Historic Columbia River Ride
Not infrequently, I tell myself that certain drives would make great bike rides. The ride from Portland to Government Camp (or Hood River), for example, I have driven several times, but never ridden. A couple years ago I took my family and drove the Historic Columbia River Highway from Troutdale out to the I-84 interchange. The route takes you from Troutdale up to Corbett and the Vista House and down to Multnomah Falls and all the sister waterfalls along the route.
This past weekend, my brother Rob, and buddy Clay, and I went and did it. We did it on a cold morning in late March. The plan was to start out at McMenamin’s Edgefield around 8 am and get back for a bite of lunch.
Like a lot of our early morning rides, we got started late. My challenge with this type of ride is to know what clothing to wear. The ride has a long flat section two good climbs and two extended descents. For the ride we all went double long sleeves, shoe covers, full leggings and caps. I added my neck warmer and brought a thin pair of full finger gloves just in case my monster-thick lobster mitts were overkill. We rolled out of Edgefield and through Troutdale. After crossing the Sandy River we turned north to head up to Corbett. The road is flat for the first 4 miles as you wind along the Sandy River. Traffic was thankfully very light, and the road has a good bike lane/shoulder. This part of the ride is pretty forested, and the road runs between the river and steep hillside for a couple miles.
At just over 4 miles you turn away from the river and begin a 6 mile climb up to the Portland Women’s Forum Memorial. The grade is pretty gentle but sustained most of the time. You get a brief respite riding through Corbett, before the final push to the memorial. There is a good refuel stop in Corbett at The road is lightly forested and interspersed with farmland, and there are plenty of scenic views of the surrounding hillsides and valleys.
Once you reach the Portland Women’s Forum Memorial, it is worth stopping to take in a spectacular view of the Columbia River Gorge. At the memorial you are at the highest point on the ride. Form the viewpoint, you can look down on the Vista House and on many of the lower benches on the Washington side of the river. Directly below you is Rooster Rock on the Oregon shore, and down the river to the east is Beacon Rock on the Washington shore.
From here, you begin your descent into the Gorge. So if it is chilly, make sure you put your cap on and zip up. The descent takes you past Vista House and down several hairpin turns to Latourell Falls. We stopped briefly at the Vista House for a scenic shot and headed down the road which was recently repaved (GLORY BE!).
Once we descended to Latourell Falls, we met a couple visiting from Maryland who agreed to take our photo. The wife was amazed that we were out riding, and I think the husband was too, but he wouldn’t admit it.
Once you reach Latourell Falls, you begin an undulating section of the ride that will take you to the end the Historic Route. You pass by several falls, including Shephard’s Dell, Wahkeena, Multnomah, and Horsetail. There are no long climbs or steep sections just lots of rolling road. The views and landscape are pretty incredible
From here you head back on the rolling road to Latourell Falls. Once at the Falls, you begin the final climb back up to the Vista House and the Women’s Forum Memorial. This is your last chance to shed any clothing that is too warm. We shed a couple of the heavy layers and Rob, being the machine he is, sprinted away from Clay and me. He got to the top first and took a couple shots of us climbing up to the Vista House. I have to say that this climb was the best part of the ride. The combination of recently paved road, combined with the incredible views and heavy forest made this particularly beautiful. This part of the route is definitely a climb, but the grade is remarkably consistent and not too steep-even in the tight corners. My only recommendation is to stay on your side of the road since many of the corners are blind.
From the Vista House, the climb continues to the Women’s Forum Memorial. This is a good chance to take in the view one last time and assess whether you need to zip up for the 6 mile descent to the Sandy River. Once you head out from the Memorial, you get a long descent on a good road with a nice shoulder. There are a couple false flats on the descent but the scenery is gorgeous, and once you get to the Sandy River you get a great view of the river. Follow the Sandy down to Troutdale and back to McMenamins Edgefield. Try the Spicy BBQ Pork Pizza at the Powerhouse Pub.