PDX Runs: Historic Columbia River Highway

The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail invites you to enjoy a wide, paved 8.5-mile out-and-back run alongside your buddies who prefer to shoot the breeze from a bike seat. This old highway is closed to vehicular traffic now and is lined by lush forests that part to reveal views of the rocky Gorge cliffs over the river.

Technically there are three separate stretches of this trail covering a total of about 12 miles. I'm writing about the Mosier Twin Tunnels segment near Hood River.

Start from Mark Hatfield West Trailhead, a few minutes (driving) from downtown Hood River. The trailhead has a parking lot, toilets, some historical signage, and some short paths to viewpoints overlooking the Gorge.

There is a $5 day use fee for the lot, and a few spots on the side of the dead-end road outside the gate if the lot is full. I do recommend driving up, as the road leading to the trailhead is sinuous with narrow shoulders.

You work against a slight incline for the first few miles of the run, almost until you get to the twin tunnels about three miles in, although some stretches are flat.

After running through the tunnels you’ll go downhill most of the way to the east trailhead, 4.25 miles from the start. Keep that in mind when you turn around and look back up the slope to the tunnels.

What are these tunnels? They were carved into the mountainside in 1921 and then abandoned in the '50s for a road at lower risk of avalanches and slides. You don’t need to be worried about those calamities: A catchment area for rocks was added before the paved route and tunnels were opened to pedestrians in 2000.

The tunnels offer open window frames with views of the Gorge, and just past the second tunnel's second window is a message scratched into the wall by a party stranded inside for eight days during a snowstorm in 1921.

There are a few panoramic viewpoints along this route. My favorite was a small beaten path just past the tunnels that led to a fenced area and a picnic table. You can see across the mighty Columbia to Coyote Wall (have you run there yet?) and the rolling, basalt hills nearby.

The Historic Columbia River State Highway is bike- and stroller-friendly, although you might get tired of pushing strollers up the long hills. My only wish would be to make this path longer.

Cap off your day in the gorge with a tasty meal and a beer (if you're not driving) at one of Hood River's many good restaurants and breweries. Full Sail or Double Mountain, perhaps?

 

Directions:

Take I-84 east from Portland to exit 64 (Mt Hood Hwy). Turn right after the exit to head south on Hwy 35. A quarter-mile later (at a giant panda statue outside a Chinese restaurant), turn left onto Old Columbia River Drive. Old Columbia River Drive will wind uphill and dead-end at the trailhead parking gate after 1.6 miles.

 

Julie Baker is a former collegiate swimmer who runs for the Portland Running Company Race Team. She lives in Portland with her husband and two small children. Email baker.juliew@gmail.com.

 



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