The Historic Columbia River Highway is America’s first Scenic Highway and recognized as a National Historic Landmark. A century ago, on June 7, 1916, the Historic Columbia River Highway was officially dedicated. It immediately attracted national attention for its iconic design and innovative construction techniques such as rock walls and bridges.
Spanning 70 miles from Troutdale to The Dalles, the highway continues to play an important part in Gorge communities and the state. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area remains the most highly populated National Scenic Area in the country, with landmarks like Multnomah Falls bringing in 2.5 million people per year and Vista House bringing in around 1 million.
In honor of the monumental centennial, explore what’s hailed as the “King of Roads” — and plan your trip in advance to make it memorable. The historic highway is home to a lot of popular destinations. Avoid crowds and congestion by visiting during non-peak hours and carpooling with friends. (Or better yet, travel car-free.) Go against the grain and follow the route with the sun from east to west. Above all else, move with the flow and take in the beauty of the Gorge.
Two million visitors flock to the Gorge each year to experience some of Oregon’s most popular recreational, historic and cultural attractions. Especially this summer and fall, car use and trails will be at their max during the Historic Columbia River Highway’s centennial celebration. Here are the best ways to have a great time and help preserve this beautiful region for generations to come.
June 7 marks the re-dedication of the 100-year-old Historical Columbia River Highway, as well as the kickoff of popular summer season. Look for shuttles and alternative forms of transit to popular Gorge destinations like Multnomah Falls so you don’t risk missing out. Even better, beat traffic by staying for a night or more. We’ve got 10 tips for gorgeous Gorge trips that let you recreate with respect and create lifelong memories.
Can a road be “loved to death?” Discover the must-see sites on the Historic Columbia River Highway with a mother-daughter duo who arrive at The Dalles at sunset. Along the way, they stop at famous landmarks such as the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint and the Vista House. The two discover that on the highway waterfalls are easy to spot — and hard to count.
Construction crews begin building concrete foundations for new rest sites along the Historic Columbia River State Trail’s Starvation Creek State Park section. New scenery comes into view along this latest segment of the old highway, a 1.2-mile-long restoration project that stretches east from Lindsey Creek to Starvation Creek State Park.
Portland chef Paul Decarli finds the flavors of the Columbia River Gorge while admiring the region’s dramatic landscape and rich history. He makes shopping local taste so good. Visit one of his recommendations off the Historic Columbia River Highway, and you’ll be planning your next trip to the Gorge in no time.
Photo credit: Justin Bailie
A genuine road trip calls for authentic road food. Along with scenic mileage, the Historic Columbia River Highway offers plenty of great eats. From fruit pies and hoppy beers, to burger joints and roadhouses, there is something for everyone’s palate in the Columbia River Gorge. Beat the crowds by enjoying an early brunch or dinner (and dessert) with sunset.
In the past two years, the Hood River region has seen the birth of nine local cideries and reportedly has three more in the works. Local cider makers, many of whom have experience in beer brewing and winemaking industries, see the new trend as a natural outgrowth of the bounty of apples and pears in the region, including many heirloom varieties that are ideal for cider.
The 3.5-mile out-and-back Mosier Plateau Trail is a critical piece of the Gorge Towns to Trails program, which aims to create a series of trail connections throughout the Columbia Gorge that would support hiking opportunities between each of the 13 urban areas in the region.
Photo credit: Renee Tkach
Known as the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge, the town of Troutdale perches at the confluence of the Sandy and Columbia rivers just outside of Portland. It marks the start of the Historic Columbia River Highway, with the river winding from the east, sheer gorge cliffs and a string of rushing waterfalls. Home to a dozen craft breweries, Troutdale is a great place to wrap up a Gorge tour.
Nicknamed the “heart of the Gorge,” Cascade Locks sits on the banks of the Columbia River and the Oregon side of the famous Bridge of the Gods. Due to its ideal waterfront location, Cascade Locks is a destination for sailing and boating enthusiasts, as well as history buffs. From the waterfront, you can catch a dinner cruise and watch sunset cover the Gorge in rich colors.
Famous for its namesake Mosier Twin Tunnels on the Historic Columbia River Highway, the town of Mosier also offers prized scenic hiking and biking trails. Many first-time visitors to the Gorge coming from the east will stop in Mosier to learn about the historic area. Help protect the region’s abundant wildlife and habitat by keeping distance from animals and staying on designated trails.
Ascend the curves of the Historic Columbia River Highway into The Dalles, where you will quickly discover the beauty and bounty of the area. Historic properties blend with new waterfront development and a 271-acre nature sanctuary will take your breath away. It’s a good idea to put The Dalles at the top of your travel itinerary as to avoid afternoon crowds and get enough time to enjoy the second largest city on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
Pieces of the old Columbia River Scenic Highway were transformed into the Columbia Gorge State Trail, a rideway exclusively for hikers and cyclists. Today, the trail separates into three sections off the Historic Columbia River Highway, totaling 12 miles of motor-vehicle-free road. Hop onto two wheels to traverse the 4.5 mile Twin Tunnels segment between Mosier and Hood River, the 4-mile section between Hood River and Cascade Locks and a new 1.6-mile section dedicated between Cascade Locks and Troutdale.
With some of the best running trails in Oregon, you’ll love to play in the Columbia River Gorge. For those who like scenic trail and road running, look no further, the Gorge is practically made for runners. Want to be the ultimate Gorge runner? Stay on the designated trails and leave no trace!