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Exploring the Twin Tunnels Section of the Old Columbia River Hwy by Bike

Updated: May 22, 2023


May 12, 2023—The Columbia River Gorge in northern Oregon is blessed with scenic beauty, numerous spectacular waterfalls, breathtaking vistas, and several historical sites, including the Vista House on Crown Point, Bridge of the Gods, Multnomah Falls Lodge, and the Old Columbia River Highway. Parts of the latter have been restored to allow non-motorized activity, like bicycle riding and walking, and to allow visitors astonishing views of the Gorge. In spring and early summer, blankets of exploding colors from the blooming wildflowers cover the grassy hills and rocky outcroppings in this part of the Gorge. The tapestry of colors further adds to the beauty and magnificence of the area. This exquisite beauty is what prompted me to grab my bicycle, tent, sleeping bag, and camera gear, and head 2.5 hours northeast from my home to visit, observe, and photograph that beauty.


My first stop in the Columbia River Gorge was a bike trip along a stretch of the Old Columbia River Highway from the city of Hood River east along the Gorge to the small town of Mosier. From Hood River, I headed up Old Columbia River Drive (Old US Hwy 30) until I reached the parking lot for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and the Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead.


I unloaded my bike, gathered the camera gear I needed for this ride, and set out on a nine-mile roundtrip along the Old Columbia River Highway (or “trail” as I’ll refer to it now). It’s not a long ride by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a very scenic ride that includes riding through twin tunnels.


The wide-paved, non-motorized vehicle, multi-use trail is in great shape and well suited for family rides. The trail heading east rises gradually 300 feet in elevation, so it’s not too strenuous of a ride. During the summer, it’s probably best to ride the trail in the morning or late afternoon as mid-afternoon temperatures in that area can get into the upper nineties and low one hundreds.


After riding approximately three miles along the trail, I arrived at a vantage point with a commanding view of the Gorge looking north across the Columbia River to Washington and east toward The Dalles.


Three and a half miles into the ride, I reached the first of two tunnels that make this ride interesting. Approximately 380 feet farther, I arrived at the second tunnel. The tunnels were blasted out of solid basalt. With the completion of Interstate 84, the old highway was abandoned and the tunnels filled with rock rubble. Following passage of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act in 1986, the area, including the twin tunnels, was restored and the former highway between Hood River and Mosier rebuilt as a non-motorized trail.


Immediately after exiting the second tunnel, I pulled over into another viewpoint to take in the vastness of the Gorge.


The turnaround is .75 miles past the second tunnel. Bollards mark the end of the trail. Riders needing more of a workout can descend Rock Creek Road into Mosier and then turn around and make the climb back up to the trailhead. For me, I chose to turn around at the bollards and ride back to where I had started my bike ride.


The ride west from the bollards was a steeper ascent as I climbed about 300 feet over a little more than 1.5 miles. That section might be too steep for young riders. The entire ride took longer than it would take most riders, but that was because I spent so much time photographing the sights.


On the return to the westside parking lot, I encountered three snakes on the trail.


Because it was in the upper 80s, the asphalt provided a good warming surface for them. The first snake I almost rode over. It was a ring-necked snake, and only the red band behind its head alerted me to its presence. It was a small snake, no doubt a young snake. I shooed it off the trail so it wouldn’t get run over by some less-observant cyclist.


Not too much farther down the trail, I spotted a large snake in the middle of the trail. My first thought was that it was a gopher snake. As I got closer, I observed the triangular head and realized the snake was a western rattlesnake. I got several shots of the snake until I could see the snake was getting irritated. Guess it doesn’t like the paparazzi. I rode down the trail warning fellow riders to keep an eye out for the snake. I didn’t want someone riding over the snake.


Two cyclists I passed going up the trail told me they spotted a rubber boa on the trail. I was surprised because rubber boas tend to be nocturnal. Still, I was interested in checking out the snake. I came upon it at the edge of the trail. It definitely wasn’t a rubber boa. The snake was gray and very slender, two words that don’t describe a rubber boa. I know what rubber boas look like. I was unfamiliar with this snake. I later looked it up and discovered that it was a racer. I’ve seen racers, and they’re typically black, at least the ones I’ve seen. They’re also extremely fast and skittish, so I was surprised that it allowed me to get close enough to take pictures of it.


Now it was time for dinner before heading nine miles west to the campground at Viento State Park where I will be spending the night camping.


If you’re interested in exploring the trail, I recommend visiting the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Web page. You will need an Oregon State Parks day pass to park at either the Mark O. Hatfield West or Mosier trailheads. The day pass costs $5 unless you’re camping at a nearby state park, in which your campground reservation serves as your pass.


I also recommend the book 75 Classic Rides Oregon by Jim Moore.





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