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United States> Oregon> Troutdale> Historic Columbia River Highway

Pacific Northwest - Oregon

Historic Columbia River Highway

( Nature’s Beauty / Scenic Areas & Drives )

A Karen Brown Recommendation
Troutdale, OR  USA

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area stretches about 80 miles from Troutdale (just 20 minutes east of Portland) to the Deschutes River east of The Dalles, and one of the best ways to see it is from the Historic Columbia River Highway (old US 30). This highway was constructed between 1913 and 1922 in a European style to conform to the contours of the land and take full advantage of the spectacular scenery. It is accessible today in two short stretches (one of 22 miles from Troutdale to Ainsworth State Park, the other a 16-mile stretch from Mosier to The Dalles, with a 35-mile section along the main interstate in between). We’ll concentrate on the first 22-mile stretch before taking you on a loop around Mount Hood and back to Portland. Plan to linger in this magnificent part of the state as we guide you past waterfalls, through lush state parks, to dramatic vistas from cliffs dropping 700 to 2,000 feet into the river. Consider packing a picnic lunch so you can stop where you like, to soak in the surroundings. From Portland, take I-84 east to our first stop off Exit 17: Troutdale. Exit and drive along the frontage road to Graham Road (follow signs for Troutdale and Columbia River Highway), where you’ll turn right. Take your first left on Columbia River Highway and drive directly into town, where a short stretch of galleries, shops, and museums beckons 1882, started as a thriving agricultural community and has since grown to become home to some 9,000 residents. A visitor center, on the main road here, is a good place to inquire about trails in nearby Sandy River Canyon and Beaver Creek Canyon, or to find out more about activities in the area generally. An imposing bronze likeness of Nez Perce Chief Joseph graces a small plaza. One favorite stop in Troutdale is McMenamins Edgefield, a 38-acre estate originally built in 1911 as the Multnomah County Poor Farm and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors come to relive history through tours of the renovated buildings and grounds. It’s quite a complex, if a bit commercialized. You’ll find a brewery and beer garden, a winery and tasting room, a golf course, a movie theater crafted from a 1930’s boiler room, restaurants, a gift shop, herb and vegetable gardens, and hostel-like accommodations. To get to it, turn right off of Graham Road (which you took from Exit 17), then right onto Columbia River Highway, rather than left into downtown Troutdale. The road veers left to become NE Halsey and you to stop and browse. Troutdale, which traces its origins to the arrival of the railroad in Edgefield is on your left. Once you’ve had as much or as little of Edgefield as suits your fancy, head back into and through the town of Troutdale, cross the Sandy River Bridge, and veer right to begin the Columbia River Highway. Climb uphill to the town of Springdale. Stop at Mom’s Garden Bakery (the big blue house on the right) for Patty Meyers’ amazing homemade fruit Danish, brioche, and other goodies. Continue on to Corbett and your first astounding view of the gorge at the Portland Women’s Forum State Park at Chanticleer Point. Everything is well marked. This is the former site of the Chanticleer Inn, where the highway’s visionaries met in 1913 to plan its construction. Samuel C. Lancaster, design engineer of the highway, picked the next spot, Crown Point, expressly for its potential as a prime observation point. He hired Edgar Lazarus to design Vista House (1918), a gray sandstone octagon building, offering stellar views from the observatory deck at the top of a narrow staircase. (Open daily from 8:30 am to 6 pm, April to mid-October.) While the Vista House itself could stand some upgrade attention, you won’t mind once you’re gazing at the Columbia some 700 feet below. Back in the car, you’ll now head into a mossy wonderland of rain forest and have, within a very few miles, your choice of footpaths to waterfalls. The first is Latourell, offering the shortest distance from the road to the falls; next is Shepperd’s Dell, which can only be viewed once you pull over and step onto a bridge. We recommend driving to Bridal Veil and venturing the short ⅔-mile trail to the falls if you’ve got sturdy footwear and don’t mind the sometimes steep and often rugged terrain. Back in the 1880s, this beautiful spot was home to the Bridal Veil Lumber Company, who produced boxes for everything from apples to WWII ammunition to cheese and operated until 1980. Keep your eye out for an easier ¼-mile path to the cliff for stunning views of the gorge. Only the noisy I-84 detracts from this otherwise beautiful spot. Next you come to two-tiered, 620-foot Multnomah Falls and the Multnomah Falls Lodge (1925). Likely to be crowded in summer months, it’s still worth at least pulling over to see it from your car. The adventurous can take a ½-mile trail up from the lodge to a bridge that crosses the lower cascade, then continue to the top via switchbacks. The lodge itself is beautiful, now housing an information center, a gift shop, and a restaurant. (Hours vary; 503-695-2376.) From Multnomah Falls, you’ll have to join I-84 again. Take Exit 40 to the Bonneville Dam, built by the federal government for $70 million between 1933 and 1936 at the urging of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s an impressive piece of engineering, to be sure. The five-story Bradford Island Visitor Center (open daily from 9 am to 5 pm) features exhibits discussing the purpose