Oregon's Glorious Columbia Gorge
"Roll on, Columbia, roll on," wrote Woody Guthrie.
Bicycle Adventurer: Bill MacKenzie
Tip for this adventure: Definitely take a break at the Vista House for a spectacular view of the Columbia River Gorge, stop for a visit to Multnomah Falls, and enjoy the Historic Columbia River Highway.
In a Native American story, Coyote was walking along one day and because the day was hot, Coyote said he wanted a cloud. So a cloud came and made some shade, but Coyote was still hot, so he asked, "How about some rain?" The rain became a downpour and a creek sprang up, but Coyote wanted it deeper, so it became a huge, swirling river.
Today, the mighty Columbia River, separating Oregon and Washington in the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, is a path for a great overnight bike trip.
The last time I did the route, I was training for a ride across America with CrossRoads Cycling Adventures and looking for an overnight round-trip ride of about 146 miles.
I started from Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. After a 13-mile ride to the Willamette River in Portland, the next leg was on the Springwater Corridor, a 21-mile, paved scenic route encompassing wetlands, agricultural fields, and neighborhoods.
At the end of the corridor trail, I cut through the town of Gresham to the Sandy River and a climb to the small town of Corbett. At the Larch Mountain Road turnoff, the road dropped down to the Vista House, a sandstone structure built in 1917, high up on one of the most beautiful scenic points on the Historic Columbia River Highway.
The original highway route was the first major paved highway in the Pacific Northwest. Following the path of Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trails, the highway was carved out of the steep cliffs of the south bank of the Columbia River between 1913 and 1922.
Leaving the Vista House, I made a swift ride down a steep and winding descent for a few miles and then rode along the river, surrounded by mossy tree limbs and stunning waterfalls, until I encountered the magnificent 620-foot-high Multnomah Falls.
This roaring cascade of icy water is one of Oregon's most visited spots. I stopped for a bit, walked up to a viewing area at the bottom of the falls and felt some of the spray on my face. If you have the time and inclination, you can hike up a narrow path to the top of the falls. You can also get a snack or a full meal at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, completed in 1925.
Leaving Multnomah Falls, I headed back out the Columbia River Highway for another five miles. That's when I encountered Oneonta Gorge, a botanical marvel where more than 50 species of plants flourish.
At Ainsworth State Park, I joined Interstate 84 at exit 37 for about 3 miles (there’s a wide shoulder), left the freeway at exit 40 (Bonneville Dam) and followed the bike/pedestrian trail east along the old highway to Cascade Locks. Approaching Cascade Locks there’s a steep multi-level, long stairway, with a wheel well for rolling your bike that I had to maneuver my way down. If you’re carrying a lot of gear, it can be tricky, so take it slow.
At Cascade Locks, I passed the entrance to the Bridge of the Gods, an impressive steel truss bridge over the river to Washington State.
After passing through Cascade Locks, I climbed up the quiet and scenic Herman Creek / Wyeth Rd., then descended to Wyeth State Park. Joining I-84 again, I rode that to the main Hood River exit and up into town.
Hood River is a truly delightful small town, known as the windsurfing capital of the world, with a quirky charm, a full range of tasty restaurants, breweries, bicycle shops, and other unique shops.
I spent the night at the renovated Hood River Hotel, built in 1911. It had a real comfy charm and because it's the only downtown hotel, it gave me a chance to explore the town.
Because I'd done about a 75-mile ride to get there, I splurged and ate a mussels-and-prawns dinner at the Celilo Restaurant a few steps from the hotel.
After a good night's sleep, I had breakfast at the hotel and headed home on the same route. There was a light mist when I started out, but within a few miles, it turned into a deluge. Thankfully, I had full rain gear, but the ride back wasn't pretty. That's Oregon. If you can't stand the rain, you will miss many great rides.
Favorite local bike shop: Lakeside Bicycles, Lake Oswego, OR
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