Pedal past the fall colors on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (2015)


Diane Navarette

Diane Navarette, member of the Oregon State Parks team.

When fall arrives, my limbs start to itch.

They are antsy for action, I think, in anticipation of the rainy months ahead. It’s a feeling that compels me to Go Outside. Immediately.

In early October, the leaves started to turn, and I felt the familiar itch. So my husband and I loaded the bikes and set out from Salem to Hood River, gateway to a five-mile section of the Historic Columbia River Highway that’s closed to cars. We arrived at the Mark O. Hatfield West trailhead at noon, to enjoy the autumn sun at its warmest.

The Historic Columbia Highway—also known as Highway 30—was once ranked among the grandest highways in the nation. The 72 miles linking Troutdale and The Dalles was built for the era of the Leisurely Sunday Drive. As we began our ride, I imagined the Ford Model A’s and Model T’s rolling along 100 years ago.

Replacing the “King of Roads”

Changing times called for a straighter, faster, water-level route, and the state built I-84 to replace the “King of Roads” in 1954. Luckily, the 1986 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act directed Oregon to reconnect abandoned sections of the highway as a trail for bikes and pedestrians. Parts of the route can once again be enjoyed by those of us who appreciate a slower, more scenic pace, and the Oregon Department of Transportation is leading an effort to reconnect the last five miles.

On our ride, we passed couples walking their dogs, skateboarding teens, moms jogging alongside kids on training wheels, and hard-core cyclists (easily identified because they consistently pass me on the hills.)

Yes, there are a few hills. Loooong hills where I pedaled nearly as slow as the walkers. (Families with young children: the west half of the trail is friendlier to little legs.)

Mosier Twin Tunnels are worth the ride

All said, the rewards override the huffing and puffing: panoramas of the mighty Gorge, towering cliffs of basalt, glamorous fall color, and—perhaps most distinctive—whizzing through the iconic Mosier Twin Tunnels.

The tunnels were blasted through a high rock area in 1921, then abandoned and left to fill with rock when I-84 was built below. The state restored and reopened the tunnels to tourists in 2004. As we sped through (downhill – yes!), we marveled at the ingenuity of the engineering and the curious way the tunnels separate two climate zones: the wetter west Gorge and the arid east.

At route’s end, I felt invigorated by the fall air and the heart pumping physical activity. Perhaps the excursion will sustain me through the winter months to come and quiet those itchy limbs. Don’t get me wrong—I love winter recreation, too: the bundling up in hats and gloves, the visible puffs of breath, the stripped-down beauty of a sleeping landscape.

But fall, you’ll agree, is impossible to resist. You’d best head outside for nature’s brilliant encore quick, before it slips behind the curtain of winter.

Twin Tunnels -- Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

Mosier Twin Tunnels

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

Length: 5 miles one way from either the Mark O. Hatfield West trailhead in Hood River or the Mark O. Hatfield East trailhead in Mosier. Click here to view a map of the trail.

Difficulty: A moderate ride on a paved path. Kids will need a hand walking their bikes up several long hills.

Restroom facilities: Yes, at either end.

Fees: $5 day-use parking pass, available at either end.

Visitor’s Center: Be sure to stop in the visitor center at the Mark O. Hatfield West trailhead in Hood River for historical information on Highway 30, including original engineering blueprints. This fall the visitor center is open most days 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Posted on October 20, 2015, in Oregon State Park trails, state parks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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