After seeing the wildly popular Disney movie Cars, our family entertained the idea of making a Route 66 trip in our 1952 Hudson Pacemaker. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the Pacific Northwest had its own version of a historic road trip, the Columbia River Highway.
Our family discovered this historical highway last month while driving from Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho. We had given ourselves a couple of days to enjoy the Columbia Gorge at leisure and were stunned at what we had been missing all these years. The Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) is without a doubt the most spectacular highway we had ever taken, topping even the Pacific Coast highway for breathtaking views. Most amazingly of all, this highway had the uncanny ability to pull us back into time to an era where people took idyllic road trips to see the countryside. If you want to escape the rat race for a few hours, the Columbia River Highway is a must see attraction.
A brief history
Originally part of Route 30, the Historic Columbia River Highway ran along the south side of the Columbia River. This incredible feat of engineering began construction in 1913 and was completed in 1922, making available dozens of scenic wonders along the Columbia Gorge accessible to motoring tourists. Parts of the roadway fell into disuse with the construction of Interstate 84, but it wasn’t until the destruction of the Hood River Bridge in 1982 that public interest sparked a massive effort to preserve and restore what remained of this classic old highway. In 1983, the Columbia River Highway (renamed the Historic Columbia River Highway) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and earned the designation of a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1984. (source: www.nps.gov)
What’s there to see
The restored and drivable portions of the HCRH runs between the cities of Troutdale (14.2 miles east of Portland) and The Dalles. There’s two drivable sections of the road, from Troutdale to Ainsworth and Mosier to the Dalles which cover a distance of about 40 miles. Each span takes about an hour, though you’ll definitely want to plan for longer since there is so much to see and explore. Sadly, we had to pass by some neat old service stations and old fashioned fruit stands but did manage to take in these awe-inspiring sights:
The Vista House: 24 miles east of Portland, this unique stone building offers up some truly amazing views of the gorge. The Vista House was built as a roadside rest area for early motorists and is definitely worth a stop.
Rowena Point: If you are in too much of a hurry, you’ll pass this discreetly marked viewpoint which gives you yet another vantage point of the Columbia Gorge.
Bridal Veil Falls and State Park: There a number of well marked falls that motorists can visit along the Historic Columbia River Highway, but one of our favorites was Bridal Veil Falls. The trail to the falls is about a mile roundtrip, and while short, is steep with switch backs and steps. The falls are definitely worth the hike and drop twice in succession to create that “bridal veil” appearance.
Multnomah Falls: Hailed as Oregon’s most popular attraction, the Multnomah Falls drops 620 feet to a scenic pool below the beautiful Multnomah Lodge.
The Historic Columbia River Highway pretty much runs parallel to both the Columbia River and Interstate 84. It can be accessed off Interstate 84 and is extremely well marked and easy to find. Gas stations and places to eat are limited so you’ll want to make sure you’ll tank up before leaving Portland.