New route guide will get you into the Gorge without a car

Megan Ramey’s handy Columbia River bus and bike route guide.
Ramey showing off the Columbia Gorge Express bike rack. (Credit: Kyle Ramey)

A trip to Multnomah Falls on a beautiful summer day can lose its luster after spending an hour circling the parking lot to find an open space. But there’s another way to enjoy everything the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge has to offer – and with no parking required.

Thanks to Hood River bike advocate Megan Ramey, who put together a guide of 15 ways to explore the Gorge by bike and bus, you’ll see it’s easier than you might think to enjoy this amazing place without driving to it.

The Gorge Pass offers unlimited rides from Portland to various parts of the Columbia Gorge, including Hood River and the Dalles. The Columbia Gorge Express, which is part of the Columbia Area Transit system, goes from Portland to the Dalles, with stops in Troutdale, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, Hood River and Mosier along the way. If you want to take a bike ride on one of the many routes along the Columbia River, don’t worry about cramming your bike on a car rack or in your trunk and finding parking at the trailhead. You can put your bike on the back of the bus and take it for a spin when you’ve reached your ideal starting point, and then catch the bus back to Portland after your ride.

To help pick the perfect route for your needs, Ramey has organized the guide according to intensity. Riders can pick between four levels; from a family-friendly jaunt on The Dalles Riverfront Trail to 14-mile adventure on the Hood River Fruit Loop. Each route features a summary, a map, and connecting transit information.

Routes categorized by intensity.

This new guide is just the latest in a recent push to encourage people to take carfree adventures around Oregon, particularly in the Gorge. The Oregon Department of Transportation implemented new permit requirements to drive a car into the Gorge this summer to limit traffic on Historic Columbia River Highway.

The benefits to going into the Gorge carfree extend beyond bypassing crowded parking lots and car traffic: you’ll be able to experience its beauty directly, with the summer breeze in your face, and you can feel free to relax with a glass of wine or a beer without worrying about driving back into town.

“When I think of biking and the Columbia Gorge, I think of waterfalls, views, flora, topography, food, beer, wine, swimming holes, primo hiking access and a more immersive way to experience it all,” Ramey wrote in an email to BikePortland. “There is a bike ride for any ability, age or riding preference.”

Take a look at the guide to see all 15 suggested routes.

And if you’re Gorge-curious and up for an adventure, there’s a Pedalpalooza ride with an overnight camping option that leaves from Portland Wednesday morning.

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Amit Zinman
Amit Zinman
15 days ago

I’m going to go on that ride and hoping to post a video about my Gorge adventures this weekend on Bike Stuff PDX.

Megan Ramey
Megan Ramey
14 days ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

Jealous! My family loved camping at Ainsworth.

bikabout-historic-columbia-river-highway-trail-ainsworth-bike-camping (38).jpg
jonno
jonno
15 days ago

TIL there’s a bus between Stevenson and Carson. I’ve wanted to ride from the city up Wind River into all the goodness of the Giff and beyond but that narrow sketchy portion of hwy 14 has stopped me until now. Thanks Taylor, thanks BP!

adventurepdx
15 days ago
Reply to  jonno

The Skamania Transit bus is indeed great, and yeah, that section of SR14 isn’t the most pleasant riding experience.

Megan Ramey
Megan Ramey
14 days ago
Reply to  jonno

Where do you ride in Carson?

I really struggled with finding rides on the Washington side that avoided riding on 14. The most obvious one is Coyote Wall mountain biking but Mount Adams Transit doesn’t stop there.

Mike Beck
Mike Beck
13 days ago
Reply to  Megan Ramey

There’s one solid route between Washougal and Stevenson that avoids SR-14 entirely, and an alternate to that leads to the Cape Horn upper trailhead. Additional legs from near stevenson lead to Carson and Bear Creek Road which can get a rider all the way to Underwood. All these are gravel/adventure/mountain bike only though.

