Rowena Crest

It was a feeling of accomplishment as we rolled in to Shannon’s Ice Cream Shop in the Dalles, Oregon, after completing the approximately 55 mile journey from Multnomah Falls. We had spent two days riding, with an overnight stay at Viento State Park campground. Although many cyclists choose to ride from Portland, we jump started our tour by riding a CAT (Columbia Area Transit) bus from Portland to Multnomah Falls. Although we missed Crown Point, the tradeoff was worth it for us. We were able to focus our energy and attention on our favorite stretches of the Gorge.

The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is a bike-friendly route on roads and trails that covers 95% of the distance between Portland and The Dalles. Most of the route is shared with cars on the Historic Columbia River Highway, but a good 16 miles is car-free, with scenic spans of bike- and pedestrian-only trail. The missing link is the short stretch between Viento State Park and Hood River. As of summer of 2022, that section is under construction and cannot be safely navigated by cyclists. That’s why we decided to schedule a custom pickup by the convenient CAT (Columbia Area Transit) bus system, to ferry us between Viento State Park and Hood River.

Why we did it

You haven’t seen the Gorge until you’ve seen it by bike or on foot from the magnificent viewpoints on the mostly-complete Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. The trail is usually higher elevation than I-84. The extra height improves the view, but so does being on a bike because you can pull over at any moment and take it all in.

In a few years the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail will be complete, connecting cyclists from Portland to the Dalles. But right now there is a gap in the trail near Mitchell Point, located between Viento State Park and Hood River. The Oregon Department of Transportation is working on a huge construction project at Mitchell Point. They are recreating the historic tunnel that once existed there as part of Highway 30, but this time the tunnel will be for bikes and pedestrians. That original tunnel was famous for its giant arched “windows” looking out across the river. Those windows will be recreated in the new 570-foot Mitchell Point Tunnel.

After the tunnel is completed in the summer of 2023, there is still one more short section of trail to be funded, and then constructed West of Hood River. That section will complete the trail from Portland to the Dalles. But for the time being, bicyclists and pedestrians will need to drive or take the CAT bus through this section of I-84.

How we did it

Part of our aesthetic was to keep costs low, and rely on the equipment at hand: two 1990s Trek Mountain bikes, one with medium width tires, and one with giant 2.5″ cruiser tires. Each bike had a rack to allow for two pannier bags.

Our camping gear consisted of one rather heavy two-person tent (8 lbs), two sleeping bags, two vintage Thermarests, a small collection of bike tools, a first aid kit, two water bottles (each), rain coats, and two changes of clothing each. Our bikes ended up being rather heavy, making hills even more of a challenge.

Our food consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, hummus, pasta salad, cut veggies, trail mix, pretzels, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. We left the camp stove and cookware behind.

We made a camping reservation for Viento State Park, and we called CAT (Columbia Area Transit) a few days ahead of our ride to schedule our pickup at Viento State Park.

WEDNESDAY

8:50 AM We biked from home to Gateway Transit Center via the I-205 bike path and caught the 9:50 CAT bus to Multnomah Falls. Total cost was $20 for two riders. (No reservation necessary, pay the driver cash as you board)

The bike racks on the back of the bus took a little figuring out. You have to lift your bike up with the handlebars toward the sky and the wheels facing away from the back of the bus. A pair of hooks grabs and holds your bars. Stretch the bungees around the handlebars, and down around your rear wheel.

After walking up the trail for a view of Multnomah Falls, we began riding East on the shady scenic highway, sharing the road with the occasional car. Cars were polite, and gave us plenty of berth. There was not too much traffic, and we felt quite at ease.

After a several miles we hit our first “car free” section of trail, running from John B. Yeon State Park all the Way to Cascade Locks. This trail was our first hint that we were in for some spectacular views unlike any we had experienced while driving.

1 PM We arrived in Cascade Locks and bought a couple of beers and some ice, anticipating that we’d enjoy those when we reached our camp ground in a few hours.

Leaving Cascade Locks we overlooked a detour sign on Forest Lane and found the road closed just a few hundred feet shy of the overpass that would have put us back on the scenic highway East of Cascade Locks. Backtracking two miles to town put us in a surly mood and sucked away much-needed energy for what would be the biggest climb of the day at Herman Creek Road.

Herman Creek Road is steep and winding, with just enough grade that we sometimes found it hard to start pedaling with our heavily loaded bikes. We took plenty of breaks, and ended up walking a short stretch near the top. The descent was fast and fun, landing us at the entrance to Wyeth State Park where there were nice bathrooms and a water bottle fill station. Here the trail again turned “car-free” for the final four miles to Viento State Park.

5PM We arrived at our campground exhausted and exhilarated. Other than the road closure at Cascade Locks, everything had gone smoothly and we were ready to drink the beers we had lugged for the second half of the day.

Note: Viento State Park is a modest campground so close to I-84 that you will hear nothing but cars and trains all night. It served its purpose for a quick stopover, but we probably wouldn’t return for an extended stay.

THURSDAY

7:20AM Our reserved CAT bus picked us up on time, and transported us the quick 10 minutes to Hood River. We locked up our bikes outside Ground Espresso Bar & Cafe and ordered coffee, avocado toast, and a Classic egg sandwich.

The CAT bus also came in handy to ferry us across one awkward stretch of 1-84 where there is no alternative route. This stretch is about five miles long, between Viento State Park and Hood River. We arranged a custom CAT bus bickup at Viento State Park at 7:20 AM. The bus was right on time, and it only costed $2 per rider.

9:30AM Blue skies beckoned us East as we began the long winding climb out of Hood River on Highway 30. Perhaps it was the coffee or the giant breakfast, but on this morning we felt more psychologically and physically prepared for the upcoming hills.

After a couple of miles of highway we found the entrance to the “car-free” trail toward Mosier. The trail was active with hikers and bikers, and the views were incredible the entire way through Mosier tunnel and descending down into the town itself. Though distinctly uphill, the grade remained modest and enjoyable for cycling with a heavy load.

After our downhill run into Mosier we began climbing to Rowena Crest, a windy bluff with famous panoramic views of the Columbia River. After a brief lunch and a few selfies we began our most scenic descent yet. It was the spectacular grand finale of our trip.

2PM Leaving Rowena the biking became easy with gradual downhills and just a few small elevation gains all the way the Dalles, where we arrived at Shannon’s Ice Cream just before they opened at 2 PM.

We checked into The Dalles Inn, a quaint 1970s-looking building in the heart of the old downtown section, with big comfortable rooms.

While in the Dalles we enjoyed dining at a few great places:

We had tasty fish and chips, and a Monkey Butt Margarita at the Bargeway Pub. An electric bassist was warming up on the live music stage as we left.

The ice cream is always great at Shannon’s Ice Cream, where they make their own dairy and non-dairy ice creams, including Rhubarb Crumble and Licorice.

We walked around the corner to Clocktower Ales for a beer. The historic courthouse building showcases a certain fuzzy plains-dwelling animal as a major theme in the decor – but I won’t spoil the surprise.

Friday morning was breakfast at the Riv Cafe, a modern bistro offering vegan options along with traditional breakfast items such as waffles.

FRIDAY

1:45PM Portland bound, we once again loaded up our bikes and rode to the east end of town to catch The Link, a bus that would take us to the Hood River Transit Center for our connection to Portland. The fare was $1 per rider.

2:30PM Our CAT bus ride from Hood River to Portland ($10 per rider) was a chance to take one last look at the Gorge scenery, and try to spot the sections of trail we had covered on our cycling trip.

3:45PM Arrived in Gateway Transit Center. Mounted bikes for the 33 minute ride home.