and notice where boulders have taken out arches in the low stone wall around the observation point. The pavement here has deep dings. Over there is a small (2’) boulder stuck half way through an arch. Hard hat area? Probably won’t help.
From there the trail descends to the tunnels. Does it ever! It was long, glorious descent which left ToolBear in tears. Not just from the wind. He was hitting 27 mph – and in an hour he would be climbing back up that long grade. Probably hoofing it at 2.7 mph. (He did 3.4, hoofing it.)
The Mosier Twin Tunnels start at the west end with a new construction – a rock shed of concrete designed to take a 5,000# rock falling 200’ (N45d 41.074 x W121d 25.454’). That can hurt. Why? Because in the Old Days the tunnels were one way and cars backed up under sheer cliffs waiting their turn to cross. On occasion one of them would win that 5,000 rock. Caused talk – but the occupants of the car were not giving interviews.
The rock shed leads into the first of the twin tunnels, then there is a break with a rock shed overhead, then the last tunnel. These have elegant timber crib work inside. The gaps between the rock and the cribbing were stuffed with cord wood and then faced over. The eastern tunnel has horizontal adits where the blasting spoils were dumped out. A full explanation with photos and diagrams can be seen at Mark Hatfield West.
Once clear of the tunnels you find a new observation point dedicated in 2000 as part of the tunnel renovation project (N45d 41.156’ x W121d 25.091’). This is a good spot for a break, photo op and then turn around. The ranger has tipped TB that the road from here descents at a 5% grade for about two miles down to Mark Hatfield East Trailhead.
If you had a shuttle car, it would be a delightful ride. TB doesn’t. He heads back thru the tunnels and hoofs it up the grade to the OP. From there it is mostly downhill to the visitor center.
The trail head at the Mosier end, Mark Hatfield East, is not as elegant at MH West, but there is a large paved parking area, tables, vault toilet, etc. (N45d 40.797’ x W121d 24.542’). It is not on the current Google Earth coverage, so the coordinates might help you dial it in.
The Out & Back Stats: Mark Hatfield West to eastern viewpoint and return - 9.62 miles, max speed 28.2, moving average 8.1, moving time 1:10, stopped time 1:05. From 0820 to 1037 hrs. Nice morning ride.
In a review of our ride on 8-22-08 I said that I was disappointed that the description of the trail was wrong and that only about 10 miles of the 35 mile trail described is actually open. I want to add that the five mile long portion of the trail between Mosier and Hood River is an excellent trail with beautiful views of the Columbia River Valley.
If you do this portion of the trail, you won't be disappointed. Just don't expect 35 miles of trail.
Today my wife and I planned to do a 25 mile section of this trail between Mosier and Cascade Locks. The trail description says, "The center portion of the HCRH, between Warrendale and Mosier, is presently open for use." It is not.
The trail is open between Mosier and Hood River, about 5 miles. It then dumps out on to the city streets of Hood River (highway 30), and then 30 merges back into Interstate 84. There is no trail for the next 20 or so miles until Cascade Locks where it starts up again and goes about 5 more miles to Interstate Mile Marker 40 where it ends near Moffett Creek Falls. For now these are the only portions that are exclusively hike/bike trail. Further west, Old Highway 30 is open to vehicle traffic to Troutdale.
To summarize, only about 10 miles of this supposed 35 mile trail is open. It may be planned to extend these two segments, but no contruction has started.
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