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 

HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!

6 responses so far ↓

Joe Tutch - Feb 18, 2015 at 1:17 PM

Sounds like a great route! I'm discovering amazing routes all around the North Cascades. Just got back from a trip to Darrington. Have you bike-camped in this area before? If not, would you want to? I'm gonna try to bike-camp in this area at least once a month in 2015. Let me know if you are interested in coming along!

Tom Powers - Dec 9, 2015 at 8:53 AM

My wife and I did a similar trip this summer (with a lot fewer miles), and discovered 2 great campsites: Ainesworth state park has a hiker biker site for real cheap right next to the free hot showers; and the "Port of Cascade Locks" has a big grassy field you can camp in next to the RVs that (get this) has a brewpub in the park! The beer is good, but the food is great. Anyways, I recommend this trip in some length to anyone who wants to see one of the most beautiful places in the US.

Stephen - Dec 15, 2015 at 1:29 PM

Ok.... I am putting that on my list of to do trips. it has been a long time since I rode through Oregon.


Bill Mackenzie - Feb 9, 2016 at 7:45 PM

Frank- definitely check out Crossroads. It was the trip of a lifetime. Tell Tracy, who runs it, that you heard about her trip from me.

Linda - Nov 2, 2016 at 5:01 PM

Bill, It's great to read of your adventure! Have you done more since this one? I'd love to find out about your other adventures. I, too, am retired from Intel, though not from the work world in general. I am cycling in shorter spurts/trips delaying my desire to go cross-country until a few more years down the road. I live in the Portland area too. We met at Intel before you retired, but I don't expect you to remember it because I was in Staffing at the time. My daily motto these days is : "Enjoy The Ride!"

Bill MacKenzie - Jan 14, 2017 at 8:44 PM

Talk about taking my time in responding. Your note to lost in my email.
I've done lots of rides since the Gorge ride to Hood River, including a X-country ride, a ride from Portland to San Francisco and another ride from San Francisco to Mexico. Next up, starting a ride in Sept. from San Diego east on the Southern Tier.
Glad you are riding, though probably not right now on the snow and ice.

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