The people of Portland are lucky and they know it. If they go west they reach the scenic Oregon Coast in less than 100 miles. If they go south they travel through the wine country of the Willamette Valley and beyond to other wine regions, can visit Mount Angel Abbey, seasonally see Crater Lake, etc. Traveling north they experience Mount St. Helens, Seattle, and spectacular British Columbia. Going east….
they get to see a bit of one of the world’s best gorges and can travel part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, but not as much as they’ll be able to in the future. Once an almost 75-mile-long scenic highway ending in The Dalles, the very old Columbia River Highway now terminates just past Horsetail Falls, where the old road ends, for now. Although it was dedicated in 1916, it wasn’t fully completed until 1922. This historic road, therefore, will have its 100th birthday in 3 years.
The town of Troutdale east of Portland is where most travelers begin their exploration of the Columbia Gorge. Troutdale considers itself The Gateway, and there’s a visitor center there to provide travelers with information. From Troutdale they can simply follow Oregon US Route 30 signs. Another highway sign reminded me of this highway’s age. It said, “Early auto-tourists often slept on the ground next to their Model Ts…” Past Troutdale, there are so few towns and such abundant tree and mountain filled scenery that it’s hard to believe you’re still near the large city of Portland. Reportedly, 2 million humans per year drive, bicycle and/or hike in this part of the State. If they know where to look, there are 11 waterfalls around for them to gaze at.
The 3 most breathtaking sights along this incomplete route are evidence of the historic highway that is not appropriate for modern motor homes, Multnomah Falls, and Vista House. This route is impossibly busy on summer days. Multnomah is a famous, 600-foot-dropping wonder of a waterfall. Vista House, built as a memorial to pioneers and dedicated 101 years ago, sits atop Crown Point. From here you can see up, down, and across the Columbia River for many miles. In the distance on the other side is Rooster Rock, which is in Lewis & Clark logs.
The old highway now ends abruptly at I-84. It doesn’t even make it as far as Hood River. If you travel on a workday you can see road-building equipment improving it, but when I asked a volunteer at Vista House when it will be reopened he stared vacantly, shrugged, and said, “In many years.” Rockfalls, wildfires like devastating Eagle Creek, which lasted from September 2nd until the 28th of that month in 2017, and mudslides consistently delay this project.
It’s still worth exploring this amazing attraction while awaiting its eventual 21st century completion. The Times of London once called the historic Columbia River route, “America’s Great Highway”. This is both true and indisputable.