Originally published August 13, 2016 at midnight, updated August 13, 2016 at midnight
In time for centennial celebrations of the Historic Columbia River Highway, three local agencies have come together to enhance the visitor experience along the ever-popular scenic route. The Oregon Tourism Commission, dba Travel Oregon, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the U.S. Forest Service have introduced “Ready, Set, Gorge,” a new trip-planning resource. ReadySetGorge.com takes visitors to a Travel Oregon webpage devoted to touring tips, including public transportation options and ways to enjoy the myriad of events marking the highway’s 100th anniversary this year.
“The Columbia River Gorge has consistently been among the top tourist destinations in Oregon thanks to its stunning natural beauty,” said Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon. “These new travel tips provide visitors with information and guidelines to get the most from their visit, while being mindful of local communities as well as the state of our precious natural resources along this well-traveled road. Countless visitors have appreciated the Gorge over the past century, and we hope that ‘Ready, Set, Gorge’ will help preserve this wonder for generations to come.”
A natural border between Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a national treasure. Cultural, historical and recreational attractions as well as scenic vistas – including waterfalls, wildflowers, basalt cliffs, lakes, streams and rivers – are interspersed among nearly 300,000 acres. With close proximity to the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area, the Gorge draws more than two million visitors each year, with destinations like Multnomah Falls, Crown Point and Rooster Rock State Park receiving a considerable share of those visitors. To alleviate issues associated with traffic, parking and trail use, ‘Ready, Set, Gorge’ provides resources to improve access as well as tips to encourage environmental stewardship.
“‘Ready, Set, Gorge’ is a guide to seeing the Gorge the way it was always meant to be seen,” said Kristen Stallman, National Scenic Area coordinator at ODOT. “We encourage visitors to take advantage of new transportation options – including transit, shuttles, carpools and cycling – that make it fun and easy to see the region without having to drive their own cars. We also recommend off-peak travel and planning ahead to ensure an enjoyable and smart trip.”
“Ready, Set, Gorge” provides links to various public and private shuttles and tours that transport visitors for minimal fees depending on the destination. The new Columbia Gorge Express kicked off service in June, providing close to 10,000 rides in the first five weeks of operation. Trips depart several times per day with roundtrip service from the Gateway Transit Center in Portland connecting to Rooster Rock State Park and Multnomah Falls. On July 15, the schedule was updated in response to rider preferences and operational needs and allow more trip options: http://columbiagorgeexpress.com/schedule-tickets. Tickets are $5 for the day.
In addition, with segments of the Historic Columbia River Highway closed to motorized vehicles, cycling is a viable and sustainable option. For instance, the Mosier Twin Tunnels trail provides 10 round-trip miles of incredible sightseeing. Running between Hood River and Mosier, the car-free route covers two climate zones and dramatic geologic formations that speak to the region’s history.
“Preservation of the Gorge is of the utmost importance, particularly as we pause for a historic milestone and consider how use of the area will be shaped over the next 100 years,” said Stan Hinatsu, recreation staff officer at the U.S. Forest Service, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. “‘Ready, Set, Gorge’ points newcomers to critical information for enjoying the outdoors. In addition to preparation and safety guidelines, we are sharing ways that visitors can contribute to preservation efforts by leaving the Gorge as pristine as they found it.”
Once in the Gorge, visitors can take the meandering, scenic Historic Columbia River Highway – hailed as “America’s Great Highway.” The approximately 75-mile route is celebrating 100 years since its original dedication with events throughout the year. Visitors can gain a greater appreciation for the highway and its key points of interest through state trail dedications, athletic events, exhibitions, lectures, tours and other programs. For additional information or to participate in an upcoming event, visit Travel Oregon’s Event Page.
The centennial celebration also highlights exploration beyond Multnomah Falls and the notable stops in the western Gorge. The largely undiscovered eastern Gorge offers unique trails, pristine hidden springs, remarkable vistas, and less foot traffic on average. Check out the Stacker-Butte Oak Spring trail in the Columbia Hills or head to Lyle to wander along the Klickitat River and Mineral Springs. Head to Hood River Valley and explore the cider scene or spend some time at the region’s diverse wineries. Or, stop a while in Cascade Locks to cruise the river, hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, and take in views of the Bridge of the Gods while enjoying generous ice cream cones from Eastwind Drive-In. With so much to see and do, visitors should have no problem planning for a few leisurely days of exploration.