With its cascading waterfalls, hills full of wildflowers and sparkling river views, touring the Columbia River Gorge is easily one of the most scenic routes you can take in all of Oregon.
But what if you could see the sights without having to drive? Thanks to shuttle services and scenic bike routes, visitors can check out a few new ways to explore the gorge car-free.
Leaving the car behind means saving on gas and avoiding parking headaches, not to mention easing congestion and reducing emissions, which will go a long way toward keeping this region pristine and green for the next 100 years.
The Columbia Gorge Express will transport visitors from the Gateway Transit Center in Portland to Multnomah Falls and Rooster Rock State Park for just $5 round-trip. The bus service departs Gateway 12 times each day Friday through Sunday from late May until the end of September. Cyclists can even get aboard, with three bike spaces on each bus.
Looking for a longer gorge tour? Gray Line Tours just rolled out a brand-new half-day luxury coach tour to the gorge, for a round-trip fare of $56 to and from downtown Portland. The four-and-a-half-hour tour stops at Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls and Lodge and the Bonneville Dam and fish ladder, a national historic site in the heart of the gorge. Tours run daily June 12 through Sept. 6, 2016.
America’s Hub World Tours offers a guided Mt. Hood loop tour, half- or full-day gorge tour and a special wine-lovers gorge tour year-round, with pre-arranged pickups and drop-offs from downtown Portland. The full-day tour covers each of the Gray Line’s stops, plus more at Timberline Lodge, Crown Point Vista House and Hood River, where visitors can explore before hopping on for the return trip.
You can also spend your visit to the gorge sipping wine with Evergreen Escapes’ six-hour Columbia Gorge Waterfalls & Wine Tour. Visit “Waterfall Alley,” take interpretive nature walks, view wildlife and sample boutique wines only found in Oregon — without having to drive. (Pick-up and drop-off are in downtown Portland.)
Editor’s note: The Columbia River Highway is closed from Bridal Veil to Ainsworth State Park while it undergoes repairs to damage caused by wildfires and recent rockslides. A six-mile (9.7 km) stretch of the highway (Larch Mountain Road to Bridal Veil) is open. Visit the Oregon Department of Transportation website for updated information.
Getting to the gorge by bike is highly recommended. For starters, it’s 19 miles of great views from the Gresham MAX station to Multnomah Falls.
True cyclists will love riding the entire 100-year-old Historic Columbia River Highway, with a connecting motorized-vehicle-free state trail on parts of the old highway. The Troutdale to Cascade Locks segment passes by multiple waterfalls, Crown Point Vista House and the Bridge of the Gods. The following Cascade Locks to Hood River segment features a new car-free segment of the restored state trail from Starvation Creek Trailhead to Viento State Park. The Hood River to The Dalles segment includes a beautiful 4-mile car-free leg that goes through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, followed by a ride to the picture-worthy Rowena Crest Viewpoint and Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. (Tip: avoid crowds at the pit-stops by taking the reverse route, starting in The Dalles and ending in Portland.)
Even where you share the road with auto traffic, low speed limits and scenic views make it a must for experienced road cyclists. Find handy maps with detailed elevations, route cues and scenic points of interest from the Oregon Department of Transportation and Portland Office of Transportation.
However you get to the Gorge, there’s plenty to discover all summer long, including special hikes, bike rides, runs, concerts, festivals and parades. Check out the Columbia River Gorge Visitors Association for maps and other attractions.