and building of the dam; as well as films about the Columbia River, fish migration, and current U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects. If you’ve never seen a fish ladder, this is a good place to experience it: through an underwater window you can watch salmon and other fish bypass the dam as they follow nature’s migratory course unimpeded. Back on I-84, take Exit 44, Cascade Locks/Stevenson/Hwy 30. Docked at the Port of Cascade Locks is the historic Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge Steamer. Although, riverboat trips are offered only seasonally, this is an entertaining way to explore the river. (800-643-1354, www.cascadelocks.net) From the waterfront, follow the signs to the Bridge of the Gods and cross over to the state of Washington. Take 14 east for a few hundred yards, then turn left on Rock Creek Drive. Turn left again onto the Skamania Lodge property and consider having lunch (informal, cafeteria-style) in the huge dining room with windows for walls and great views (509-427-7700). If you’re ready to return to Portland, take Hwy 14 all the way back for a different and dramatic view of the gorge’s high basalt cliffs, meandering your way through tall forests of trees and past several trailheads and scenic pullouts, including the beautiful Cape Horn lookout. This side of the river is considerably less crowded. If you’re up for more, however, cross the Bridge of the Gods again to return to the Oregon side and take I-84 east to Exit 64. Head south on 35, and turn left on Old Columbia River Drive. Follow signs to the Columbia River Highway State Trail (Senator Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead). This section of the Columbia River Highway stretches between Hood River and Mosier farther east. Once accessible to vehicles, it has since been transformed into a unique, public footpath running just over 4½ miles. You can walk or bicycle or roller skate as much, or as little, of it as you like. It’s relatively easy, well-paved, and graced by two “in-line” or “twin” tunnels, the Mosier Twin Tunnels, originally constructed in 1919 and 1920 to make it possible for the highway to pass through a steep basalt bluff. The West Tunnel is only 81 feet in length; the East Tunnel is 288 feet. Windows cut into the rock allow for terrific gorge views. This is a one-of-a-kind trail! Keep in mind that the Mosier Tunnels are closer to the Mosier end of the trail. If you prefer a short walk (about 2 miles round) to the tunnels and back, you can drive to that end of the trailhead instead (take Exit 69/Mosier, turn right at the end of the off ramp, then take your first left on Rock Creek Road and follow signs to the trailhead). It’s a great walk through lava beds and forest, all overlooking the gorge. Notice the signatures carved into the north wall of the East Tunnel, where in 1921 a handful of people found themselves snowbound for several cold November days. Make a visit to Hood River, a casual and friendly community of windsurfers and breweries, and one of Oregon’s major apple- and pear-growing regions. Consider a Mount Hood Railroad excursion, departing from the Hood River Depot and offering a four-hour, scenic round trip through the gently beautiful Hood River Valley, with a stop in quaint Parkdale. The railroad, dating back to 1906, was once used to serve local farmers, transporting fruit from area orchards to the city. Choose from morning, afternoon, and evening rides; some including brunch or dinner as an option. (110 Railroad Avenue; hours vary; 541-386-3556.) Carousel enthusiasts may enjoy the unique and comprehensive collection at The International Museum of Carousel Art. (304 Oak Street; open Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 4 pm; 541-387-4622.) There is also a good selection of restaurants in Hood River. If you are staying in the Hood River/Mount Hood area, there’s a wonderful scenic mini-loop we highly recommend. Affectionately called the “Fruit Loop” by locals, it follows Hwy 35 South from Exit 64/Hood River, heads west at Mount Hood through Parkdale, and picks up the Dee Hwy, or Hwy 281, back northward to I-84, just west of Hood River. When you are ready to resume our tour, head south on Hwy 35 from Hood River to begin the Mount Hood Loop Highway, which circles the eastern shoulder of Mount Hood and passes through lovely fruit orchards, flower farms, and, eventually, the mountainous wilderness of the Cascades at Barlow Pass (4,157 feet), part of the original Oregon Trail. Allow time to pull off the road at spots that speak to you. In season, gather fruit at one of many “U-Pick” fruit farms along the route. Mount Hood is Oregon’s highest peak at 11,235 feet. Thirty or so miles past the town of Mount Hood, turn right off Hwy 35 (which you’ll notice has become Hwy 26) to the famed Timberline Lodge (1936–37), a National Historic Landmark and masterpiece of mountain lodge architecture. Constructed of enormous local timbers and native stone, the lodge is a rugged example of the handmade American Arts and Crafts movement of the ’30s. It caters to skiers and provides a grandly rustic Cascade Dining Room. (Open year round; 503-622-7979.) One of the state’s premier hiking trails is the 40-mile Timberline Trail, which loops around Mount Hood and provides unparalleled views of the Cascade Mountains, the Willamette Valley, and meadows of wildflowers. August and September are the best months for walking. For information on how to get the most out of the trail in short excursions, call the Hood River Ranger District at 541-352-6002 or inquire in the lodge. Retrace your steps back to Hwy 26, and continue westward to Portland to complete this round trip.

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