The dream of connecting the 73-mile Historic Columbia River Highway between Troutdale and The Dalles will become even closer to reality after this weekend. A celebration with activities for the kids and an open house for new, ADA-accessible and bike-friendly campsites will be held at Viento State Park on Saturday to welcome two new miles of paved, carfree path.
When it first opened in 1922, the Historic Highway was a marvel of engineering. Referred to as a “poem in stone” and the first official “Scenic Highway” in America, it allowed adventure-seekers to explore deep into the Gorge from the comfort of their automobiles. But the old highway was considered old news when Interstate 84 came on the scene in 1975. A bit of over 10 years later, as mother nature reclaimed the road and many sections fell into disrepair, the Oregon Department of Transportation became obsessed with rebuilding the old highway as an alternate to the fast, loud interstate.
In 1986, 22 miles of the old highway were out of commission and needed to be rebuilt and/or reconnected. After this Saturday, when ODOT opens another two-mile section between Viento and Mitchell Point, we’ll have 18 miles of carfree paths between Troutdale and The Dalles and just 3.8 miles of the 73 original miles will remain (of which ODOT has funding for all but 1.6 miles).
The new segment will give riders, walkers, and rollers of all types (except car drivers) eight miles to enjoy between Wyeth Trailhead (exit 51 off I-84) and Mitchell Point (even more if you ride on shared backroads from Cascade Locks). The 0.7 segment to reach Mitchell Point Tunnel — and the tunnel itself — aren’t quite ready yet. The spectacular, 655-foot tunnel and adjacent 1.5 mile segment of the carfree trail will open next spring (2024) and will be fully connected to Viento in 2026 (both projects are already funded and under construction).
After that, the final 1.6 mile segment from Ruthton Point to Hood river will be all that’s left. ODOT says they need about $45 million to build it and they plan to reach a 50% design milestone this fall.
According to Gorge Pedal organizer, former Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee member, and veteran cycling advocate Armando Zelada, the new trail segment that opens Saturday is something we should all be excited about:
“This trail portion is an intimate view of the Gorge, waterfalls, and has grand views up and down the Columbia River. It deserves visiting for that intimacy, much like a quartet playing is different than the full orchestral blast of Multnomah Falls. It allows one to actually follow the original Highway without vehicles as the route serpentines within the forest canopy and pops out to see the carved Columbia River Gorge slopes. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to daydream that the 100-plus year old road might just have been built on top of footpaths worn down by indigenous people who have occupied this Gorge for 9 to 12,000 years or more.”
For more on the route between Cascade Locks and Viento, check my recent report and photos.
And if you’re looking for a fun event in the Gorge this weekend, the ribbon-cutting celebration will be Saturday (9/9) from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm at Viento State Park South Campground. ODOT will have food from Empanadas Maria Elba on-site and there will be a kids scavenger hunt and other activities. Car parking is very limited, so consider taking Columbia Area Transit (CAT) from Portland. You can also bike there from another trailhead nearby or join Portland Bicycling Club for a group ride to the celebration that leaves from Cascade locks at 8:00 am.