Travelogue Oregon: Cycling the Columbia River Gorge

Smooth roads, stunning views (and wind) provide singular cycling experience

Travel Oregon
Hood River is one of the world's greatest locations for wind-driven water sports in the entire world.

Hood River is one of the world’s greatest locations for wind-driven water sports (click to enlarge).

Editor’s Note: This post is courtesy of Travel Oregon.

As I sit in my RV typing this most memorable ride report, the howling wind along the waterfront of the Columbia River makes my land-bound rig feel more like a boat as it sways bow to stern. Out my window, whitecaps lash the shoreline, trees bend, and windsurfers shoot in all directions. Though this mighty river flows westward to the Pacific, prevailing winds churn its water, making it seem as though it’s reversed flow. It’s no secret that the area has some of the most consistent wind in the world, making the Columbia River Gorge a Mecca for all sorts of wind-aided water sports.

The Columbia River is more than a mile wide in spots with mountains rising as much as 2,000 vertical feet on either side.

The Columbia River is more than a mile wide in spots with mountains rising as much as 2,000 vertical feet on either side (click to enlarge).

Aside from those powerful winds, the Columbia River Gorge’s sheer enormity commands respect. The river is more than a mile wide in spots, with the gorge rising high on either side. And to cap it off – literally – the majestic, snowbound 11,250-foot Mount Hood looms in the distance. It’s a magical and inspiring place.

Perfect pavement, no vehicle traffic and stunning views are in abundance on the Columbia River Gorge route.

Perfect pavement, no cars, and stunning views are abundant along the Columbia River Gorge (click to enlarge).

Typically, I’m not a fan of riding in gale-force wind. But after reading the details of this 50-mile out-and-back route between Hood River and The Dalles on the Historic Columbia River Highway, I wasn’t worried about the conditions. The route included two historic tunnels on an extended stretch of car-free pavement, an exhilarating descent, and a glorious transition from lush coastal foliage to high desert flora. Clearly this was not a ride to be missed.

Mark Hatfield State Park is closed to vehicle traffic, and even on Memorial Day weekend, it never felt crowded.

Mark Hatfield State Park is closed to cars, and even on Memorial Day weekend, it never felt crowded (click to enlarge).

The ride started with a beautiful switchback climb that was accented by bright white painted wooden guardrails. Next came passage through the restored tunnels that used to carry vehicle traffic below a volcanic cliff.

The route continued on Old Highway 30 through the quaint village of Mosier, complete with an ale house, vintage diner, antique store and an old cherry packing facility that looked perfectly preserved in time. From Mosier, the road climbed through numerous orchards and lush fields loaded with grape vines and blooming flowers.

The Rowena Grade descent features perfectly banked switchbacks.

The Rowena Grade descent features perfectly banked turns (click to enlarge).

The day’s best descent came next. Rowena Grade has perfectly banked turns that seem plucked from the Alps or Dolomites, only these corners were built into the side of giant volcanic rock and lined by beautiful rock wall guardrails.

Rowena Grade is built into a mountain of volcanic rock.

Rowena Grade is built into a mountain of volcanic rock (click to enlarge).

By the time I hit the outskirts of The Dalles and turned onto the car-free Riverfront Trail, the wind had grown stronger. After a quick refueling stop, I eagerly turned around for the windswept pedal back to the start.

The bright neon colors of kiteboard sails pop against the deep greens, blues and browns of the Columbia River Gorge.

The bright neon colors of sails pop against the deep greens, blues and browns of the Columbia River Gorge (click to enlarge).

When I finally rolled down to the waterfront back in Hood River, windsurfers and kite boarders were whipping around on the water, their neon sails a stunning contrast against the blues, greens and browns of the Columbia River Gorge. Add in airborne waves of beige blowing from a sandbar and the lengthy Hood River Bridge, and it’s a scene that could be enjoyed for hours with a couple cold ones and some good company.

The town of Hood River is rich with culture and brimming with personality.

Hood River is rich with culture and brimming with personality (click to enlarge).

In the evening, I strolled Hood River’s vibrant downtown, grabbed a couple of street tacos, had a beer at Full Sail Brewery, and finished off the day with some Mike’s Ice Cream while watching the sun set behind the gorge. It was a perfect day from dawn to dusk.

Parts of the route along Highway 30 reminded me of riding through Northern California Wine Country.

The route along Highway 30 reminded me of riding through Wine Country (click to enlarge).

The Columbia River Gorge fills all the senses and blows you away with its raw, natural power and beauty. It’s definitely one of the most sense-satisfying rides I’ve ever done. I’ll definitely be back again, but next time I’m going to figure out how to attach a sail to my bike.

Check out this summer’s 7 Bikes for 7 Wonders scavenger hunt. We’re hiding seven custom-made bikes around Oregon for someone to find and ride. For full details and rules, please visit traveloregon.com/7bikes7wonders. To learn more about the state and all it has to offer, check out TravelOregon.com.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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