We love historic highways. From Route 66 to The Cumberland Gap, roads wind their way through our country’s history. Many of these paths started out as footpaths or wagon trails—some take the line of least resistance, others, like Colorado’s Pike’s Peak Road, follow tortuous geographic contours in an effort to reach their destination.
In 2016, the Historic Columbia River Highway (Historic Route 30), turns 100.That’s right—an entire century of travel. On June, 7, 1916, the road opened. When the road was built, The Times of London referred to it as “America’s great highway.” Thousands of people from across the world headed east from Portland by special train or drove their own automobile to celebrate the dedication. Now, a hundred years to the day, plans are for a rededication and equally as awesome party.
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Created as one of America’s first “scenic” highways, the road took 19 years to complete; it was designed to take full advantage of the magnificent Columbia River Gorge—Lewis and Clark, on their 1804 trip across the continent to the Pacific, had widely publicized it’s beauty; waterfalls and amazing vistas, steep cliffs and of course, the big, fish-rich water of the Columbia. Thanks to dedicated preservation movements, the Historic Columbia River Highway still carves through pristine nature, and buildings have been designed to accentuate nature; note the Vista House, Multnomah Falls Lodge, and nearby Stonehenge and Maryhill Museum.
Life soon got more complicated, and by the early 1950s, people wanted a faster, straighter, water-level route through the Gorge. The new road (which eventually became I-84) obliterated many sections of the Scenic Highway, leaving what remained abandoned and disconnected. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986 directed the State of Oregon to connect these abandoned highway sections as a pedestrian and bike trail. This new rendition of America’s First Scenic Highway is now the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
Today, more than 2 million people a year travel the Historic Columbia River Highway State Highway & Trail; some drive, but many bike or walk to experience the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area up close. The road meanders past 16 trailheads to waterfalls, including the mighty Multnomah Falls, and many other noteworthy destinations, such as Vista House and Rowena Crest. It also links the tourist-friendly towns of Troutdale, Cascade Locks, Hood River and The Dalles.
Today, you can drive all but 10 miles of the 73 miles Historic Columbia River Highway by car (Historic Columbia River Highway/Historic Route 30) foot or bike (Historic Highway & State Trail). Ten more miles of abandoned highway are being reconnected; construction started in Fall 2015 on a State Trail through the Gorge between Cascade Locks and Hood River (it’s a beautiful two-mile section of trail between Lindsey Creek and Starvation Creek). In 2016, another three-mile section of trail construction begins between Wyeth and Lindsey Creek, with a completion date of 2018. With the construction of these five miles, cyclists and hikers will be able to access the Historic Highway & State Trail between Wyeth (Exit 51) and Viento State Park (Exit 56).
After the September 2016 opening of the section between Lindsey Creek and Starvation Creek, there are only five miles of the Historic Highway left to restore. A major statewide push is planned to secure $32-$35 million in federal funding needed to complete the State Trail. Once the entire 73 miles are reconnected, cyclists will be able to ride from Portland to The Dalles without venturing onto I-84, making it a much safer and widely accessible route.
To serve Historic Highway & Trail travelers even better, six Gorge communities—Six of the Gorge communities (Wood Village, Troutdale, Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles) are installing downtown Gorge Hubs for the centennial celebration. These multi-use rest stops are designed as welcome center for hikers, cyclists and motorists. Not only can you pick up a map and community calendar, they provide handy amenities like bike repair and trail information.