Hiking and Biking the Columbia River Gorge

Bike abandoned rail lines, hike to swimming holes, and seek out secret waterfalls.

By Zach Dundas July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Klickitat Rail Trail

Klickitat Rail Trail  

All told, this abandoned rail line runs 31 miles between the Washington burgs of Lyle and Goldendale, including remote (and spectacular) sections closed during summer months due to fire danger. For a gravel-grind even newbies can take on (with the proper mountain or cross bike, of course), set up a shuttle car in Lyle, then drive up to the trail access near Klickitat and head south. This section traces State Route 142 and the sometimes-raging Klickitat River; in winter, eagles often patrol above. Round Trip: 15 miles; Nearest towns: Lyle and Klickitat; Distance from Downtown: 1h 25m

Mosier Plateau Trail

Officially opened in 2013, this scenic ramble along sunbathed hillsides above Mosier is still too new to feature in many guidebooks. (Consider it a crowd-free alternative to well-trodden wildflower beacons like Dog Mountain or Rowena Crest.) Begin from the south side of the bridge in Mosier and wind past a small pioneer cemetery before reaching Mosier Creek Falls, a multitiered gem cascading through thin plunge pools. Continue up a series of steep switchbacks and stair steps to a wide overlook that commands hillsides adorned with wildflowers in the spring. In high summer, Mosier Creek provides an ideal dog-days swimming hole. Round Trip: 3.5 miles; Elevation Gain: 760 feet; Nearest Town: Mosier; Distance from Downtown: 1h 15m

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Image: Shutterstock

Dry Creek Falls    

Every Portlander needs a hike like this stashed in the back pocket: close, just challenging enough to impress flatlander guests who crave a little Northwest adventure, with a cooling cascade as the payoff. Start from the Bridge of the Gods trailhead and head up the Pacific Crest Trail. After ducking under a highway overpass, ascend through light-dappled woods, following the PCT signage, about two miles. Instead of crossing the wooden footbridge that spans Dry Creek, bear right toward the falls: a vigorous, 74-foot spout surging out of an amphitheater of basalt walls, ringed by antique dam gear. Round Trip: 4.4 miles; Elevation Gain: 710 feet; Nearest Town: Cascade Locks; Distance from Downtown: 1 hour

Table Mountain  

Let’s just be clear: it’s going to kick your ass. Table Mountain’s soaring, jagged cliff face and spectacular views of the Columbia give it one of the Gorge’s biggest payoffs. The upfront investment required is something—3,200 feet in elevation gain, a 15-plus-mile round trip. Along the way, however, you can cool your heels at Gillette Lake, an oasis encased in greenery, and Greenleaf Falls, while soaking up glimpses of Wauna Point and Kidney Lake. Two steep options reach the summit, and the whole Gorge opens beneath you. Round trip: 15.5 miles; Elevation gain: 3,200 feet; Nearest towns: North Bonneville and Stevenson; Distance from downtown: 55M


Steigerwald Lake

This sleepy, 1,000-acre expanse of wetland and woodland just outside Washougal is a slam-dunk outing for any ability level. Its 2.75-mile “art trail” winds through biodiverse flatlands cooled by wind and water, with turtles, amphibians, and more than 200 recorded bird species. Check out the glimpse of iconic Crown Point on the Oregon side, or add on the Columbia River Dike Trail, which doubles back toward Vancouver with mountain views and Lewis and Clark historical sites. Round Trip: 2.75 miles; Nearest Town: Washougal; Distance from Downtown: 30m

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  • Watering Hole: Stevenson’s flagship brewery has been the small-town Cheers for Gorge hikers since 2000, with a robust pub menu and an always-boisterous crowd of locals. If the Saunter On Saison is on tap, go for it: Walking Man backs up its version of the refreshing Belgian style with an ABV of 7 percent.
  • Stay Overnight: Hood River’s Sakura Ridge combines the rustic delights of a farm weekend and the pampering of a spa retreat, with rooms boasting private decks, postcard-worthy views, fireplaces, and spacious soaking tubs. Lush raised garden beds brimming with squash, beans, and tomatoes fuel the daily breakfast, and guests can pull honey from 18 beehives if they so choose.
  • Do: Left Coast meets Pioneer Days at Carson Hot Springs, an endearingly modest soakers’ retreat tucked in the hills next to the eponymous Washington-side hamlet. Centered on a 19th-century hotel and featuring a 1930s gender-segregated bathhouse, the resort offers a range of wraps and massages—if you can bear to leave the vintage clawfoot tubs and their restorative waters.
  • Go Beyond: Out in the far (and staggeringly gorgeous) Wallowas, the Joseph Branch Railriders have a deal for you: an unusual four-wheeled, two-person “bike,” mounted on a disused stretch of rail line through the region’s pristine countryside and charismatic small towns.
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