Traveler Alert: This area was impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire. Before you head out, please check with USFS for the most up-to-date information on closures.
With its cascading waterfalls, hills full of wildflowers and sparkling river views, touring the Columbia River Gorge is easily one of the most scenic routes you can take in all of Oregon.
But what if you could see the sights without having to drive?
Luckily visitors can check out a few new ways to explore the Gorge car-free.
Leaving the car behind means saving on gas and avoiding parking headaches, not to mention easing congestion and reducing emissions, which will go a long way toward keeping this region pristine and green for the next 100 years. When you let someone else take the wheel, your eyes are free to enjoy the sights — and there’s a lot to see in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The Columbia Gorge Express transports visitors from the Gateway Transit Center in Portland to Multnomah Falls and Rooster Rock State Park for just $5 round-trip. The bus service departs Gateway nearly a dozen times every day, with expanded service in the summer. Columbia Gorge Express also offers service to Cascade Locks ($10 round-trip) and Hood River ($15 round-trip), as well as hop-on/hop-off passes and group passes. Cyclists can even get aboard with three bike spaces on each bus.
It’s easy to travel from Hood River to The Dalles, where cycling, culinary and history abound. The Columbia Area Transit provides weekday transit between the two cities, while Greyhound buses run daily. In the summer, Explore The Dalles will offer free bus service on Saturdays between Hood River and The Dalles.
Looking for a guided Gorge tour? Gray Line Tours offers a brand-new half-day luxury coach tour to the Gorge, for a round-trip fare of $59 to and from downtown Portland. The 4.5-hour tour stops at Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls and Lodge and the Bonneville Dam and fish ladder, a national historic site in the heart of the Gorge. Tours run daily mid-June through early September and operate on a reduced schedule in fall and spring.
America’s Hub World Tours offers a guided Mt. Hood loop tour, half- or full-day Gorge tour and a special wine-lovers Gorge tour year-round, with pre-arranged pickups and drop-offs from downtown Portland. The full-day tour covers each of the Gray Line’s stops, plus more at Timberline Lodge, Crown Point Vista House and Hood River, where visitors can explore before hopping on for the return trip.
Cordilleran Tours’ Columbia Gorge Trailhead Express shuttles passengers from downtown Portland to Latourell Falls for $35 round-trip. The experience includes snacks, water and a daypack rental. Bike transport is available.
You can also spend your visit to the Gorge sipping wine with Evergreen Escapes’ 6-hour Columbia Gorge Waterfalls & Wine Tour. Visit “Waterfall Alley,” take interpretive nature walks, view wildlife and sample boutique wines only found in Oregon — without having to drive. (Pick-up and drop-off are in downtown Portland.)
For more transportation options, visit ColumbiaGorgeCarFree.com. The website features car-free itineraries that include hiking from Cascade Locks, bike rides in the eastern Gorge, and historical sites of Dufur.
Getting to the Gorge by bike can be an epic experience. From Portland, take the Springwater Corridor to Gresham or Boring, then make your way north to Troutdale. Or join a bike-friendly shuttle that gets you right into the Gorge.
True cyclists will love riding the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, where the old highway is free of motorized vehicles. Due to restoration work stemming from the 2017 Eagle Creek fire, the Troutdale to Cascade Locks segment is only open from Troutdale to Bridal Veil Falls. A new stunning section from Wyeth Trailhead to Lindsey Creek opens in August 2019. The Hood River to The Dalles segment includes a blissful 4-mile car-free leg that goes through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, followed by a ride to the picture-worthy Rowena Crest Viewpoint and Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.
For a guided tour in the Gorge’s wine country, consider a wine-bike trip with MountNbarreL, offering all-inclusive packages with bikes provided, even e-bikes, and shuttle service. Rolling into the vineyards just might be better on two wheels.
Even where you share the road with auto traffic, low speed limits and scenic views make it a must for experienced road cyclists. Find handy maps with detailed elevations, route cues and scenic points of interest from the Oregon Department of Transportation and Portland Office of Transportation.
Looking for the perfect weekend to pedal through the Gorge? Consider National Bike Travel Weekend (May 31 – June 2, 2019). While you relish in the joys of bicycle travel, so will thousands of other cyclists in the country. But you’ll get the added benefit of experiencing the beautiful Historic Columbia River Highway during its important centennial.
However you get to the Gorge, there’s plenty to discover all summer long, including special hikes, bike rides, runs, concerts, festivals and parades. Check out the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance for maps and other attractions. More information is also available at Hood-Gorge.com and ColumbiaGorgeCarFree.com.