 
 
15 days ago

Everyone who lives on the west side of the metro area is completely unable to use the CAT bus, because they adamantly refuse to consider any stops west of Gateway. It’s a great concept, but completely worthless to the majority of people in the metro area as it stands. Why is an additional stop at the Sunset Transit Center or the like completely off the table? I’d 100% use it if it stopped anywhere near me.

adventurepdx
15 days ago
Reply to   

“Completely unable” “Completely worthless”
Hyperbole much?

The CAT bus stops at Gateway Transit Center, a hub for MAX light rail. Both the Red and Blue lines stop here, and you can use either line to get to the west side (though yes, the Red Line currently only goes to Beaverton TC).

Can’t you use the MAX to get to Gateway and take the CAT from there? With the first Eastbound CAT bus at 6:50 AM and seven more buses after that, the last one at 5:20 PM, there seems to be plenty of opportunities to connect.

And while it would be lovely for the Columbia Gorge Express to go further west than Gateway, I’m guessing it’s due to logistics. Adding a stop on the west side, say Sunset or Beaverton TC, could add up to an hour to the round-trip. That would mean less trips to the Gorge.

Chris I
Chris I
15 days ago
Reply to   

Because we have frequent, high-capacity transit between the west metro and Gateway? Someone near Sunset TC can more easily get to Gateway TC than someone living in St. John’s our outer-SE Portland. We don’t need to duplicate Trimet routes (on the most congested highways in the state) with the Gorge Express.

It is very easy to bring your bike on MAX (blue, red, or green lines) and take it to Gateway.

 
 
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

It would mean that I first have to get to the MAX line, then take the MAX to Gateway, then take the CAT to the trailhead. That easily takes upwards of 2 hours one direction, when I could instead drive to the trailhead in 45 minutes. Adding a CAT stop would remove the horribly slow Goose Hollow to Lloyd Center section of the MAX, and remove one transfer.

adventurepdx
15 days ago
Reply to   

So that means is not “completely unable” for someone from the westside to use CAT/Columbia Gorge Express.

Anyways, you might be looking at this the wrong way if your reasoning is “driving will be faster.” Driving usually is.

Perhaps think of the other things that taking the bus avoids:

  • In the past, you had to worry about parking lots at popular spots in the Gorge being full and/or overflowing. (And when that happens, what do you do? Turn around? Park along the shoulder of the HCRH and risk a ticket or tow?)
  • Now you may need to get a “Timed Use Permit” in advance to get in, which means that you’ll have to plan further in advance and be willing to change your plans in order to get in: https://www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10089144
  • And car break-ins have been common at trailheads. I’ve known a few people who’ve returned to their car after a hike to find smashed windows. Perhaps the new Timed Use Permit has curbed that, I don’t know. Theft is always a risk.

I’d prefer to avoid those headaches, even if it meant a longer travel time and having to transfer. As it is, it’s about a forty-five minute ride on the MAX between Sunset and Gateway. Traveling by car can be as low as twenty minutes (according to Google), but only if you hit it right. Otherwise it can take nearly as long as the MAX.

And even if MAX to Gorge Express is double what it takes to drive, it doesn’t make it “completely worthless.”

Chris I
Chris I
15 days ago
Reply to   

If you are prepared to use a car, you can drive and park at Gateway as well. There are drawbacks to living in a low density, car-centric community, and it sounds like you found one of them.

Resources are finite. Sending CAT buses to the west side and having them sit in gridlock on I84 and 26 would mean cutbacks elsewhere; places in the Gorge that don’t have high-capacity transit running on the same corridor.

ivan
ivan
15 days ago
Reply to   

What’s wrong with taking the Max from the west side to Gateway? I imagine they don’t add CAT stops there because it would be redundant to Max given that it serves exactly the same route.

