Tasting the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail
be a major undertaking for those who ride regularly.
Varying levels of traffic, and could include some
hills, but nothing overly long or steep.
The Historic Columbia River Highway Trail is truly one of the singular routes in Oregon – and a ride almost anyone can enjoy. When you pair a stupendously beautiful route with a relaxed, car-free environment, it’s a chance to soak in the best of Oregon with family or friends. Oh, and there’s really great food and drink available, too.
To set the scene for the ride, a little history: Completed in 1922, the Historic Columbia River Highway was America’s first scenic highway. Using engineering and construction techniques that were revolutionary at the time, a man named Sam Hill imagined and then made happen a road that allowed the day’s Model T owners to take a scenic, leisurely drive. The original design weaved its way along what is now known as “Waterfall Alley,” with its seven spectacular waterfalls in just 10 miles of road, and it also included scenic overlooks along cliff faces and even tunnels through mountainsides. When Interstate 84 was constructed, the freeway enveloped and destroyed some segments of the highway, but over time sections have been restored (largely with the help of the Friends of the HCRH). Plans are in place to connect all the segments by the road’s centennial anniversary in 2022, resulting in a continuous bike route over open roads, bike paths and some vehicle-restricted road sections, stretching from Portland to The Dalles.
This ride leads off with the crown jewel of the trail: the 4.5-mile section between the two Mark O. Hatfield Trailheads (west to east). You can start riding in downtown Hood River, beginning with a snaking ascent up to the first trailhead above town, or you can drive up to the vehicle parking lot at the official trailhead. Past here, no cars are allowed – it’s just you and the scenery and the history. Take a few moments to picture yourself in one of those early motor vehicles, tooling along on a miraculous road as you gape at the views down into the Gorge.
This section also includes the Mosier Twin Tunnels, where you’ll ride tucked under a massive cliff face, with “windows” between the support pillars to maintain the sense of grandeur as you pedal through the rock. Just past the tunnels is a lovely “lookout” point below and to the left – photo-worthy, for sure.
At this point the trail glides downhill steadily for a long grade to the opposite trailhead above Mosier. Here is where you should make a choice: From the west trailhead the slope has been pretty gentle to this point, but if you ride farther you’ll have to negotiate some climbing. After the trail ends, the drop down into Mosier on a back road is good twisty fun, but you’ll have to go back up whatever you go down… if you’re not sure you want to work up a sweat, consider renting an e-bike (see below) to help you get up those hills.
If you do head down into Mosier, you’ll find a bounty of some of the best wine, cider and beer tasting opportunities Oregon has to offer. And the two words everyone loves: ice cream! The oddly charming Route 30 Classics offers ice cream and vintage Porsches, under the same roof. Add in seasonal wildflowers and several swimming holes you can access with just a short walk from the highway, and this ends up being a perfect ride to represent the best of Oregon.
A wide, smooth bike path; flood-carved gorge walls bracketing a mighty river; world-class food and drink… what’s not to like?
Check out this selection of local vineyards, cideries and restaurants. Be sure to plan ahead, because the hours of operation vary quite a bit.
The HCRH is packed with history, scenery, engineering magic and the option to stretch your legs.
NEED A BIKE?
You can rent an e-bike to tackle a longer ride without expending so much energy, at Oregon E-Bikes in Hood River, or Route 30 Classics & Roadside Refreshments in Mosier. Oregon E-Bikes rentals include a front rack to carry belongings, plus lights, lock and a helmet. They also have the Urban Arrow, an electric cargo bike, available for families.