TRAILBEAR RIDES THE RIVER – The Dalles Riverfront Trail
The Dalles, Oregon
In an effort to escape the incessant rains, TrailBear has abandoned the Banks Vernonia Trail and fled behind the Cascades. There he sat at the Riverfront Park in The Dalles, looking at the sky and debating if he could get in a ride before the rains began.
Dear Wife encouraged him: Ride! TB looked at the sky, listened to the weather radio and decided: Nope. Whereupon it began to rain again – a nice steady rain.
Head further east to Le Page Park Campground and snag a waterfront site (Don’t try this in summer. They stay full too often.) Next day – an interval of sunshine and good weather for photos. Back to The Dalles. Back to Riverfront Park. Break out the Gutterbunny and ride.
The Dalles Riverfront Trail is a scenic ride along the Columbia River at The Dalles. It comes in two sections. The scenic portion runs from the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center (free parking, $8 admission) along the river for 7.3 miles to the Riverfront Park. You can start your ride at the Kayak Shack there.
At the park there is a 0.7 mile section of good trail blacktop that goes from the east end of the parking lot along below the freeway to dead end out in the boonies. The mountain bikers may enjoy the double track (future trail) from this point to the Lone Pine development further east. You can ignore it.
From the end of the blacktop there is a gap in the trail (proposed) from Riverfront over to the Visitor Center at The Dalles Dam. If you park at the The Dalles Dam Visitor Center, you can ride a 1.2 mile section up to the dam. If you are in season (May – Sept.), you can ride the tour train instead.
The trail rates 5* for scenery, 5* for a smooth blacktop trail bed, and 3-4* for facilities. You can relax and not worry about following the trail signs. There are no trail signs along the trail – unless you count the admonition regarding proper disposal of pet waste seen up at the Discovery Center.
You are not on the Ruth Bascom system. The trail is either a good unstriped blacktop trailbed or a bike/walk. If you are riding None of the Above, you may be off the trail.
RIVERFRONT PARK – THE KAYAK SHACK, GE: N45.60026 W121.16667
The Kayak Shack is something of a local landmark. In season you can rent a kayak and such there. There are park restrooms in the rear, plus water, so it’s a handy spot to begin the ride. Park, saddle up and head back up the entrance road, past the signs, across the marina parking lot to the …
TRAIL ENTRANCE, GE: N45.60036 W121.17237
The trail proper starts beneath the billboard at the far side of the marina parking lot. Good views of the house boats and boat sheds floating below. The trail runs along the I-84 freeway for 0.5 miles to the…
UNION STREET UNDERPASS, GE: N45.60428 W121.18255
It’s a nicely done underpass. There are lights and public art and a parklet. The locals regard it as an important access point which connects the downtown with the trail and the waterfront. Before the underpass there was a freeway blocking access. Now there is a little a parklet on the river side and rather attractive anti skate punk stops in the form of leaves.
The underpass proclaims “The Dalles 1857”. Before The Dalles Dam came, this was a notorious stretch of rapids. It was also the end of the Oregon Trail. Mt. Hood blocked further progress down river until the construction of the Barlow Rd. in 1846. Here you loaded your wagon onto a raft or barge and headed down river to the Willamette and then upstream to Oregon City.
Walk all that way from Missouri, only to drown in the Columbia at the end the trail, trying to get your wagon down river? You don’t have that worry. Just saddle up and ride the spacious bike/walk along the street to the …
ROCK FORT - LEWIS AND CLARK SLEPT HERE, GE: N45.60650 W121.18823
Walk into the Rock Fort campsite and you can see that it would be a nice spot. It’s a roughly circular pocket in the basalt. The rock walls form ready-made parapets for defense. If you want to see just how handy a nice lava bed can be for defense, check out the one at Lava Beds National Monument used by Captain Jack in the Modoc War.
There are seven interpretative signs inside Rock Fort. We learn that The Dalles was Where the Trade Routes Met – a “Trade Center for 10,000 years”. For centuries the local tribes grew rich as traders, middlemen and purveyors of dried salmon. Lewis and Clark did not impress them.
