Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway
You really can touch history in the Columbia River Gorge! I’ll show you how as I take you onto a gem of a hiking and biking trail along the Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway.
The Columbia River Gorge offers moments of magical beauty when the sun, and clouds dance their shadows across the cliffs to create lasting memories of the times each of us spend there.
“Enough memories to last a lifetime,” I like to say. Especially along the Columbia River Scenic Highway – stretching eighty miles from Troutdale to The Dalles as an unmatched scenic byway that came to life nearly one hundred years ago.
Back then, it was called “America’s Greatest Highway” and it was the vision of many people at the turn of the century, but the chief backer and promoter was Sam Hill, who hired engineer Sam Lancaster. Lancaster had traveled extensively throughout Europe and studied its roadways.
Oregon’s version of a scenic highway was built in 1916 and, by making the most of the Gorge’s size and splendor; it rivaled anything built in Europe. The highway was designed for travel that followed the contours of the shifting landscape, with plenty of viewpoints and turnouts. It was enhanced with arched bridges, stone railings, and tunnels.
This magnificent achievement, the first paved road in Oregon, allowed Oregonians easier access between the eastern and western sides of their state. It also allowed them to visit many of the Gorge falls. But over the decades much of it was bypassed for progress – and speed – called the Interstate Highway. It was a faster way to move people and commerce from this place to that and it left the historic highway in the dust.
Still, if you have the right guides who know where to look, you can touch history in the nooks crannies of the gorge where signs of the old highway still exist.
Nearly twenty years ago the state launched an ambitious program to do just that as sections of the old highway we’re restored just for hikers and bicyclists along a new Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
So far, eleven miles have been completed and include places like the Oneonta Tunnel. Other completed stretches include six miles between Eagle Creek and Cascade Locks, the Mosier Twin Tunnels and just last summer, the newest section, Viento State Park to Starvation Creek, opened to the public.
A gentle five percent grade makes the biking and hiking easy, plus there’s one particular feature that waits for your closer inspection: an original, four-foot tall mile marker with the number “58″ carved into the concrete face. There are more sections planned down the road too. In fact, the state has embarked on plans to convert Twelve Miles By 2016, so places like the spectacular Ruthton Point will be open for your enjoyment.
Editor’s Note: Grant’s Getaways is a production of Travel Oregon brought to you in association with Oregon State Parks, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon State Marine Board. Episodes air Fridays and Saturdays on KGW Newschannel 8 and Saturdays on Northwest Cable News Network.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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