One of my absolute favorite things about Portland is how easy it is to get out of the city — like actually out into nature, where you can ride through big trees and camp and see the stars and everything — without having a car. The Columbia River Gorge, with its plethora of waterfalls, hiking trails, several campgrounds, and general awesomeness, is one of the best examples of being able to get the heck out of dodge, easily.
Why is the Gorge so awesome? Well first there’s the objective majesty of the Columbia River snuggled deep into its rocky bed, one cliff side in Oregon and the other Washington.
Then there’s the added bonus of all the side rivers cascading down to join the party, many in waterfalls that you can hike right up to, splash in the bottom of, or even sneak behind.
It’s also awesome because you can bike there and back in a day, with time enough for hiking too if you’re feeling spunky. And since there’s so much there, you can make it as long or as short of a ride as you want.
From my house to the Women’s Forum, basically what I consider the beginning of the Gorge, is little under 20 miles if you take the direct route down to the Stark Street bridge. (Or, if you want to cut out about 9 miles of biking through East Portland wasteland, you could take the MAX out to its end in Gresham and make it a mere 11 lovely miles.)
From the Women’s Forum, the Historic Highway winds its way along the Oregon side of the Gorge, passing bunches of different trailheads and waterfalls just ripe for exploring. 33 miles in, you pass a campground at Ainsworth State Park — the very first place I ever went bike camping:)
After Ainsworth, the Historic Highway ends for a bit, but no worries, there are about 2 miles of frontage road that keep you off of Interstate 84, even though you can hear it loud and clear (did I mention loud?).
Until this year, the end of the frontage road dumped you unceremoniously on the shoulder of I-84, where you had to bike right next to the semis for a few miles until Eagle Creek (where there is another campground). There’s a wide shoulder, I mean, but it sure isn’t pleasant. But now, you can get on the newly-completed Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, which takes you all the way to Cascade Locks on many miles of multi-use path, freeway-free.
Cascade Locks isn’t the end of the road, of course. From there you could cross the epically-named Bridge of the Gods (see the picture above) into Washington and bike back to Portland through a whole different state. You could turn around and come back the way you came. Or you could keep biking along the Gorge to Hood River or The Dalles, though that still requires some freeway biking until they extend the bike path. Like I said, it’s an infinitely expandable ride.
Yesterday, my excellent biking buddies James and Craig were on a mission to take the new path to Cascade Locks. We braved the unexpected rains all along the new trail (which, unfortunately, still has a rather steep staircase in the middle of it), and made it to the new Cascade Locks brewery, Thunder Island, just in time for lunch. They make an excellent vegan sandwich, and though I was too cold to try it, I’m sure delicious beer as well.
The rain was kind of a bummer for a while, but like real Oregonians we sucked it up and whooped our way through sloshing shoes, soaking jerseys, and dripping helmets (and, for James, glasses that needed windshield wipers:) And sure enough, on our way back, we were rewarded with this:
It was an excellent 90-mile ride, and James and Craig get mad props for deciding that they wanted to get to Cascade Locks and then going for it, no training other than daily bike commuting required.
Our route? Here:
We didn’t stop for any hiking this time around, but even so, the Historic Highway took us right past a whole plethora of waterfalls we could see without even having to get off our saddles (though stretch breaks are always a good idea:) And when we got home, we still had plenty of time to hang out with my bitty bro and his girlfriend who, just like migratory birds, are on their way back south for the winter. An excellent day, to one of my favorite places.