Those rapids made for great salmon fishing. The fishery has been destroyed by eleven dams and more, so saddle up, get back on the bike/walk on Bargeway Rd. and head for the grain elevators. Go 0.4 miles up Bargeway and take the first right (look for the bike/walk). This is an industrial area.
Your jog toward the river will last for 0.1 miles, then turn left. The bike/walk will end 0.1 miles – 1.76 miles out of Riverfront Park. Not a problem, continue down the street toward the grain elevators. Just beyond the elevators, the trail turns 90 degrees toward the river and runs alongside the …
WINDSEEKER RESTAURANT, GE: N45.61442 W121.19700
The Windseeker Restaurant, 2.09 miles out of Riverfront, overlooks the Columbia. It marks the start of The Good Stuff. Here the trail runs right along the river cliffs.
TrailBear could not figure out the name. He was bucking headwinds blowing Force 3-4. No need to seek it; it was right in the face. Most days the winds are right there. (Naturally, the day after the ride was calm.) His moving average heading up wind and downstream was 6.3 mph. Going back, downwind, it was 10.4 mph – a delta of 4 mph. No cure for it. Head into the teeth of the wind and look forward to reaching the …
POCKET PARK, GE: N45.62613 W121.19755
Here is a nice little pocket park in the Port of The Dalles industrial area. It overlooks the river with flush toilets (4*), water, benches, picnic tables and views. For a short ride it would make a nice trail head. The sign at the road even mentions the Riverfront Trail. From here up to the Discovery Center would make a nice ride with lots of scenic bits. The next delight is about 0.3 miles up the trail. Here there be scarecrows at …
THE LEARNING GARDEN, GE: N45.63050 W121.19797
A scarecrow coming into view ahead suggests that here is one of those magic places you find from time to time along the trails. TrailBear is enchanted. Just across from the asphalt plant, the Learning Garden is a place of whimsy.
The trail-side wall is eco blocks faced with mosaic panels. Here is a double panel of a frog. The top of the wall is decorated with cultivator wheels which look like sun bursts. The gate is a delightful collage of garden tools welded to another wheel. The handle is an old tool handle.
Inside the scarecrows await. There is a clown scarecrow in polka dots, another in a flannel shirt and top hat and a third looking very much like an Oregon Wal-Mart Male. The rectangular raised beds sport headboards. Other beds are heart-shaped.
Too early in the season to see what they are growing. Time to go where Wild Things Are. Time for …
CHENOWETH CREEK, GE: N45.63233 W121.20555
Here the trail makes a long reach inland to cross the creek on a bridge. The creek marks the start of the wild county. The office buildings and industry draw back and give way to a reach of wild country running up to the Discovery Center. The creek itself is a mass of flowers, ponds, marshes, trees and snags. In short – unimproved. Enjoy.
From Chenoweth Creek the trail rejoins the river bank and climbs to a rocky ridge between a lake and Rocky Island. If you are looking for wildlife, this is the place to look. Below Taylor Lake, the trail heads inland to cross under the …
FROZEN RAILROAD UNDERPASS, GE: N45.64689 W121.20773
At 5.58 miles out of Riverside you cross under the UP tracks. This underpass has the distinction of having been installed by first freezing the bank to stabilize the soil and then jacking the culvert pipe through. An interpretative sign explains the process.
Now start climbing. The switchbacks leading up to the Discovery Center are ahead. Coming down, remember that while you can do 18 mph, the curves seem banked and radiused for 10 mph. Certainly the case at the hairpin turn beyond the RR underpass. (TB was glad for double disc brakes.) You will top out at the corner of the parking lot at the …
COLUMBIA GORGE DISCOVERY CENTER, GE: N45.65252 W121.20906
Great views from up here and lots of interesting outbuildings and machinery to see. For $8 you can catch the inside exhibits.
You made it. Now you can put the wind at your back and crank it up for the return trip to the Kayak Shack at Riverfront Park.
At the end of the Oregon Trail.