Bicycling to the Columbia Gorge and eastern destinations
Heading east from Portland on bicycle is a bit more difficult than other directions, since the Cascade Mountain range begins as soon as you leave the Portland metro area. But it’s not as tough as it could be! The Columbia River cuts a deep gorge through the mountains, giving cyclists a route to the east that doesn’t have a high summit to surmount. Plus, the Columbia Gorge is an area of unspeakable natural beauty, so spectacular the Federal Government created a National Scenic Area to protect its beauty. So the Gorge is a bicycling destination in and of itself!
Out of all the cycling that can be done around the Portland area, the Columbia Gorge is hands down my favorite place to go. It’s easily accessible (less than 2 hours from the hostel by bike), has lots to see (such as its numerous waterfalls), and it’s a somewhat challenging ride, but not by any means difficult.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation has provided a route map starting in Gresham, the city to the east of Portland. It stays on the south side (Oregon side) of the gorge, using the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH), the first road through the area. The HCRH was the first scenic highway built in the US, and is now a National Historic Landmark! The map below gives an overview of the route:
Go to their website for more info, and the detailed maps and cue sheets are below. (note: all maps are PDFs, require Adobe Acrobat)
Map 1: Gresham MAX (Cleveland Ave stop) to Multnomah Falls (19 miles/30 km)
Map 2 : Multnomah Falls to Cascade Locks (17 miles/27 km)
Map 3 : Cascade Locks to Hood River (approx. 15 miles/25 km)
More maps can be found through the Oregon Dept. of Transportation, who made a beautiful map of the Columbia Gorge Bicycle Route. (PDF, requires Adobe Acrobat.)
Gresham MAX to Crown Point: From the Cleveland Ave. MAX station, there’s a few miles of busy suburban roads and strip malls (a good place to pick up provisions). Then a descent into the Sandy River Gorge and things start to get interesting! From the Stark St. Bridge, it’s a gradual climb (no more than 5 percent grade) to Chanticleer Point/Women’s Forum, about 800 feet/245 m high, for about 6 miles (9 km). Small grocery stores are found in Springdale and Corbett, Corbett being the last true market until you hit Cascade Locks, 25 miles (40 km) down the way, so stock up! It’s rural riding from here on out, traffic moderate (heavier at rush hour) which drops off after going through Corbett.
Upon reaching Women’s Forum (water fountain, no restrooms), you’ll get the first view of the Columbia Gorge in all its glory. From there it’s a short mile to Crown Point and the Vista House, which has historical displays, bathrooms, and a gift shop/snack bar.
Crown Point to Multnomah Falls:All that climbing is lost in two miles of screaming downhill until Latourell Falls, the first waterfall on the route. The road is narrow and windy from this point on, but traffic is very light–through traffic sticks to Interstate 84 and the cars you’ll see are most likely sightseeing. There’s a couple small hills after this, but nothing like the one you just descended.
The next 10 miles (16 km) or so are sight after sight: Sheppard’s Dell, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and then Multnomah Falls, the crown jewel of them all! Multnomah Falls is 620 feet (189 m) high, and has restrooms, gift shop, snack bar, and upscale (read: expensive) restaurant. It’s rare to find this site empty of tourists, so be warned.
Multnomah Falls to Cascade Locks:Moving eastward, the HCRH passes Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls, and Ainsworth State Park, the first campground on the route. There’s both walk-in sites and an unofficial hiker/biker site available. Another two miles of riding with cars on the HCRH, and then the new section of bike trail from Yeon State Park to Bonneville Dam! (Please note that the online map does not yet reflect the new path.) You can detour to the visitor center at the fish hatchery by the dam (the Army Corps of Engineers won’t let you ride bicycles to the dam’s visitor center), which has restrooms, displays, gift shop/snack bar, and of course Herman the Sturgeon!
The Historic Columbia River Hwy. from this point on is closed to motor vehicles, so peaceful bicycling bliss! Be careful: the old road is bumpy from tree roots, and can be slippery from moss. Plus, there’s a stairway that you’ll have to walk your bike down. After the stairway is Eagle Creek fish hatchery and campground, plus a picnic overlook over the Columbia River. From there it’s a few short miles on the old Highway bike path to Cascade Locks (grocery, restaurants, motels, post office.) You can cross Bridge of the Gods to get into Washington state. (If you need to get to Hood River, crossing into Washington here is not advised. While SR 14 is not a freeway like I-84, the Hood River Bridge is closed to bicycles, meaning you wouldn’t have a way to cross back over.) Cascade Locks has a KOA campground ($$), a county RV park down by the water ($$ as well), and a forest service campground, Herman Creek, on the east side of town.
Cascade Locks to Hood River: Since the old highway was mostly destroyed by the construction of I-84, you’ll be on the Interstate almost all of this time. Shoulders are good except around Shellrock Mountain. Most of this portion will be dominated by views of the river along the highway. Camping can be found at Wyeth (National Forest Service) and Viento state park. Get off I-84 at the Starvation Creek exit for a beautiful waterfall and a couple miles of separated bike path. Exit at Hood River, grocery, hotels, stores, coffee, bike shop, and some of the best windsurfing on the planet!