(Of course I get that Max stops aren’t necessarily accessible, even by connecting bus, to everywhere, but you have to assume that even if they had CAT stops on the west side, the place they’d most likely put them is at Max or WES stops anyway.)

pigs
pigs
15 days ago
Reply to  ivan

The max is painfully slow to go from west of the wills to east of the river. Its adequate to get downtown but anything beyond that is a time waste.

Megan Ramey
Megan Ramey
14 days ago
Reply to   

As a CAT board member, I wasn’t happy when we discontinued service to Lloyd Center, but when it was explained to me that the buses sit in traffic and the Trimet zips by and is duplicative, I understood.

It’s pretty remarkable that you can get from Gateway to Beaverton on one line and I see the uninterupted 45 minutes as great reading time.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
14 days ago

I don’t think our family is ready for this sort of adventure *yet*….but while I’m thinking about it: Is it possible to take a Burley trailer on the Gorge bus? Does one take it inside, or hang it by the bikes somehow? What about a stroller? And for the joggers, how about a BOB single or BOB double stroller? Any idea what fits, or doesn’t? I’m just thinking about different family considerations….

Megan Ramey
Megan Ramey
14 days ago

Shannon, I have taken our Burley trailer on the CAT, but the drivers are not happy about it because they need the space for ADA.

I’m a CAT board member and am trying to work on this because it’s a big deal for families.

In the least, if the trailer was fully collapsed, it should tuck away somewhere.

Strollers should be no problem.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
14 days ago

Great map and resource…but do not forget your Washington based resources to the Gorge (CTRAN via Fishers Landing and the Portland express bus services). Plus there is Amtrak (Union Stn or Vancouver: ~2 hours to Bingen-White Salmon for $7 each way with a folding bike or + bike fee). These may be helpful if other options are full or it you live in North or East Portland). Have fun!

Chris I
Chris I
14 days ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

As a warning for potential Amtrak travelers, the Empire Builder Schedule is not really set up for day trips. The eastbound train leaves Portland in the late afternoon (could be useful for an overnight trip). Westbound comes through in the morning, but the westbound train is often late, because it starts in Chicago 2 days prior.

Megan Ramey
Megan Ramey
14 days ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Amtrak does not allow full size bikes to Bingen, only folding bikes that fit in the luggage area.

If you are in Portland, isn’t it slower to cross over to Vancouver and ride CTRAN to Stevenson versus CAT to Cascade Locks / Stevenson?

adventurepdx
12 days ago
Reply to  Megan Ramey

Todd/Boulanger reps the Vancouver side of the metro area, so he’ll always point out options available to Clark County readers of this blog (which there are some!)

And while it is slower for a Portlander to cross over the river and access the Skamania Transit bus (the one that travels WA 14), there is definitely a use for it in certain circumstances. While it is legal to ride Bridge of the Gods across the Columbia between Cascade Locks and Stevenson(ish), the narrow roadway, bridge height, and that steel-grate deck you can see through to the river below is not going to be for everyone. If one wanted to access Gifford Pinchot NF via Wind River Road from Carson and not have to ride across that bridge, nor ride 14 from Washougal to Carson, the Skamania bus is an option.

And let’s not forget that the Skamania bus was the ONLY bus option in the Gorge for many, many years! I remember using it back in 2006 when I did a tour of the Gorge, riding east from PDX via the old highway (and 84), crossing at The Dalles Bridge, and west on 14. Catching that bus at Stevenson meant not having to ride further west on 14 or having to cross Bridge of the Gods back to the OR side.

Megan Ramey
Megan Ramey
14 days ago

Thanks to Bike Portland for sharing the map I designed for Gorge Pass – maybe the best kept secret for Portland staycations. $40 for unlimited rides is absolutely amazing. And we haven’t started promoting the Mount Hood rides like Surveyors Ridge yet.

As y’all experience the map, bus riding and bike rides in the Gorge, please offer feedback. I am also a board member for CAT and would love to grow the “bus+bike” service.

And I can attest how amazing the new timed permit system is for crowd control. I rode from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls last Thursday and only 3 cars passed me between Crown Point and the falls.