It might not be as feline as the cat bus in My Neighbor Totoro, but we think this CAT bus is pretty cool.

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on’t like being stuck behind the wheel? The Columbia Gorge Express offers a connection from TriMet’s Gateway Transit Center, so it’s easy to let someone else do the driving while you read, nap, or just enjoy the scenery on the way to Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, and Hood River. The bus stops near trailheads where parking is a pain, and, with some well-planned connections, can get you from Hood River to carnitas palace Michoacán Sports Bar & Grill in Odell, Solera Brewery in Parkdale, Mt. Hood Meadows, Government Camp to the south, and The Dalles to the east.

It’s part of Hood River County’s Columbia Area Transit—the abbreviation CAT should bring smiles to fans of My Neighbor Totoro and its magical cat bus—and connects to The Dalles–based Link Public Transit, too. Mt. Adams Transportation Service picks up in Hood River for rides to Bingen and White Salmon (bikes and pedestrians aren’t allowed on the Hood River Bridge, so the bus service is clutch for the carless) and has a route from The Dalles to Goldendale. 

Skamania County Transit runs a WA-14 route between C-TRAN’s Fisher’s Landing Transit Center and Bingen, with a dip into Oregon at Cascade Locks and a spur north to Carson. Late April to mid-June, the county runs a weekend Dog Mountain Shuttle—riders get a permit for the popular wildflower hike.

The best part? There’s one pass to rule them all. Riders can still pay per ride, but anyone planning more than a few trips on any of these four services can drop $40 for an annual “GOrge Pass” for unlimited rides. Launched in February 2020, the pass “has been a little slow to shake off the pandemic blues,” says CAT’s Patty Fink. But Fink says the Portland–Multnomah Falls–Hood River route in particular “did well over the summer, and we expect to see additional riders come back this spring/summer as the weather turns nicer.”  

This designated driver won’t help when the highway is closed for weather, wrecks, landsides, or fires, and a bus can still get stuck in traffic. But not having to worry about packed parking lots, parking fees, bridge tolls, or that one last beer you wanted to try? And a chance to, as Fink says, “support the Oregon values you care about, reduce your carbon footprint, and support car-free travel”? Even if it’s not the My Neighbor Totoro cat bus, it sounds pretty magical to us.

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